NASA’s Mars rover finds rock from possible ancient beach

NASA’s Perseverance rover has found on the surface of Mars exactly the kind of rock that its scientific mission was established for.

Gif showing perseverance mars rover drilling core sample in rock
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The latest core sample taken by the car-sized robot shows signs of having been awash with water for an extended period of time in the distant past. It might even have been on an ancient Martian beach.

It is the 24th out of 38 planned samples to be taken by the rover.

“To put it simply, this is the kind of rock we had hoped to find when we decided to investigate Jezero Crater,” says Ken Farley at NASA.  Farley is the project scientist for Perseverance at the California Institute of Technology.

The rover landed on the surface of the Red Planet in 2021. Its primary mission is to uncover the Martian past and find clues that might point to ancient life on the planet. A great place to look is in areas that once had mineral-rich waters.

“Nearly all the minerals in the rock we just sampled were made in water; on Earth, water-deposited minerals are often good at trapping and preserving ancient organic material and biosignatures. The rock can even tell us about Mars climate conditions that were present when it was formed.”

Rock core sample mars rover
Perseverance’s CacheCam captured this image of the rover’s latest cored sample on March 11. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The find is a promising sign that scientists are looking in the right place to find potentially habitable ancient environments on Mars.

Further analysis to determine if the sample does contain signs of ancient microbial life will have to be done when it is brought to Earth.

“The silica and parts of the carbonate appear microcrystalline, which makes them extremely good at trapping and preserving signs of microbial life that might have once lived in this environment,” says Sandra Siljeström from the Research Institutes of Sweden.

“That makes this sample great for biosignature studies if returned to Earth. Additionally, the sample might be one of the older cores collected so far by Perseverance, and that is important because Mars was at its most habitable early in its history.”

More data is being collected, but the scientists say the results so far are in line with the hypothesis that the area Perseverance is exploring was once the shore of an ancient lake.

Perseverance continues on its valiant quest to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?

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