The USA deployed Mars rover Perseverance has discovered signs of life in the Jezereo crater on Mars, or that is the news making rounds of the internet. Exciting as it is, the news is mainly speculative, devoid of the whole truth, and incomprehensive. Let us grind to the core of this news and find out the crux of the matter.
Just a little background first. The US Mars rover, Perseverance was launched from the earth on July 30, 2020, and it has been roaming, drilling, and excavating the surface of Mars for 578 days as of September 19, 2022.
While NASA doesn’t expect the rover to find life on Mars, the scientists are hoping to find signs of extant life. Perseverance has recently collected some samples that can prove crucial to their research – two types of sedimentary rocks. And that is what all the noise is about.
Let’s talk about the rocks themselves for a bit. The two types of rock found in the Jezero crater, which also happens to be the landing site of Perseverance, don’t really belong there. According to a NASA scientist, those rocks were brought there by liquid water. Although the rocks are found just 20 meters apart, they have very different physical features.
The rocks found in the Skinner ridge have a rough surface with traces of multiple colors, the ones found in the Wildcat ridge have a more uniform surface. However, both of them have some commonalities that make them great carriers of possible bio-signatures.
Both rocks are sedimentary in nature and they have circular abrasions. These features indicate that they have been rolled over by flowing water, and then they have spent a long time submerged in water. Both of them contain sulfate and other salts in a way that indicates they were present in a lake of water that evaporated. The rock found in the Wildcat ridge also has clays.
These features – abrasions, sulfate, clays – are excellent at retaining biosignatures from a time when there might have been life on Mars. When the rover comes back to earth with these samples around 2033, the then generation of scientists will have great resources to trace the possibility of extant life on Mars, and the conditions that allowed them to thrive.