Why NASA’s Perseverance rover is drilling in ancient river rock

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has just collected its first rock sample from an ancient river delta on the Red Planet, a sample that could provide signs of any ancient Martian life that once lived there.

Perseverance successfully drilled a 2.6-inch-long core in a rock dubbed Skinner Ridge, according to a July 11 Nasa blog post, the longest of nine rock samples the rover drilled on the Red Planet so far.

The borehole left by Nasa’s Perseverance rover after taking a sample of Martian rock for possible return to Earth.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance drilled the first eight rock samples on the flat bottom of Jezero crater, the site of an ancient lake, but scientists believe delta rocks, formed by the river that once fed the lake, may hold the most promise in terms of evidence. of past life on Mars. The delta rocks may contain evidence of life that once thrived in the mud of the lake, if it exists, but may also contain material from miles upstream and deposited by the ancient river.

“The Jezero Crater Delta promises to be a veritable geological feast and one of the best places on Mars to look for signs of past microscopic life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. in a report. “The answers are out there – and Team Perseverance is ready to find them.”

Perseverance arrived on Mars in February 2021 and has since traveled more than five miles through the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater, discovering organic compounds and working in tandem with Ingenuity, the first helicopter to fly on another planet.

Perseverance will ultimately drill a total of 38 Martian rock samples for eventual return to Earth and advanced lab analysis as part of NASA and the European Space Agency’s Mars Sample Return mission. This mission should be launched in 2028 and return samples to Earth in 2031.

As the rover explores the Jezero Crater delta, the Perseverance team is naming features based on locations in US national parks, according to a NASA blog. Skinner Ridge is named after a feature in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

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