NASA’s Endurance rover has collected several “sad” rock samples from an ancient river delta on Mars, setting the stage for an elaborate future mission aimed at retrieving the specimens and returning them to Earth.
Agency officials said Thursday that four “scientifically strong” rock samples were collected from within Jezero Crater, an area on Mars where a river and lake met billions of years ago, making it an ideal place to look for signs of ancient microbial life. to search.
Scientists won’t be able to study the specimens up close until they are brought back to Earth, probably in the 2030s, but NASA said some of the rocks have the highest concentration of organic matter yet detected by the rover. Perseverance.
“I personally think these results are so exciting because it feels like we’re in the right place with the right tools at a very important time,” Sunanda Sharma, a mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Thursday in a session news information.
The presence of organic molecules – usually composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – does not necessarily mean that life once existed on the Red Planet, but organics are thought to be the main ingredients for life.
Ken Farley, a Persistence project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said researchers do not yet know the significance of the discoveries but added that it is “interesting” to find rocks with organic matter in Jezero Crater’s habitable environment.
“These rocks are exactly the kind of rocks we came to investigate, with the rover and its scientific instruments and also to bring back to Earth so that they can be studied in terrestrial laboratories,” a he said.
The 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater basin has been persistently explored since it touched down on Mars in February 2021. The rover previously found igneous rocks, likely formed deep underground by volcanic processes, on the floor the crater. Persistence is examining sediment samples along the fan-shaped delta, which is thought to have formed 3.5 billion years ago from an ancient river flowing into Jezero.
“This amazing rover has collected a really interesting set of rocks that have extraordinary scientific potential,” said Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the briefing.
Persistence, for example, identified a 3-foot-wide mudstone, called Wildcat Ridge, that contains organic compounds and likely formed billions of years ago as mud and sandy sediments were deposited in an evaporating lake.
Perseverance has collected 12 “scientifically robust” rock cores so far, along with one sample of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
The rover’s mission on the Martian surface is the first step in the so-called Mars Sample Return campaign, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency. Subsequent missions will send another spacecraft to Mars to collect the samples and return them to Earth for more detailed analysis.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com