Rover’s Sample Might Hold Best Evidence of Potential Life on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is currently investigating Jezero Crater on the Red Planet.

One of the rock, regolith, and air samples that the rover has taken, “Lefroy Bay,” has hydrated silica—the substance with the best chance of preserving evidence of Earth’s earliest life. It may also indicate whether there is any evidence of ancient Martian life.

Samples taken from the Margin Unit aboard the Perseverance show high concentrations of carbonate and silica, suggesting that liquid water had a significant role in their development. But it’s still unclear whether this water came from underneath or originated from a lake or river. Either one might be a remnant of a Martian habitable zone from long ago. On Earth, these samples include phases that may retain biosignatures and help establish “paleoenvironmental” conditions.

On February 18, 2021, the Mars equipment was dropped at the location by a sky crane, and since then, it has traveled 17 kilometers. The goal of the robot mission is to gather regolith and rock samples for potential return to Earth by searching for traces of ancient life. Due to its potential to disclose the on-again, off-again character of Mars’ wet history, the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater was selected as the reconnoitering area for the rover. Sediments from the lakebed or the coast may include the remains of a lifeform.

As part of its comprehensive health assessment, the Perseverance rover is undergoing testing with the wind sensors and spectroscopic components of the robotic arm-mounted SHERLOC, which stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals. Nevertheless, the first findings indicate that the SHERLOC’s spectroscopic capabilities could be recoverable.

The Martian rover has 38 tubes for sample regolith, rock, and air. Volcanic stones, mudstone, sandstone/pebble conglomerate, carbonate-silica-olivine, Martian sand from the surface, and the Martian atmosphere have all been sampled.

The planned $11 billion price tag and an expected yet unsatisfactory time frame to complete such a complex operation have prompted a thorough re-evaluation of the combined NASA and European Space Agency project.