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Mars rover sees hints of past life in latest rock samples

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Washington (AFP) – NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has detected its highest concentrations but of natural molecules, in a possible sign of historical microbes that scientists are keen to substantiate when the rock samples are finally dropped at Earth.

Whereas natural matter has been discovered on the Purple Planet earlier than, the brand new discovery is seen as particularly promising as a result of it got here from an space the place sediment and salts had been deposited right into a lake — circumstances the place life might have arisen.

“It is extremely truthful to say that these are going to be, these already are, probably the most helpful rock samples which have ever been collected,” David Shuster, a Perseverance return pattern scientist, instructed reporters throughout a briefing.

Natural molecules — compounds made primarily of carbon that often embrace hydrogen and oxygen, but additionally at occasions different components — will not be at all times created by organic processes.

Additional evaluation and conclusions should look forward to the Mars Pattern Return mission — a collaboration between NASA and the European House Company (ESA) to convey again the rocks that’s set for 2033.

Nicknamed Percy, the rover landed on Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021, tasked with caching samples which will include indicators of historical life, in addition to characterizing the planet’s geology and previous local weather.

The delta it’s exploring was shaped 3.5 billion years in the past. The rover is presently there investigating sedimentary rocks, which happened from particles of varied sizes settling within the then watery setting.

Percy cored two samples from a rock known as “Wildcat Ridge,” which is about three toes (one meter) broad, and on July 20 abraded a few of its floor so it could possibly be analyzed with an instrument known as SHERLOC that makes use of ultraviolet mild.

The outcomes confirmed a category of natural molecules known as aromatics, which play a key function in biochemistry.

“It is a treasure hunt for potential indicators of life on one other planet,” NASA astrobiologist Sunanda Sharma mentioned.

“Natural matter is a clue and we’re getting stronger and stronger clues…I personally discover these outcomes so transferring as a result of it appears like we’re in the best place, with the best instruments, at a really pivotal second.”

There have been different tantalizing clues about the potential of life on Mars earlier than, together with repeated detections of methane by Perseverance’s predecessor, Curiosity.

Whereas methane is a digestive byproduct of microbes right here on Earth, it will also be generated by geothermal reactions the place no biology is at play.

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