Technology

Perseverance rover finds organic matter in rock on Mars –

In just a year and a half on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover completed its science mission. This week, the space agency hosted a platform to discuss highlights from the moment they arrived on the red planet. The highlight are the rock samples and the discovery of organic matter.

Organic molecules in the Wildcat Ridge

A rock called Wildcat Ridge, located in the ancient river delta of Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of this presentation. Persistence managed to take two samples of this clay rock. Wildcat Ridge is particularly interesting because the organic molecules it contains (called aromatic compounds) are considered a potential biosignature, which NASA describes as a substance or structure that could be indicative of past life, but could also have been produced without the presence of life. .

The rover team stressed that finding organic matter does not mean they have found evidence of ancient life. Organic molecules have already been detected on Mars by the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater and Perseverance, which found carbon-containing molecules.

With its Sherloc instrument (Habitable Environment Scanning by Raman and Luminescence for Organic and Chemical Substances), the rover made an initial analysis of this rock. “In its analysis of the Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument recorded the most numerous mission organic detections to date,” NASA said.

Scientists found familiar clues while analyzing Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud and salt that make up the Wildcat Ridge sample today were deposited under conditions where life could potentially thrive,” says Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley. “The fact that organic matter has been found in sedimentary rock that is known to preserve fossils of ancient life here on Earth is significant. »

Perseverance fails to find conclusive evidence for the existence of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. “The reality is that the burden of proving the existence of life on another planet is very, very high,” said Ken Farley. This will require studying Martian rocks up close and in person in laboratories on Earth.

Sample return

Perseverance currently has 12 rock samples on board, including samples from the Wildcat Range and samples from another delta sedimentary rock called Skinner Ridge. Early in the mission, the rover also collected rock samples that indicate the impact of ancient volcanic activity in the crater.

NASA is so satisfied with the variety of samples collected that it plans to place some filled test tubes on the surface for a future MSR (Mars Sample Return) mission in the near future. MSR is an ambitious project that involves sending a lander to Mars, retrieving Perseverance samples, lifting them off the surface, and returning them to Earth for study. The mission is under development. If all goes according to plan, these stones could appear in 2033.

NASA hopes Perseverance will still be nominally operational by the time the MSR lander arrives and be able to join it and deliver samples. Leaving some samples on the ground so early in the mission is an additional guarantee that they can be recovered by other means if the rover is no longer operational.

Persistence collected samples in pairs. For example, he could leave one Wildcat Ridge pipe on board and throw the other on the ground. “The fact that the Perseverance samples are only weeks away from being deployed, and only a few years away from their return to Earth for detailed study by scientists, is truly phenomenal,” says NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Lauri Leshin enthusiastically. “We will learn a lot.”

Continued adventure for Perseverance

After exploring the center of Jezero Crater, the rover’s team plans what to do next. Persistence could have gone to the edge of the crater with several possible climbing routes. The scouts should be played by the Ingenuity helicopter, the characteristics of which exceeded all expectations. NASA chose to explore Jezero Crater because it had water in the past, and because the rocks may have preserved traces of ancient life.

CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance

Image: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU, MSSS

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