Science

Perseverance rover discovers potential biosignatures on Mars

The Perseverance rover has reached a milestone in its search for traces of ancient life on Mars by collecting the “most valuable” samples so far, containing potential biosignatures that will need to be confirmed once it arrives on Earth, NASA said Thursday.

This is not yet proof that life once existed on the Red Planet, but so far it is the best chance to one day detect possible ancient microbial life with certainty.

A potential biosignature could be caused by the presence of life, but also by the absence of life. To consider this biosignature final, these samples must be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments on Earth. NASA plans to bring them back by 2033 with another mission.

“I think it’s safe to say that these will be and already are the most valuable rock samples ever collected,” said David Schuster, who works at a press conference on these samples.

Two cores were taken by drilling into a rock called Wildcat Ridge, about a meter high and located in a delta formed about 3.5 billion years ago at the confluence of a river and an old lake.

This rock is especially interesting because it is a sedimentary rock that seems to have been formed when the water in the lake evaporated.

Thus, the “wild cat’s backbone” has “high potential for biosignature preservation,” said David Schuster of the University of California at Berkeley.

Separately analyzed with the instrument at the end of the Perseverance robotic arm, the rock showed the presence of organic compounds, the most common found since the mission began a year and a half ago.

These compounds, made up of carbon in particular and which may also contain hydrogen, “are the basic elements of life,” said Ken Farley, who is in charge of the mission’s science department.

In smaller quantities, they were detected by the rover during previous analyzes in the Jezero crater, which contained the lake, but “as we move forward in the delta,” the clues are getting stronger and stronger, “summed up Sunanda Sharma, a scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion. Laboratory.

“Personally, I find these results very touching because it feels like we are in the right place, with the right tools, at a crucial moment,” she said.

“We don’t yet know the meaning of these finds, but these stones are exactly what we came for,” Farley concluded.

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