Discovery of the Mars rover may shed light on when water was there

The Persevering Rover on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Use NASA‘s Perseverance Mars Rovera team of scientists including many University Hawaii In Mānoa, it was discovered that Jezero Crater consists largely of igneous rocks (formed by igneous magma), rather than sedimentary rocks; That water changed the minerals in the crater bottom rocks. This discovery will help determine when water was present on Mars and, eventually, whether the Red Planet is habitable for microbial life.

3 men smiling
From left, Tairo Acosta Maeda, Shiv Sharma and Evan Kelly.

researcher chef sharmaresearch assistant Tairo Acosta Maeda Postgraduate student Evan Kellyall based in Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Science in College of Oceanic and Earth Science and Technology (zipper), are co-authors of two studies recently published in Sciences And the science progress.

The rock and mineral analysis was performed by SuperCam, an instrument that uses a focused infrared laser beam to remove dust and material from rock surfaces in a technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. The burst of energy from each five-nanometer pulse results in a flash; The optical spectrum (specific colors) reveals the elemental chemistry of targets up to approximately 25 feet away.

“The discovery of igneous rocks is a surprise,” said Sharma, co-investigator on the SuperCam Instruments team. “It also shows the power of spectroscopic instruments on the persistence chariot on the crater floor rather than just imaging from a spacecraft from above.”

Related: More stories from oh Researchers in the Mars Rover team

The hole where Perseverance landed in 2021 held water for billions of years. For this reason, scientists expected the rocks in the area to be sedimentary, and formed over time from settled clay, as is the case for the bottom of lakes on Earth. The discovery that rocks on Jezero Island were formed by volcanic magma was unexpected. However, it has its advantages. It is easy to date igneous rocks and could provide researchers with a more accurate way to estimate when water was present on Mars.

The search for life is one of the main goals of perseverance and one of the reasons for his landing in Jezero Crater. Discovering the potential of habitable environments in something as uninhabitable as the ancient lava flows at Jezero Crater raises hopes for what lies within the sedimentary rocks the expedition is now studying.

rock animation
These layered rocks in Jezero Crater, Mars are igneous lava – solid lava. (image credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech/ASU)

“The water we have found and are likely to find in ancient delta rocks will help us reveal how Mars turned into what it is today, and whether, when, for how long, and if it could host life,” Acosta said. . -Maeda, Associate Scientist on the SuperCam Hardware Team.

rocks back to earth

The rocks that the scientists analyzed were stored for return to Earth. NASA The European Space Agency plans to return the rock samples to Earth around 2033. The ambitious plan calls for building the first rover that can launch from the surface of Mars and rendezvous with an orbiter that will transport the samples back to Earth.

The payoff for this arduous task will be very detailed studies of rock samples that cannot be performed on the rover. These studies include measuring the age of rocks and looking for signs of ancient life. Because the rock samples taken at the bottom of the crater likely predate the river delta, dating these rocks will provide important information about the age of the lake.

The rover is now surveying the river delta to collect additional rock samples for the Mars sample return mission.