A rock sample taken by NASA's rover is an important step in the search for alien life

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A rock sample taken by NASA's rover is an important step in the search for alien life
A rock sample taken by NASA's rover is an important step in the search for alien life

NASA's Perseverance rover, after first failing to take soil samples last month, was still able to take a rock sample. This is just one of dozens of samples to be collected in the coming months. The rover will then place the container at a specific location on the surface of Mars, where it will wait for a future mission to pick it up and deliver it to Earth. Collecting and studying soil samples will forever change the way we think about Mars, according to NASA scientists. Thanks to them, scientists will be able to reveal the aquatic past of the planet, as well as discover traces of Martian microbes, which may have once lived in the now extinct rivers and lakes of the red planet. Scientists are particularly interested in Jezero Crater, a 45-kilometer-wide basin that was formed by a meteorite falling billions of years ago. Red stones and sand here hold clues to the past.

Was there life on life on Mars - Jezero crater will answer

According to scientists, Mars once had a dense atmosphere that held in enough heat and created pressure. As a result, the planet had liquid water that did not evaporate or freeze. But, at some point, the red planet lost its magnetic field and lost its atmosphere, and after it the water also disappeared. The planet eventually turned into a red ball of dust with extremely low temperatures. There is still no unified version of how and why the water disappeared.

The rocks of the Jezero crater, according to scientists, will help to understand what happened to the planet, since it captures a key period of time when Mars was drying up.

Jezero crater captures a time span when Mars, rich in rivers and lakes, turned into a dusty desert

As Catherine Stack Morgan, Associate Project Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says, “As we explore different parts of Jezero Crater, we have the potential for some kind of step in time.”

The rim of the crater once flowed meandering rivers that fed the ancient lake within the crater. The rivers slowed down as they flowed into the basin, causing suspended sand and silt to settle at the bottom of the lake and form two deltas. The rover will explore the dried remains of a large delta on the western edge of Jezero. The rapid accumulation of sediments in this area could "mothball" signs of life, if they really existed until the time when the rivers did not rise about 3.5 billion years ago.

A break in the "rim" of the crater, known as Pliva Wallis, provided an outflow of water from the lake. The presence of an entrance and an exit suggests that the water in the lake is constantly being renewed, thereby preventing the accumulation of salts to a level that could kill microbes and other life forms.

The Perseverance rover took rock samples from a boulder located to the west of Jezero crater

Exploration of Mars - what are the plans

On its first attempt to take soil samples, the rover aimed at an intertwined mosaic of light reddish-brown rocks that line the bottom of the crater. These are possibly the oldest rocks that the Jezero rover can find. Preliminary analysis by the rover pointed to the volcanic origin of these rocks. If so, scientists on Earth will be able to date them using radioisotope analysis, which will help piece together the planet's past.

To make a second attempt at soil sampling, the team directed the rover westward in order to find stones as different as possible from those on the bottom. The rover aimed at a boulder at the top of the ridge nearly half a mile long. He will soon return east and then head north to the delta, exploring rock formations along the way. One of the types of objects that scientists are keen to investigate is shallow-bedded rock. Such plates can be found on Earth in sediments formed by water, wind, and sometimes volcanoes. In water, strata accumulate as a result of slow sedimentation of sludge. If the same processes took place on Mars, traces of life could remain in the sediments, as well as the chemical composition of the lake that once splashed here.

Rocks may contain traces of life on Mars

The rover also found promising rock strata at the bottom of the crater, according to scientists. According to NASA, this is the breed in which experts are most interested in the study. It is not yet clear what processes these rocks formed. They can be sediments, volcanic formations, or a mixture of both.

In addition, there are two other attractive targets, clay and carbonate minerals, which Caltech's Elmann and her colleagues first spotted in the crater more than a decade ago. On Earth, carbonates are often closely related to life and can retain layers of ancient bacterial mats known as stromatolites. Clay has the ability to quickly absorb organic material. Besides, if she could protect him from the destructive cosmic radiation.

Another interesting potential target to explore is rocks rich in manganese. Manganese minerals can be formed in different ways, in particular, microbes can participate in this process.

A small rocket will deliver soil samples to an orbiter

How Mars soil will be delivered to Earth

After dozens of samples have been collected and hermetically sealed, another mission will land on Mars to collect them. NASA and the European Space Agency are currently developing a lander that could launch as early as 2026.

SpaceX and NASA are planning manned flights to Mars in the near future. Read about the preparation progress on our Yandex.Zen channel.

A small rocket on the lander will carry soil samples into orbit on Mars, where the orbiter will capture them and deliver them to Earth. A small probe with soil will fall into the Utah desert.

Once the samples arrive safely on Earth, scientists will be able to use all of the technology available today to uncover the secrets stored in the rock formations of the red planet.

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