Right before we came back from our summer hiatus, two new papers in Science, led by Kenneth Farley and Yang Liu, brought us the first scientific results from samples taken by the Perseverance rover on Mars.
Perseverance landed in Jezero crater back in 2020. Ever since, this SUV-sized rover has been exploring and drilling samples from the floor of the crater; a crater that used to contain a large lake way back when Mars was still a wet planet.
Using onboard instrumentation, researchers studied the composition of some of these samples. Their research reveals a mix of lava rock – scientifically called igneous minerals – including the stunning mineral olivine, which requires water to form. Hiding in the rock’s voids and crevices were salts. This kind of mix can occur when lava rocks are soaked in brine – a salty, liquid water. They also found some of the igneous minerals had been transformed into a kind of mineral called carbonates. This is something that happens when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in water. These are all processes we see here on Earth, and these martian samples are further evidence that Mars was once habitable for life as we understand it.
Perseverance rover’s instruments did a mighty job getting us science, but we hope to one day do better using labs here on Earth. NASA is currently developing mission plans to bring some of Percy’s samples back to Earth as a part of the Mars Sample Return mission.
NASA press release
“Aqueously altered igneous rocks sampled on the floor of Jezero crater, Mars“, K.A. Farley et al., 2022 August 25, Science
“An olivine cumulate outcrop on the floor of Jezero crater, Mars,” Y. Liu et al., 2022 August 25, Science