Science & Technology

Search for Ancient Life: NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Investigates Intriguing Martian Bedrock

This image of “Yori Pass” was taken by a Hazcam imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on November 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tantalizing opportunities for the six-wheeler’s science team while exploring a sediment-rich location in a Mars delta.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has begun exploring a region near the base of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta that the science team calls “Yori Pass.” They’ve been eager to explore the area for several months after spotting a rock similar to one Perseverance collected samples from in July.

Scientists find the feature so tantalizing because it is sandstone, which is composed of fine grains that have been carried from elsewhere by water before settling and forming stone. Samples that Perseverance collects are central to the first step in the NASAESA (European Space Agency) Mars Sample Return campaign, which began in September 2021 when the rover cached its first cored rock.

This short animation features key moments of NASA and ESA’s Mars Sample Return campaign, from landing on Mars and securing the sample tubes to launching them off the surface and ferrying them back to Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/MSFC

“We often prioritize study of fine-grained sedimentary rocks like this one in our search for organics and potential biosignatures,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “What’s especially interesting about the Yori Pass outcrop is that it is laterally equivalent with ‘Hogwallow Flats,’ where we found very fine-grained sedimentary rocks. That means that the rock bed is located at the same elevation as Hogwallow, and has a large, traceable footprint visible on the surface.”

Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Left Mastcam-Z camera on June 18, 2022 (Sol 472). The rocks at Hogwallow Flats appear to be very fine-grained, which is exciting to scientists on the mission as fine-grained rocks may have the best chance at preserving evidence of life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

One of the Perseverance rover’s four science objectives is the hunt at Jezero Crater for biosignatures (any characteristic, molecule, element, substance, or feature that can serve as evidence for ancient life). Along with its 14 rock-core samples, the rover has collected three witness tubes and one atmospheric sample, all of which are stored in the rover’s belly.

After it collects a sample from Yori Pass, Perseverance will drive 745 feet (227 meters) southeast to a mega sand ripple. Located in the middle of a small dune field, the ripple – called “Observation Mountain” by the science team – will be where the rover collects its first samples of regolith, or crushed rock and dust.

More About the Mission

One of the key objectives for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including caching samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

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