The NASA Perseverance rover has accomplished a lot for its research mission in little over a year and a half on Mars.
During a briefing held by the space agency on Thursday, the mission’s early successes—rock samples and the detection of organic matter—were acknowledged.
Organic molecules in Wildcat Ridge
|Perseverance collected two core samples from Wildcat Ridge and also abraded a round patch to inspect the rock with its Sherloc instrument. NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU, MSSS|
One of the stars of the event was a rock called Wildcat Ridge, that was found in the Jezero Crater’s historic river delta zone. Two samples were successfully taken by Percy from the mudstone rock.
The organic compounds (known as aromatics) present in Wildcat Ridge are considered to be possible biosignatures, which NASA defines as a material or structure that could be proof of previous life but may also have been produced without the presence of life.
The rover team noted that the discovery of organic materials does not imply the discovery of signs of ancient life. Both the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater and Perseverance, which discovered carbon-containing compounds early in the mission, had previously detected organic molecules on Mars.
The Sherloc instrument on the rover examined the rock. Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals is what SHERLOC stands for. “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument registered the most abundant organic detections on the mission to date,” NASA said.
Analysis of Wildcat Ridge is revealing some recognizable patterns for scientists.
“In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley in a statement.
“The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock — known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth — is important.”
Sample drop Percy is now carrying 12 rock samples, including fragments from Wildcat Ridge and Skinner Ridge, another sedimentary delta rock. Earlier in the mission, it also obtained igneous rock samples that demonstrate the influence of long-ago volcanic activity in the crater.
In order to be ready for the next Mars Sample Return (MSR) program, NASA is so pleased with the variety of samples that it is considering releasing some of the full tubes on the planet’s surface shortly.
MSR is a bold idea to send a lander to Mars, collect Percy’s samples, launch them off the planet, and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis. The mission is under development. By 2033, if all goes as planned, those rocks could be here.
Because MSR is so complicated and significant, NASA and its collaborators are figuring out methods to make sure the samples can be gathered. Perseverance could still remain in fine working order when the MSR lander arrives, allowing it to meet it and provide samples directly.
MSR will have another chance to get the priceless pebbles aboard by leaving some samples at a cache location in the crater this early in the mission.
Percy has been gathering samples in pairs. It may, for instance, hold one Wildcat Ridge tube on board while letting the other fall to the ground. It is simply fantastic that we are just weeks away from deploying Perseverance’s interesting samples and only a few years away from getting them to Earth so that scientists may examine them in great detail. “We will learn so much.”
What’s next for Percy
Even though the delta has been exciting, the rover crew is already planning excursions beyond it. The crew is considering multiple potential routes for the ascent, so perseverance may meander up the crater rim. Its partner Ingenuity helicopter is in excellent condition and is anticipated to resume flight.
Jezero Crater was chosen for investigation by NASA due to its unique history of water and the possibility that the area’s rocks may have preserved signs of ancient life, should it have lived on Mars when conditions were more hospitable. Sunanda Sharma, a Sherloc scientist, compared the endeavour to a quest for biological life on another planet and said that samples containing aromatics are a sign. The Martian riddle is just now starting to come into focus.