NASA’s Perseverance rover has discovered a variety of organic matter that could be evidence of life in Jezero Crater on Mars.
The results suggest that a more complex system may have existed on the planet in the past than previously thought.
Researchers propose various explanations for the origin of organic matter on the Red Planet.
These include water-rock interactions or deposits from interplanetary dust or meteors, although biotic origins – from living organisms – have not been ruled out.
According to the study, a better understanding of Mars’ organic matter could shed light on the availability of carbon sources, which would have implications for the search for potential signs of life.
The Sherloc (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument on the rover is the first tool to enable detailed mapping and analysis of organic molecules and minerals on Mars.
Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater in February 2021, the site of an ancient lake basin with high potential for past habitability.
Since then, scientists have been exploring the geology of the crater floor using a suite of tools on board the rover that can photograph and analyze the rock.
Sunanda Sharma, Ryan Roppel and their colleagues analyzed observations of two formations on the Jezero crater floor.
Signals from organic molecules, which are more concentrated in the Maaz Formation than in the Seitah Formation, were detected on all ten targets observed by Sherloc in the Jezero Crater floor.
The data showed distinct mineral associations and spatial distributions that may be unique to each formation.
The researchers suspect that the diversity of these observations could shed light on how organic material might have formed: possibly by deposition from water or in combination with volcanic material.
“Our results suggest that a diversity of aromatic molecules may be prevalent on the Martian surface and that these materials persist despite exposure to surface conditions,” the study authors write.
“These potential organic molecules are mostly found in minerals associated with aqueous processes, suggesting that these processes may have played key roles in organic synthesis, transport, or conservation.”
This isn’t the first time organic material has been found on Mars. Last year NASA’s Curiosity rover found rocks containing organic carbon, possibly from insects that once roamed Mars.
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