WASHINGTON: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has now collected two rock samples with signs that they were in touch with water for an extended period of your time, boosting the case for ancient life on Mars.
“It seems like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the mission, during a statement on Friday.
“It’s an enormous deal that the water was there for an extended time.” The six-wheeled robot collected its first sample, dubbed “Montdenier” on September 6, and its second, “Montagnac” from an equivalent rock on September 8.
Both samples, slightly wider than a pencil in diameter and about six centimeters long, are now stored in sealed tubes within the rover’s interior.
A first attempt at collecting a sample in early August failed after the rock proved too crumbly to face up to Perseverance’s drill.
NASA hopes to bring the samples to Earth for in-depth lab analysis
The rover has been operating during a region referred to as the Jezero Crater, just north of the equator and residential to a lake 3.5 billion years ago, when conditions on Mars were much warmer and wetter than today.
The rock that provided the primary samples was found to be basaltic in composition and certain the merchandise of lava flows.
Volcanic rocks contain crystalline minerals that are helpful in radiometric dating.
This successively could help scientists build up an image of the area’s geological history, like when the crater formed when the lake appeared and disappeared, and the way climate changed over time.
“An interesting thing about these rocks also is that they show signs for sustained interaction with groundwater,” NASA geologist Katie Stack Morgan told a news conference .
The scientists already knew the crater was home to a lake, but couldn’t rule out the likelihood that it had been a “flash within the pan” with floodwaters filling up the crater for as little as 50 years. Now they’re more certain groundwater was present for for much longer .
“If these rocks experienced water for long periods of your time , there could also be habitable niches within these rocks that would have supported ancient microbial life,” added Stack Morgan.
The salt minerals within the rock cores may have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water.
“Salts are great minerals for preserving signs of ancient life here on Earth, and that we expect an equivalent could also be true for rocks on Mars,” added Stack Morgan.
NASA is hoping to return the samples to Earth for in-depth lab analysis during a joint mission with the ecu Space Agency sometime within the 2030s.