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NASA’s Perseverance rover finds ‘treasure’ of organic matter on Mars

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It is looking for clues about possible ancient alien life on Mars.

And now NASA’s Perseverance rover has discovered the “treasure” of organic matter that could help determine whether aliens ever existed on the Red Planet.

The collection of organic matter from Jezero Crater, which likely once contained a lake and the delta that drained into it, suggests it had potentially habitable environments 3.5 billion years ago.

These organic molecules contain carbon which is widely regarded as the building blocks of life.

The US space agency said Perseverance has collected four samples from the ancient river delta since July 7, bringing the total number of scientifically convincing rock samples to 12.

Discovery: NASA’s Perseverance rover (pictured) has discovered ‘treasure’ of organic matter that could help determine if aliens ever existed on the Red Planet

WHAT IS ORGANIC MATERIAL?

Organic molecules are made up of a wide variety of compounds that are mainly composed of carbon and usually contain hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

They may also contain other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur.

While there are chemical processes that produce these molecules that do not require life, some of these compounds are the chemical building blocks of life.

The presence of these specific molecules is considered a potential biosignature – a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life, but could also have been produced without the presence of life.

“The rocks we examined in the delta contain the highest concentration of organic matter we have found so far during the mission,” said Ken Farley, a Perseverance project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The rover took measurements and samples in an area called Skinner Ridge.

This is made of stratified sedimentary rocks, some of which contain materials that were probably carried by flowing water from miles away billions of years ago.

“Obviously, with the samples we’re taking now in this more sedimentary region, we’re right at the heart of what we wanted to do to begin with,” NASA science leader Thomas Zurbuchen said at a news conference.

The sedimentary rocks contain complex organic molecules called aromatics along with clay and sulfate minerals. The latter can be produced when water interacts with rocks.

There are no obvious signs of life or biosignatures in these materials, but scientists are encouraged to look in the right place.

“While the detection of this class of organics alone doesn’t mean there was definitive life, this series of observations is starting to resemble some of the things we’ve seen here on Earth,” said Sunanda Sharma of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California at the press conference. .

‘To put it simply, if this is a search for possible signs of life on another planet, then organic matter is a clue.

“And we’re getting stronger leads as we go through our delta campaign.”

David Shuster, of the University of California, Berkeley, added: “This is really important that it has sulfate in it and also clay because that means this rock has a high potential for biosignature preservation, meaning if there are biosignatures in it, would be in this neighborhood when that rock was forming, this is exactly the kind of material that will save it for us to study when [the samples] come back to earth.’

It’s not the first time Perseverance has found organic matter on Mars, but this time the detection was in an area where life once existed.

“In the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge monster were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” Farley said.

‘The fact that the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock – which is known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important.

The US space agency said Perseverance has collected four samples from the ancient river delta since July 7, bringing the total number of scientifically convincing rock samples to 12.  This image shows the holes of the first successful sample taken by the rover

The US space agency said Perseverance has collected four samples from the ancient river delta since July 7, bringing the total number of scientifically convincing rock samples to 12. This image shows the holes of the first successful sample taken by the rover

“As capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance are, further conclusions about what’s inside the Wildcat Ridge sample will have to wait until it’s returned to Earth for in-depth research as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign.” .’

During his first scientific campaign, Perseverance explored the bottom of the crater and found igneous rock, which forms deep underground from magma or during volcanic activity at the surface.

“The delta, with its diverse sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks — formed by crystallization of magma — discovered on the crater floor,” Farley said.

“This juxtaposition gives us a rich understanding of the geological history after the crater’s formation and a diverse array of samples.

“For example, we found a sandstone that contains grains and rock fragments made far from Jezero Crater — and a mudstone that contains intriguing organic compounds.”

NASA and the European Space Agency plan to return the rock samples to Earth around 2033.

NASA MARS 2020: PERVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER LOOKING FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to look for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in an effort to help scientists better understand how life on Earth evolved in the earliest years of the solar system’s evolution.

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover explores an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600-meter-deep lake.

The region is believed to have harbored microbial life about 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago, and the rover will examine soil samples to look for evidence of life.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) looks for signs of ancient life on Mars to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) looks for signs of ancient life on Mars to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spacecraft was launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside — and successfully landed on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed in the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in conjunction with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system

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