The Perseverance Rover is investigating the existence of a giant lake on Mars in search of signs of ancient life

After 1,000 days on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover has traversed an ancient system of rivers and lakes, collecting valuable samples. It is an ancient delta that contains Evidence of a lake that filled Jezero Crater billions of years ago. The six-wheeled scientist has collected a total of 23 samples so far, simultaneously revealing the geological history of this region of Mars. A sample called “Lefroy Bay” contains a large amount of fine-grained silica, a material known to preserve ancient fossils on Earth. Another, “Otis Peak,” contains a significant amount of phosphate, which is often associated with life as we know it.

Both samples are also rich in carbonate, allowing the environmental conditions since the rock was formed to be documented. The results were presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. “We chose Jezero Crater as a landing site because orbital images showed a delta, clear evidence that a large lake once filled the crater. A lake is a potentially habitable environment and.” Delta rocks are an excellent environment for burying traces of ancient life as fossils in the geological recordPerseverance project scientist at Cakltech, Ken Farley, said in a statement: “After extensive exploration, we have reconstructed the crater’s geological history and mapped its lake and river phase from start to finish.”

Jezero was formed by an asteroid impact almost 4 billion years ago. After Perseverance landed in February 2021, the mission team discovered that the crater floor is made of igneous rock formed by subterranean magma or volcanic activity on the surface. Since then, they have found sandstone and shale, indicating the arrival of the first river in the crater hundreds of millions of years later. Above these rocks are salt-rich shale layers, indicating the presence of a shallow lake that is evaporating. The team believes the lake will eventually have grown to 35 kilometers. in diameter and 30 meters deep.

Later, fast-flowing water brought rocks from outside Jezero and scattered them across the top of the delta and other parts of the crater. “We were able to see a comprehensive summary of these chapters of Jezero’s history in orbital images, but it was necessary to get closer to Perseverance to really understand the timeline in detail,” said Libby Ives, a postdoctoral researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA, which manages the mission. The samples Perseverance collects are about the size of a piece of school chalk and are stored in special metal tubes as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign, a joint initiative between NASA and ESA.

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If the tubes were brought to Earth, scientists could examine the samples using powerful laboratory equipment that would be too large to take to Mars. To decide which samples to collect, Perseverance first uses a grinding tool to grind down a piece of potential rock, then studies the rock’s chemistry with precision scientific instruments, including the JPL-built Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). At a target the team calls “Bills Bay,” PIXL discovered carbonates, minerals that form in aqueous environments under conditions that could be favorable for the preservation of organic molecules. (Organic molecules are created through geological and biological processes). These rocks also contained abundant silica, a material excellent for preserving organic molecules, including those associated with life.

“On Earth, this fine-grained silica is often found in places that were once sandy,” said JPL’s Morgan Cable, deputy principal investigator for PIXL. “It’s the kind of environment on Earth “Remains of ancient life could be preserved and later found”. Perseverance’s instruments are capable of detecting both microscopic fossil-like structures and chemical changes that may have been left behind by ancient microbes, but no evidence of either has yet been found. At another target studied by PIXL called Ouzel Falls, the instrument detected the presence of iron associated with phosphate.

Phosphate is a component of the DNA and cell membranes of all known living creatures on Earth and is part of a molecule that helps cells transport energy. After evaluating PIXL’s results on each of these abrasion sites, the team sent commands to the rover to collect nearby rock cores: Lefroy Bay was collected alongside Bills Bay and Otis Peak at Ouzel Falls. “We have ideal conditions to find signs of ancient life, as we find carbonates and phosphates, which indicate a watery, habitable environment, as well as silica, which is excellent for preservation,” Cable said. Of course, Perseverance’s work is far from done. The mission’s fourth ongoing scientific campaign will explore the rim of Jezero Crater, near the canyon entrance, where a river once flooded the crater’s carbon-rich floor.

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