Ancient river on Mars paving way for search of life outside Earth

Ancient river on Mars paving way for search of life outside Earth

Currently, in its third science campaign, Perseverance is exploring a fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rock standing 130 feet tall.

Martian morning
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its black-and-white navigation cameras to capture panoramas of “Marker Band Valley” at two times of day on April 8. (Photo: Nasa)

In Short

  • The sample was picked up from a region that has been formed by a river
  • Scientists will examine each pebble and fragment on Earth
  • These boulders offer a large surface area for visual investigation

Nasa’s Perseverance rover has successfully sealed its 20th rock core sample on Mars, marking a significant milestone in the mission’s quest to find signs of ancient microbial life.

The sample, drilled from an outcrop composed of tiny fragments of other rocks, offers a wealth of geological information about Mars’ ancient past.

The sample was picked up from a region that has been formed by a river that carried these fragments from various locations and deposited them at the current site. Each fragment within the conglomerate tells a unique geological story, providing insights into areas of Mars that the rover may never visit.

Perseverance rover
The Mastcam-Z imager on Nasa’s Perseverance rover captured a series of images on July 6 that were stitched together to show a field of boulders deposited in Jezero Crater by a fast-moving ancient river. (Photo: Nasa)

“Pebbles and boulders found in a river are messengers from afar,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist from Caltech in Pasadena. “The story carried by those waters remains fresh, stored in conglomerate rock.”

The Perseverance rover is part of Nasa’s ambitious Mars Sample Return campaign, a joint venture with the European Space Agency (ESA) that aims to bring these Martian samples back to Earth for detailed study using lab equipment.

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Scientists will examine each pebble and fragment in the “Otis Peak” core to determine its age, the environmental conditions when the conglomerate formed, and any signs of ancient microbial life.

Currently, in its third science campaign, Perseverance is exploring a fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rock standing 130 feet tall. With the “Otis Peak” sample safely stored, the rover is now heading towards a low ridge named “Snowdrift Peak”, crossing a field of boulders believed to have been transported by an ancient river billions of years ago.

Perseverance
The Perseverance rover is part of Nasa’s ambitious Mars Sample Return campaign. (Photo: Nasa)

These boulders offer a large surface area for visual investigation, allowing scientists to examine many potentially distinct rocks in a single image. The team remains open to any intriguing findings that may warrant closer examination and possible sampling.

“We’re taking a page from the past,” said Farley. “Prospectors looking for gold or diamonds in the old days often looked in rivers to determine whether there was any deposit of interest upstream. No need to hike up there to see – let the river do the work!”

The rover is working to characterise the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

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