Le rocher martien Wildcat Ridge

the Jezero crater on Mars was the working site of the rover NASA Perseverance over the past few months. According to scientists, a large lake was in this crater billions of years ago, and Persevarance was sent to this area to study a delta where we could find the signs of an old bacterial life.

So far the rover was able to collect 4 samples from the site. These 4 samples were taken from rocks which show that this part of Mars was probably able to support microbial life similar to what is found on Earth. It is even possible that the rocks in question have preserved signs of microbial life.

Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

During a press conference given last Thursday, September 15, the managers of the Perseverance rover showed their enthusiasm for the samples taken recently by the robot. Ken Farley, a project scientist, said the rocks they studied in the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter they have ever discovered during the mission.

A special rock

Among the rocks in the delta that Perseverance has studied, there is one that has particularly interested scientists. It is a 0.9m wide block that the team has dubbed Wildcat Ridge. This block is made of fine-grained argillite and probably formed at the bottom of Lake Jezero. the tool SHERLOC of the rover discovered that this rock contained organic matter that is spatially associated with sulfatessulfur-containing minerals.

According to Sunanda Sharma, lead scientist of SHERLOC, this correlation suggests that when the lake evaporated, sulphates and organic matter were deposited and concentrated in this area, and were preserved. On Earth, sulphate deposits are known to retain organic matter and can harbor signs of life called “bio-signatures”. Sharma added that these samples and the sightings made there are some of the most intriguing since the mission began.

Analysis on Earth needed

Despite the discovery of these organic materials, the scientists explained that these compounds found on Mars cannot be considered as bio-signatures. Indeed, organic matter can be generated and put in place by purely geological processes. The data collected by Perseverance is not enough to know the origin of these materials.

This is the reason why the samples taken by Perseverance will be sent to Earth for analysis. If all goes as planned, the samples will arrive on Earth in 2033 thanks to a collaboration between NASA and ESA.

This sample return plan will be executed by an ESA orbiter called ERO or Earth Return Orbiterand a NASA lander. The first is expected to be launched towards the end of 2027 while the second will leave towards the beginning of 2028.

During the operation, the Perseverance rover will join the lander to deposit its samples there. These will then be launched into Martian orbit by a rocket located on the lander. The ERO orbiter will then collect them in space to send them to Earth.

SOURCE: Space.com

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