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NASA’s Perseverance rover brings together puzzle pieces from Mars history


NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has successfully collected its first pair of rock samples, and scientists are already gaining new knowledge about the area. After collecting its first sample, named “Montdenier” on September 6, the team took a second, “Montagnac”, from the same rock on September 8, according to a statement from NASA.

Analysis of the rocks from which the Montdenier and Montagnac samples were taken and the rover’s previous attempt to sample could help the science team reconstruct the chronology of the region’s past, marked by volcanic activity and periods of persistent water.

“It appears that our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable supported environment,” said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “It’s a big problem that the water a long time ago.

“The rock that provided the mission’s first core samples is basaltic in composition and may be the product of lava flows. The presence of crystalline minerals in volcanic rocks is particularly useful for radiometric dating. The volcanic origin of rock could help scientists date precisely when it formed. Each sample can be part of a larger chronological puzzle; put them in the right order, and scientists have a timeline of the most important events of the history of the crater. Some of these events include the formation of the Jezero crater, the emergence and disappearance of Lake Jezero, and changes in the planet’s climate in the ancient past. “

In addition, salts have been spied on in these rocks. These salts may have formed when groundwater passed through and changed the original minerals of the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated. , leaving the salts. The salt minerals in these first two rocks the carrots may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues to the ancient climate and the habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life, “the statement read.

The Perseverance scientific team already knew that a lake had already filled the crater; how long has been more uncertain. Scientists could not rule out the possibility that Lake Jezero was “lightning in the pan”: floodwaters could have quickly filled the impact crater and dried up within 50 years, for example.

But the level of weathering scientists see in the rock that provided the core samples – as well as the rock the team targeted during its first attempt to acquire samples – suggests groundwater was present. since a long time.

The US space agency said that this groundwater could have been tied to the lake that once stood in Jezero, or it could have passed through the rocks long after the lake had dried up. While scientists still cannot say whether the water that weathered these rocks was present for tens of thousands or millions of years, they are more certain that it was there long enough to make the area more welcoming. for microscopic life in the past.

“These samples are of great value for future laboratory analyzes on Earth,” said Mitch Schulte of NASA headquarters, the mission’s program scientist. This will help answer the general scientific question of the history and stability of liquid water on Mars, ”the official statement said.

Perseverance’s next likely sampling site is just 200 meters (656 feet) in “South Seitah,” a series of ridges covered in sand dunes, boulders, and rock shards that Farley likens to “plates. broken “.

The recent drill sample from the rover represents what is probably one of the youngest rock layers to be found on the floor of Jezero Crater. South Seitah, on the other hand, is likely older and will provide the science team with a better timeline to understand the events that shaped the crater floor, including its lake, read the release.

In early October, all Martian missions will cease commanding their spacecraft for several weeks, a measure of protection for a period known as the Martian Solar Conjunction. Perseverance is unlikely to be exercised in South Seitah before this time.


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