NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Detects Intriguing Organic Matter in Rock

The Mars rover Perseverance was the subject of a new NASA briefing Thursday. CNET describes it as a celebration of this year’s discovery of organic matter — in June NASA for the first time measured the total amount of organic carbon in Martian rocks — and a celebration of rock samples. (Specifically, the two samples collected from mudstone rock on Wildcat Ridge in Jezero Crater.)

The rover’s Sherloc instrument investigated the rock. (Sherloc stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.) “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument registered the most abundant organic detections on the mission to date,” NASA said.

Scientists are seeing familiar signs in the analysis of Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley in a statement. “The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock — known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth — is important.”

Perseverance isn’t equipped to find definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet. “The reality is the burden of proof for establishing life on another planet is very, very high,” said Farley during the press conference. For that, we need to examine Mars rocks up close and in person in Earth labs. Perseverance currently has 12 rock samples on board, including the Wildcat Ridge pieces and samples from another sedimentary delta rock called Skinner Ridge. It also collected igneous rock samples earlier in the mission that point to the impact of long-ago volcanic action in the crater. NASA is so happy with the diversity of samples collected that it’s looking into dropping some of the filled tubes off on the surface soon in preparation for the future Mars Sample Return campaign…. The mission is under development. If all goes as planned, those rocks could be here by 2033
The hope is that in 2033, Perseverance will meet the lander “and personally deliver the samples,” the article quips. But in the meantime, Perseverance “could wander up the crater rim.” And there’s one more update about the smaller exploration vehicle that Peseverance carried to Mars.

“Its companion Ingenuity helicopter is in good health and expected to take to the air again.”

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