NASA is unraveling Mars’ secrets—one rock at a time

The Perseverance Rover has collected two samples so far on the Mars, and NASA says they reveal the presence of both ancient water and salt in Jezero Crater

On Friday, NASA held a press conference to discuss what the space agency had learned from Perseverance’s historic first and second successful Mars rock samples.  As part of its many objectives, the Perseverance rover is equipped with 43 titanium tubes capable of storing rock samples collected from the Martian surface.   NASA plans to send a series of missions called the “Mars Sample Return campaign,” which—as the name suggests— would return these samples to Earth for detailed analysis.  The rover recently filled the first, and soon after, the second of its tube supply.

Although not yet returned to Earth (NASA says 2030 at the earliest), researchers could remotely extrapolate some data from the two core samples.  Analysis of “Rochette,” the rock from which both samples were taken, revealed that it was formed through volcanic processes.  The rock samples also indicated that the area had been in the presence of persistent water.  However, it’s unclear whether the presence of water indicated by Rochette had been the product of an ancient lake in Jezero Crater or by other means. 

Additionally, the core-sample analysis showed salt still in the Martian rocks.  This is particularly exciting because researchers think the salt minerals could have trapped small bubbles of water.  It’s also worth noting that salt minerals on Earth are fully capable of preserving microscopic lifeforms.

Both of the drill sites on Rochette (Credit: NASA)

What’s next for Perseverance?  The little rover is set to travel next to South Séitah, a geologically diverse area no further than 200 meters away.  Visually compared to “broken dinner plates” by Caltech professor Ken Farley, the site was recently imaged by its mission partner, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter during one of its flights.  Unfortunately, it seems like Perseverance won’t take any samples of Martian rock at this location until after the October Mars solar conjunction, a protective period in which all Mars missions will pause operations for a few weeks.

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