The Perseverance rover, which has been exploring Mars since February last year, is getting closer to answering the question of whether we are alone in space. The rock samples taken contain organic matter that may indicate the existence of life on Earth in ancient times.

One of the missions of the Mars Perseverance rover is to look for signs of life. But we are not looking for organisms that would be alive today, but for organisms that lived billions of years ago when conditions on Earth were more favorable. Therefore, one of the sites investigated is the crater that was once filled with water and later named Jezero.

With its dry bottom and the river delta that once fed into it, the American NASA spacecraft has already sampled rocks of various origins, for example formed by volcanic activity and mud after the lake began to dry. I am collecting some. One of them, Wildcat Ridge, has attracted the most attention of scientists to date. Initial analyzes directly analyzed the Perseverance rover and showed it to contain numerous organic and carbon-rich compounds.

A rock sample called Wildcat Ridge on Mars. | | Photo: NASA

“All life as we know it is made of organic matter,” Sunanda Sharma, who works with scientific instruments on the mission, explains to the BBC. Organic matter within the crater was already discovered by the previous rover Curiosity in 2013, and earlier by Perseverance. But now the concentration of the substance is the highest ever discovered. At the same time, it comes from places and types of rock where life could potentially exist.

“A long time ago, the sand, silt, and salt that make up Wildcat Ridge were in a state where life could have arisen,” Perseverance mission scientist Ken Farley told NASA. “The fact that organic matter has been found in sedimentary rocks like those found in fossils on Earth is significant,” he believes.

His colleague David Shuster shares the hope. He points out that if the ancient state of the lake existed anywhere on Earth at any point in the past 3.5 billion years, it would be safe to assume that life existed there as well.

Thus, according to Sunanda Sharma, the samples collected “can answer the fundamental question of whether we are alone in the universe”.

Only research on earth will provide answers

But scientists quickly add that the mere presence of matter in rocks may mean nothing.Organic compounds are also found in interstellar dust. Only obtained when inspected after being brought in.

“The Perseverance instrument is very accurate, but we’ll have to wait until the sample is back on Earth to thoroughly examine it before we can more accurately determine what it contains,” says Farley. increase.

A sample tube collected by the Perseverance probe.

A sample tube collected by the Perseverance probe. | | Photo: handout via NASA/JPL-CALTECH/REUTERS

However, this won’t happen in ten years and transportation plans are not yet finalized. Since collecting the first samples on Mars, NASA and the European Space Agency have been working on missions to see how the samples collected by the spacecraft could be brought back to Earth in the future. This includes small operations like figuring out how Perseverance places them in titanium tubes on the planet’s surface, and how to mark locations for pickup rockets to find them.

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