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NASA Perseverance Rover Uncovers More Secrets About Mars' Ancient Past

It's been more than a year since NASA's Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars. Since February 2021, the rover has been busy analyzing the rocks on the crater's floor, gathering clues about the Red Planet's ancient past.
NASA Perseverance rover 7 photos
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took this close-up of a rock target nicknamed "Foux"NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captures an expanse of boulders on the floor of Jezero CraterPerseverance collects 9th sample on MarsPerseverance collects 9th sample on MarsPerseverance collects 9th sample on MarsPerseverance collects 9th sample on Mars
Even though today there are only ice deposits on Mars, scientists believe that the planet once had flowing water on its surface. The Jezero Crater is thought to have held water billions of years ago, so the Perseverance rover is looking for signs of ancient microbial life trapped in the rocky layers.

Until now, researchers expected to find sedimentary rock that was formed when the sand and mud settled in a watery environment. Instead, they discovered the crater's floor was made of igneous rock, which is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma.

While some of these rocks resulted from volcanic activity on the surface, others appear to have formed below the surface. One intriguing aspect is that the volcanic rock appears to have once interacted with water.

"One great value of the igneous rocks we collected is that they will tell us about when the lake was present in Jezero. We know it was there more recently than the igneous crater floor rocks formed," said Ken Farley of Caltech, Perseverance's project scientist.

Perseverance examined the chemical composition of rocks using its SuperCam instrument. The SuperCam can fire a laser to study rocks that are smaller than a pencil point. In the first ten months after its arrival at Jezero, the rover zapped over 1,400 targets. This helped scientists determine the nature of the rocks on the crater's floor. Perseverance used its SuperCam to also detect "water-altered minerals."

The igneous rock contains crystals, which preserve information about the exact moment when they formed. The bad news is that evidence of ancient microbial life is poorly preserved in these types of rocks. Sedimentary rock, on the other hand, frequently originates in wet conditions that are favorable for life and is better at preserving signs of past life.

Perseverance has been busy exploring the ancient river delta on Mars, a sediment-rich region in the Jezero Crater. The rover has collected several samples from the sedimentary rocks and will continue to do so over the next few months. Some of these samples will be returned to Earth on a future mission, allowing scientists to study them and look for evidence of past microbial life.

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