The persistent rover has reached a milestone in its search for traces of life on Mars. The robot sent by NASA found rocks containing organic molecules which, according to experts, could be “a possible form of life”, something that must be confirmed when it returns to Earth before 2033.
“We now know the rover is in the right place,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s director of science, at a press conference organized by the US space agency and broadcast live.
Samples contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is the first Martian rock rich in organic molecules.
This isn’t yet evidence of life on the Red Planet, but it’s the best chance yet to one day be able to detect possible ancient microbial life with certainty.
A bioprint may be caused by the presence of life, but also by a non-living process. To consider this biosignature definitive, samples must be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments on Earth.
The last four rocks collected by Perseverance as of July 7 are sedimentary rocks, different from the igneous rocks that began accumulating elsewhere on Jezero Crater about a year ago.
Rocks include mainly carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur: molecules of this type can be produced through chemical processes that do not involve the presence of life.
Two pieces were cut by drilling into a rock called the “Wildcat Mountain Range”, about one meter in size and located in a delta formed about 3.5 billion years ago at the junction between an ancient river and lake.
It is particularly interesting because it is a sedimentary rock that appears to have formed around the time the water in the lake evaporated.