The Mars Rover Perseverance found organic compounds in Jezero Crater on Mars

The "Wildcat Ridge" outcrop on Mars (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)
The “Wildcat Ridge” outcrop on Mars (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance collected rock samples in an outcrop that was named “Wildcat Ridge” in the Jezero Crater on Mars. The analyzes show a geological variety that includes a mudstone that contains organic compounds. These results indicate that the rocks in that area are very different from those found on the crater floor, which were igneous rocks that form underground from volcanic magma and on the surface during volcanic activity. These are very interesting samples considering the mission in the design phase that will aim to bring them back to Earth to conduct in-depth analyzes.

On July 7, 2022, the Mars Rover Perseverance started collecting rock samples in an ancient river delta inside Jezero Crater. This site was already confirmed to be interesting from a geological point of view and for clues regarding the possibility that life forms existed when Mars was young. The discovery of organic compounds is still far from proving a biological activity but certainly deserves further investigation.

The river that left the traces of the delta now explored by the Mars Rover Perseverance formed about 3.5 billion years ago in the area where it flowed into a lake. The sedimentary rocks present in the “Wildcat Ridge” outcrop show geological diversity with a sandstone carrying rock fragments and grains generated far from Jezero Crater and the mudstone in which organic compounds were discovered.

The Mars Rover Perseverance’s SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument made it possible to obtain some information on the organic compounds discovered. These are molecules that have a spatial correlation with those of sulfate minerals. This type of minerals discovered in sedimentary rocks can reveal characteristics of the aqueous environments in which they formed.

The rocks found in the ancient delta are very different from those found in the bottom of Jezero Crater. Those are two types of igneous rocks, linked to volcanic activity which was also common when Mars was young. Last February, the Mars Rover Perseverance found two types of igneous rocks: one that forms underground from volcanic magma and one that forms on the surface during volcanic activity.

Arrived on Mars on February 18, 2021, the Mars Rover Perseverance is offering geological and chemical details on the various areas of Jezero Crater. There’s excitement but also caution for these latest discoveries because organic compounds can also form as a result of non-biological processes. Some of them are building blocks of life, and this confirms that in that area there were favorable conditions for life and the ingredients for its formation. Searching for clues that show tighter links to life continues and bringing samples back to Earth for more in-depth analysis could offer great help in getting answers.

The floor of Jezero Crater on Mars (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)
The floor of Jezero Crater on Mars (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

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