The rock samples found include mineral salts, which can reveal insights into the ancient climate and habitability of Mars billions of years ago, and could even preserve evidence of ancient life, if indeed it existed on the Red Planet.
Perseverance was able to collect its first two rock samples on September 6 and 8, dubbed Montdenier and Montagnac, from the same rock named Rochette.
Quoted from CNN, Monday (13/9/2021) the robot explorer is currently exploring Jezero Crater, an ancient lake site that dates back more than 3 billion years.
“Because these rocks have such high scientific potential, we decided to take two samples here,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Deputy Project Scientist Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, USA.
Rocks within the crater can tell scientists about ancient volcanic activity in the area, as well as whether water was present for long periods of time, or whether it came and went as the climate fluctuated. These two rock samples suggest that groundwater may have existed in the area for a long time.
“It looks like the first rocks we found reveal a potentially habitable sustainable environment. An important issue is knowing that water has been there for a long time,” said Ken Farley, Project Scientist for the Perseverance mission at the California Institute of Technology.
Rochette’s rock is basaltic, meaning it was most likely created by ancient lava flows. Crystalline minerals in rocks like these can help scientists get a very accurate date and know when the rock was formed.
The mineral salts in rocks are the result of the rock being changed over time. They can form when groundwater changes the original minerals in lava rock or when water evaporates and leaves salt behind.
While groundwater may have been part of the lake that once filled Jezero Crater and its river delta, scientists cannot ignore the fact that water may have passed through the rocks even after the lake dried up and disappeared.
But the rocks give the Perseverance science team hope that water may have been around long enough to create a habitable environment in which ancient microbial life could thrive.
These two samples are the first of more than 30 samples that the rover will collect and eventually return to Earth on various missions, called Mars Sample Return, in 2031.
“What we plan to do is launch multiple missions. One will be a sampling lander that will actually take the sample and bring it into Mars orbit. Then there’s an orbiter, Earth Return Orbiter, which will capture this orbiting sample, and then the orbiter returns back.” to Earth,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, principal Mars Sample Return scientist at JPL and Arizona State University.
After returning to Earth, some of the samples will be investigated in various ways, while the rest will remain sealed so that future scientists with better technology can study them, such as the Apollo moon samples.
“These samples are of high value for future laboratory analysis on Earth. One day, we may be able to figure out the sequence and timing of the environmental conditions represented by these rock minerals. This will help answer big picture science questions about the history and stability of liquid water in Mars,” said Mitch Schulte, mission program scientist at NASA headquarters.
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