Rock samples from Jezero crater collected by NASA show the presence of organic molecules

  • The Perseverance Rover was launched in 2020 to study geology and the possibility of Martian life.
  • The rover collects rock samples from the Jezero Crater on Mars which was thought to be home to a lake.
  • New reports suggest that these rocks contain organic molecules which may indicate the presence of life on Mars.

NASA launched the Mars 2020 mission as a part of its exploration program to investigate the red planet and its characteristic soil and atmosphere.

This mission includes the Perseverance rover, a robotic helicopter Ingenuity, and other associated delivery vehicles.

Mars 2020 was launched from Earth on an Atlas V launch vehicle on 30 July 2020 following which, confirmation of touchdown in the Martian crater named Jezero was received on 18 February 2021.

So far the Perseverance rover has spent 576 days investigating the ancient environment on Mars including the assessment of its past habitability. Perseverance was also tasked with exploring the surface geological processes and the possibility of past life on Mars.

New findings by Perseverance

The Perseverance rover has advanced cameras named SHERLOC and WATSON which are controlled by scientists on Earth and help in locating appropriate sites to collect rock samples in the Jezero crater.

Afterward, the rover drills into a rock, and the samples are stored within a  test-tube-like container. So far, 12 tubes and other control samples have been successfully filled by scientists using the rover which has a total capacity of 43 tubes.

Recently NASA made this data available to the general public. In a tweet published on 15th September, NASA proclaimed its excitement by saying that these rock samples collected by the rover seem to have organic deposits.

Why is this discovery important?

The Jezero crater is about 45.0 in diameter and was once thought to have been flooded with water due to the existence of a lake. This is further confirmed due to the presence of rich clay deposits in the area.

Now the discovery of organic deposits in the rock samples collected by the Rover in this crater points to the pre-existence of Martian life. A scientist for the Perseverance project at Caltech, Ken Farley, confirmed that the deposits may have been formed whilst in a livable environment.

Organic molecules such as carbon, are the building blocks of animals, plants, and humans. It is responsible for forming carbohydrates, proteins, and DNA thus promoting a strong indication of Martian life.

Scientists are currently probing for biosignatures. A biosignature also called a chemical fossil is any substance such as an element, isotope, or molecule that provides scientific evidence of past or present life.

A long road ahead for Perseverance

Ken Farley agrees that it’s entirely possible that their hypothesis is wrong and that the said organic molecules could have been created in different ways. A very common example of such rock formations is natural abiotic processes.

However, Perseverance cannot independently establish the origin of the rocks. Thus NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to collect a range of rocks from the Jezero area and return them to Earth in the early 2030s, following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Curiosity Rover which is still operational.

Perseverance will carry the rock samples to a lander fitted with a rocket. This will send the rocks into orbit, where they will be brought to Earth by an orbiter.

If everything goes according to plan, the orbiter and lander will be launched from Earth to Mars in 2027 and 2028, respectively and in 2033, the spacecraft carrying the rock samples will deliver them to the desert in western Utah.

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