Data from Perseverance’s first 208 Martian days has provided a wealth of information about the Lake Jezero crater, where NASA’s rover touched down in February 2021.
The crater was thought to be an ancient lake, and recent studies have confirmed this. In addition, analyzes show that organic molecules were abundant in these waters.
The organic molecules are not proof of life on the Red Planet, but their discovery raises the possibility that ancient Mars most likely had life. The only question is what kind of life there was and in what form.
Recently, a team working with the Perseverance Toolkit discovered igneous rocks at the bottom of Lake Jezero’s crater. They formed from magma, associated either with volcanism or asteroid impacts. And these rocks show all the signs of repeated weathering by water.
Joseph Razzell Hollis of the Natural History Museum in London and study co-author Eva Scheller used data from the SHERLOC instrument to analyze rocks from Lake Jezero’s crater. The instrument was able to detect the fluorescence of certain organic compounds in the olivine-rich rocks.
The sample tubes will be collected and brought back to Earth by the Mars Sample Return mission to be studied in detail. The work on Earth will provide insight into the origin of the molecules and whether they could be evidence of life.
The discovery of organic molecules at the bottom of the lake’s crater, and in particular in igneous rocks, is also interesting for another reason.
Curiosity found similar compounds in sedimentary rocks from Gale Crater. The discovery of organic materials in two completely different environments on Mars suggests that these organic molecules were common.
Over the past few months, the Perseverance team has been studying the delta of a river that would have once filled the lake with water.
Researchers believe this is an important area for the discovery of organic matter. Given the crater’s richness in these compounds, the current work could be even more groundbreaking.
A paper led by Scheller and Hollis is published in Science.