BREAKING: NASA's Rover Finds Strong evidence of Organic LIFE on Mars surface

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover scientists announced today that the rover has retrieved several tantalization organic rock samples from an old river delta on Mars.

These samples have now been stored in preparation for a future mission that expects to retrieve them and return them to Earth for the first-ever sample return from Mars.

"The rocks that we have been investigating on the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter that we have yet found on the mission," said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley, during a press conference on Thursday, September 15.

"And of course, organic molecules are the building blocks of life, so this is all very interesting that we have rocks that were deposited in a habitable environment in a lake which carry organic matter."

The four samples collected at the delta, which scientists assume is a former lakebed, bring the rover's total to 12. More information about each sample can be found on the NASA website.

Jezero Crater, the rover's landing location, is home to this fan-shaped delta, which formed some 3.5 billion years ago at what looks to be the confluence of a Martian River and a lake.

Perseverance is now researching the sedimentary rocks of the delta, which developed as particles of varying sizes settled in the once-watery environment. The rover examined the crater's floor during its first research mission, discovering igneous rock, which develops deep underground from magma or during volcanic activity at the surface.

The rover is now in its second research campaign, studying the delta, where it has discovered organic compounds. While organics have previously been discovered on Mars by both Perseverance and the Curiosity rover, this latest discovery was located in a region where, in the distant past, dirt and salts were accumulated into a lake under conditions conducive to life.

Farley stated that they discovered a sandstone containing grains and rock fragments generated far from Jezero Crater, as well as a mudstone with fascinating organic compounds.

Skinner Ridge (bottom left) and Wildcat Ridge (upper right). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

The term "Wildcat Ridge" refers to a 3 foot (1 metre) wide rock that formed billions of years ago as mud and fine sand settled in an evaporating saltwater lake.

The rover abraded some of the surface of Wildcat Ridge on July 20 so that it could investigate the area with the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, or SHERLOC, instrument.

The SHERLOC study discovered that the samples include a class of organic compounds that are linked to those found in sulphate minerals. Sulfate minerals present in sedimentary rock strata can reveal a lot about the wet settings in which they developed.

"This correlation suggests that, when the lake was evaporating, both sulfates and organics were deposited, preserved and concentrated in this area," said SHERLOC scientist Sunanda Sharma, during the press briefing. "I personally find these results so moving because it feels like we're in the right place with the right tools at a very pivotal moment."

According to NASA, organic molecules are a diverse group of chemicals composed mostly of carbon and typically containing hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur, may also be present.

While some of these molecules are produced by chemical processes that do not require life, others are the chemical building blocks of life. The presence of these specific molecules is regarded as a potential biosignature - a substance or structure that may constitute proof of past life but might equally have been generated in the absence of life.

"We picked the Jezero Crater for Perseverance to explore because we thought it had the best chance of providing scientifically excellent samples – and now we know we sent the rover to the right location," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington, in a press release.

"These first two science campaigns have yielded an amazing diversity of samples to bring back to Earth by the Mars Sample Return campaign."

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together to prepare how to return the first samples of Mars material to Earth for further investigation. The current idea is for a Sample Return Lander to land close or in Jezero Crater, carrying a tiny rocket onto which the samples retrieved by Perseverance would be put.

Two Ingenuity-like helicopters would provide a backup capacity for retrieving samples from Mars' surface. Once the sample cache is launched from Mars, another spacecraft will capture it in Mars orbit and return it to Earth, possibly by the early to mid 2030s.

These first samples collected and returned could provide answers to a critical question: did life ever exist on Mars?

Reference(s): NASA


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