One of the great mysteries surrounding research on Mars is defining whether or not there was life on the red planet. Scientists seem to be getting closer to verifying it, after NASA find a rock with the highest abundance of organic matter to date.
In a statement from the US space agency, experts defined this finding as “the taking of the most precious samples collected so far”which contain biosignatures that will be confirmed upon their return to Earth.
David Shuster, lead scientist for the investigation, said: “I think we can say that they are going to be, and that they are already the most precious rock samples ever collected.”.
As a DW report insists, this is not proof that there was life on Mars, But it is the best chance scientists have of detecting possible ancient microbial life.
How could the biosignature be produced?
NASA plans to bring these samples back through another mission before the distant 2033, so confirming whether there was life on Mars will remain for the next decade unless a surprising finding is presented.
This biological signature could have been produced by the presence of life, but also by a non-living process. To consider this biosignature definitive, the samples must be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments on Earth.
The samples were taken from two cuts, drilling in a rock named “Wildcat ridge”, of approximately one meter and located in a delta that was formed about 3,500 million years ago at the intersection between a river and an ancient lake. Interestingly, the rock is sedimentary and was formed when the lake evaporated.
The robotic arm of the Perseverance rover used an instrument to analyze the rock, which revealed organic compounds, made of carbon and may contain hydrogendefined by Ken Farley, another of the scientists in charge of the study, as “the essential elements of life”.
A mission will be launched in 2028 to retrieve the samples via a lander carrying a minicapsule. The rover will roll to the module to drop them off and then they will be transferred to an orbiting spacecraft, which will bring them to Earth in 20233.
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