NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance collects new rock samples in Jezero Crater

Perseverance has been tasked with finding evidence of past life.(Supplied: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Perseverance rover has collected a diverse set of rock samples in an area scientists believe is the perfect spot for finding signs of ancient microbial life on Mars.

  • The Perseverance rover is searching for traces of biology that could have existed billions of years ago
  • The rover has collected samples of rock and other materials from the Martian surface
  • NASA says the goal is to get the samples back to Earth in 2033

The samples have the highest concentration of organic matter yet seen since the rover mission launched, but the US space agency says the findings do not “necessarily mean life”.

The rover is exploring the Red Planet’s sediment-rich Jezero Crater. 

NASA said the crater had proven to be the “right location” for collecting rock samples after landing on Mars in February 2021.

“These first two science campaigns have yielded an amazing diversity of samples to bring back to Earth,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said.

The crater is 45 kilometres wide and hosts a delta — which NASA describes as an ancient fan-shaped feature that formed about 3.5 billion years ago.

The rover is currently investigating the delta’s sedimentary rocks, formed in the once-watery environment.

A place where life on Mars ‘could have thrived’

In its latest discovery, “Wildcat Ridge” is the name that has been given to a rock about one metre wide that likely formed billions of years ago as mud and fine sand settled in an evaporating saltwater lake.

“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,” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said.

“The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock – known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important.

“However, as capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance is, further conclusions regarding what is contained in the Wildcat Ridge sample will have to wait until it’s returned to Earth for in-depth study as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign.” 

Perseverance, which is about the size of a car, gathers samples and either analysis the samples with its onboard laboratory, or it can save them for return to Earth by future missions. 

NASA says the rover will also characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, with the plan to pave way for human exploration.

Source: ABC News