According to NASA scientists, the Perseverance rover has gathered some of the most crucial samples so far on its quest to discover whether life has ever existed on Mars while exploring the location of an old river delta.
Organic material has been found in a fraction of the most recent samples, proving that Jezero Crater, which previously had a lake and the delta that flowed into it, may have once supported possibly habitable ecosystems 3.5 billion years ago.
A scientist for the Perseverance project Ken Farley stated during a news briefing on Thursday: “The delta, with its diverse sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks — formed from crystallization of magma — discovered on the crater floor,” according to CNN.
A minor stone formation known as Wildcat Ridge, which is considered to have developed near the base of the defunct lake when it was still there, is one of the rocks that were analyzed. Perseverance scraped away at the “ridge” and used a specialized laser device known as SHERLOC to scan the exposed interior of the stone in addition to taking two rock core samples (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals).
What it discovered were sulfate-related organic compounds, which suggests that when the lake dried up, that specific location got extremely saturated including both sulfate and organics.
Sulfate is also the best option for preserving organic materials.
Sunada Sharma, a SHERLOC scientist who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during the conference that sulfate deposits are known to retain organics and can include biosignatures.
Even while this sounds thrilling, it’s still conceivable that the molecules weren’t actually produced by prior life, but rather by chemical or geological processes.
And it can take some time to get to a firm conclusion. Despite how durable Perseverance has shown to be, the rover lacks the kinds of scientific tools required to proclaim the samples to have biosignatures without a doubt. Scientists will have to wait for NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission, which isn’t presently slated to return to Earth until at least 2033, to bring the samples back to Earth.
Up until that time, Perseverance will laboriously gather additional samples and conduct preliminary analyses of the rocks on the now-deserted Martian surface. Hope never dies, not even in outer space.