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SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY

Crucial find for potential life on Mars

A new study has found organic compounds near the base of Jezero Crater in ancient river delta called “Yori Pass” where Perseverance landed in 2021.

Update:
A new study has found organic compounds near the base of Jezero Crater in ancient river delta called “Yori Pass” where Perseverance landed in 2021.

A new study, led by researchers at Caltech and carried out by an international team with Imperial researchers, has analyzed multiple rocks found where an ancient river delta exists in an area the science team calls “Yori Pass” at the bottom of Jezero crater on Mars, right where the Perseverance rover landed in 2021.

In this area, a significant interaction between rocks and liquid water was found. Now, researchers have discovered that these rocks contain consistent evidence of the presence of organic compounds made up of chemical compounds and carbon-hydrogen bonds.

This discovery is not direct evidence that life has existed on Mars, since it can be created by non-biological processes as well, but it could come close. In order to be able to confirm this definitively, a future mission to return the samples to Earth would be necessary.

Professor Mark Sephton , a member of the science team involved in the Mars rovers operations, said he hoped “these samples could be returned to Earth so that we can explore whether conditions were right for life in the early history of Mars.”

A special robot for a new discovery

The SHERLOC rover was lucky enough to discover the minerals and possible co-located organic compounds. Its name derives from Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence by Organics & Chemicals.

His choice was not a coincidence. This rover is equipped with a series of tools on the robotic arm, such as the Raman spectrometer, which uses a specific type of fluorescence to search for organic compounds and see how this material is distributed, which provided information about it was preserved in that place.

Co-author of the paper, published in the journal Science and professor of planetary science, Bethany Ehlmann, said SERLOC’s microscopic compositional capabilities had “blown open” a new way of deciphering the order of time in the past environments of Mars.

As the rover circled the delta and crater, it took several samples of the water-altered igneous rocks and stored them for a possible future return mission to Earth. These samples would have to be returned and examined in laboratories with advanced instruments in order to definitively determine the presence and type of organic products on Mars and whether they correspond to a lifeform.

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