Three years later, the search for life on Mars continues.

Scanning Habitable Atmospheres with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemistry (SHERLOC) and Planetary Instruments for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) Sulfate Mineral Compositions from Quartier Abrasion (SHERLOC sol 293). (a) Color ACI image of the analyzed region. Sine boxes indicate SHERLOC scan points where sulfate phases were detected at SNR ≥10. The red circles inside each box indicate the position and size of the SHERLOC laser spot. The yellow polygon indicates the area of ​​the PIXL scan at Sol 294. (b) PIXL maps of SO3 abundance (left) and MgO, CaO, and FeO abundance (right). (c) Heat maps of sulfate ν1 peak positions and hydration quotients (HQ, see text for how this was calculated). Heatmaps for all scratches are on the same color scale (cf. Fig 36). Analysis sites with fluorescence signal are indicated by a black star in the HQ map (solid star indicates high fluorescence >5,000 counts). (d) Representative SHERLOC Raman spectra from Ca-, and Mg-rich regions in the PIXL elemental map. Points 15 and 34 are indicated by black and gray outlines in panel (c), respectively. Regions where sulfate ν1 and hydration features can be found are indicated by gray shading. The insets show details of the main sulfate peaks of each spectrum, which are here normalized to the height of the corresponding sulfate ν1 peak for ease of comparison, and of the hydration bands, which are not normalized. The vertical dashed lines indicate the fitted center for the ν1 peak of each spectrum. Other important peak centers have been identified. Credit: Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2023JE007989

In the three years since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars, NASA’s science team has made the day-to-day work of investigating the Red Planet almost mundane.

The rover and its helicopter sidekick, Ingenuity, captured stunning images of Mars and collected 23 unique rock core samples along 17 miles of an ancient river delta.

One member of the science team, University of Cincinnati associate professor Andy Czaja, said he sometimes has to remind himself that the project is anything but typical.

“That’s great. I’m looking for another planet,” he said. Czaja teaches in the Department of Geosciences in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. He is a paleontologist and astronomer who, along with his three UC graduate students, Andrea Corpolongo, Brianna Orrill, and Sam Hall, are using a rover equipped with custom geoscience and imaging tools to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars. I’m helping NASA.

Three years into the mission, the rover performed like a winner, he said.

“The Endurance has performed brilliantly. It’s fantastic. It has such powerful instruments for doing geological work. It’s able to find distant objects with its zoom lens cameras and in incredible resolution. Can focus on the little things,” Czaja said.

Along the way, the mission recorded many firsts: the first powered flight, the first recorded sounds of Mars, the longest autonomous drive (about a mile and a half), and About the planet’s geology, atmosphere and climate.

Czaja was part of the NASA team that decided where to land the rover on Mars. And he remains part of the science team that will consider its daily data and findings to decide what the rover should do next.

Among the new discoveries was the discovery of primary igneous rocks in Jezero Crater. These rocks are the solid result of liquid magma. They offer scientists promising clues about how to improve the known age of the planet.

Scientists suspect that Mars once had rivers, lakes and streams for a long time. Today, water on Mars is found in ice at the poles and trapped beneath the Martian surface.

Czaja and his student Corpolongo were co-lead authors of a paper. Published in Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets which revealed that Mars may also have a hydrothermal system identified by the rover based on hydrated magnesium sulfate. .

“When these rocks cool and break down, they become habitable environments for life,” Czaja said.

Also Carpolingo Led a similar research paper. A co-authored paper by Czaja in the same journal details the results of the rover’s analysis of samples using the SHERLOC Deep Ultraviolet Raman and Fluorescence instrument. Both papers highlight the contributions of dozens of his fellow NASA researchers on the project.

The samples collected by the rover may finally answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe.

“We have yet to find definitive evidence of life in these deposits. But if there were fossil microorganisms trapped in the rocks, they would be too small to see with the rover,” Czaja said.

Czaja hopes that funding will be approved for a planned Mars sample return mission to retrieve hermetically sealed titanium tubes that scientists have spent three years filling with interesting rocks. .

“These hydrated minerals trap water within them and record the history of how and when they formed,” the study said. “Returning these mineral samples to Earth will allow researchers to study the history of Mars’ water and climate and, with the most sensitive instruments possible, look for evidence of ancient life.”

But this was only the beginning. Persistence began his deliberate search from the crater floor to the front of the delta, formed by an ancient river or drainage channel where he encountered it. which often contains another pathway for trapped minerals and evidence of ancient life.

And last year the rover made it to the crater’s margin in what used to be a huge lake, where it is looking for deposits of magnesium carbonate, which can be formed geologically or biologically by bacteria.

Czaja said the decision to send Perseverance to Jezero Crater appears to have paid off.

“Exactly. There were other places we could have gone that might have been just as good,” he said. “You won’t know until you find them all. But Jezero was chosen for good reason and it’s fully justified.”

Ingenuity’s flying days appear to be over after it damaged a rotor after landing on its 72nd flight in January. But persistence is still strong. It still has 15 sampling tubes to capture additional interesting geological samples.

Next Jezero will exit the crater to explore the wider area. Czaja said it’s likely they’ll find rocks 4 billion years old or older. And Mars may harbor stromatolites, or rocks that contain evidence of ancient layered mats of bacteria that are visible to the naked eye. On Earth, these rocks are sometimes found in extreme environments such as geyser basins.

The horizon of discovery is expanding daily before the science team.

“I hope that persistence has whetted our appetite for further exploration of Mars,” Kaja said. “And bringing back samples will allow us to study Mars and find evidence of ancient life with tools that haven’t been invented yet for years and years to come.”

More information:
Sandra Siljeström et al., Evidence for sulfate-rich fluid alteration in the Jezero crater floor, Mars, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2023JE007989

Andrea Corpolongo et al, SHERLOC Raman Mineral Class Detections of the Mars 2020 Crater Floor Campaign, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (2023). DOI: 10.1029/2022JE007455

Reference: Three years later, the search for life on Mars continues (2024, February 22) Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://phys.org/news/2024-02-years-life-mars.html

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