Science

The Perseverance robot confirms the presence of an ancient lake on Mars

Placed on Mars since February, the Perseverance robot delivers its first results. The ship discovered that the place where it landed was an ancient lake on the Red Planet.

It was expected, but the first high-resolution images from the camera confirm the clues of the observation in orbit: the crater, with a surface of about 35 km in diameter and a hundred meters deep, has effectively taken over a closed lake, previously fed. by a river through a delta, between 3.6 and 3 billion years ago.

Thanks to satellite observations, traces of him have been seen in the crater called Jezero. That is why the Perseverance robot was placed there last February. Eight months later, it’s confirmation. A confirmation full of promise for the rest of the mission.

To the source of the delta

The study published this Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, the first since the Perseverance landing, provides a series of unpublished details about the history of the ancient site of the lake. “We have typical strata of a set formed underwater with a river that has advanced into a lake and deposited sediments”, explains Nicolas Mangold, from the University of Nantes, who has led this study. The researcher speaks of a sedimentary arrangement that is really typical of lake deposits.

“And it’s like on Earth, lake sediments are very good reservoirs to preserve sediments and integrate possible organic forms in these sediments,” he continues. If there were life one day, it could generate organic matter and if this matter exists, it will be conserved in these sediments. That gives us the key places to analyze this crater. And that’s what we’re working on right now, is crossing the rover at the source of the delta. “

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A two-kilometer crossing for perseverance. Two kilometers strewn with stumbling blocks before reaching these sediments. The robot can then analyze them on site, and especially take samples, which will be returned to Earth during a future mission in 2030. But be careful not to get carried away too quickly, the researcher warned, because this organic matter could just as well come from. of “inert carbonaceous matter”, such as that deposited by comets.

Large pebbles and boulders

Perseverance has also detected the unexpected presence of large pebbles and boulders, witnesses of strong river currents such as flash floods. The end of the crater’s lacustrine period, therefore, would have been the scene of major climate change, the study suggests. “What climate could have generated this transition? Aridification, glaciation? That is what we are looking for,” says the geologist.

Two other robots, Curiosity and Insight, are currently roaming the Martian surface. In September 2022, the Russian-European ExoMars mission must send a robot that will be able to pierce the ground of the Red Planet more than a meter deep. A first.

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