Perseverance’s first 208 Martian days of data collection have yielded a lot of knowledge about the Jezero Crater, the site of the NASA rover’s February 2021 landing. According to the most recent research, the crater was once thought to be a lake that had dried up. Additionally, the study reveals that there were several organic compounds in these fluids. This discovery in the hunt for extinct life on Mars is exciting.
Although the discovery of organic compounds does not prove that life has ever lived on Mars, it does increase the likelihood that it has. Teams using the Perseverance suite of equipment have reported finding igneous rocks in the Jezero Crater floor in a number of papers. These were created from magma as a result of asteroid strikes or volcanism. And those rocks show all the signs of having been subjected to water countless times.
“It appears that Jezero Crater is what we believed it to be based on orbital images. About three/three and a half billion years ago, it was a lake. And that’s obviously incredibly interesting for us because the emergence of life on Earth about 3 billion years ago coincided with the presence of liquid water on Mars. It begs the question, then: “Did the water on Mars also contain the necessary elements for life?” IFLScience was informed by co-author and principal author Dr. Joseph Razzell Hollis of the Natural History Museum in London.
Hollis and co-author Dr. Eva Scheller examined the rocks at Jezero Crater using information from the SHERLOC instrument. In the analyzed olivine-rich rocks, the equipment was able to identify the fluorescence of particular organic components such carbonates.
We won’t know for sure until we can investigate these materials in further detail, but they might be the components of life. And for this reason, the Perseverance mission has samples stored. As a result, it collects samples of the rocks it discovers and stores them in specialized sample tubes, Dr. Hollis told IFLScience.
The Mars Sample Return mission will then gather the tubes and return them to Earth for detailed analysis, which is not possible on Mars. The investigation on Earth will make it possible to determine the molecules’ origin and whether or not they might represent proof of life.
Another intriguing finding is the presence of organic molecules in the bottom of Jezero Crater, namely in igneous rocks. Similar chemicals were discovered by Curiosity in Gale Crater’s sedimentary rocks. It is highly likely that these organic molecules were common given the discovery of organic materials in two very different environments on Mars.
“Those components must exist if you want to give life the best chance of evolving. If we could only ever find them in one location, it would seem that there was only one possible scenario in which life could have arisen. The fact that they are present all over Mars suggests that the planet may have once had the building blocks for life. It just depends if we got lucky and those components happened to come together in the right combination to begin forming something that might eventually turn into a living thing,” Dr. Hollis told IFLScience.
Perseverance has been researching a river delta that is thought to have once brought water and sediments into Jezero Crater for a number of months. This is a crucial location for the discovery of organic material, according to researchers. The current research might be even more ground-breaking given how abundant in these compounds the crater has historically been.
Science published the paper written under Sheller and Hollis’ direction. Here and here are two other papers from Science Advances that have related findings.