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Ancient lake on Mars could hold traces of life

Jan. 27, 2024.
3 min. read 3 Interactions

NASA Perseverance’s soil and rock samples will be brought back to Earth by a future expedition and studied for evidence of past life

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica was a former member of the National Space Society board of directors

An illustration of Jezero Crater, the landing locale of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover as it might have appeared billions of years ago when it was perhaps a life-sustaining lake (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA Perseverance Rover’s verification of lake sediments at the base of Mars’ Jezero Crater offers new hope for finding traces of life in crater samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover. 

In new research published in the journal Science Advances, a team led by UCLA and The University of Oslo shows that at some point, the Jezero Crater filled with water, depositing layers of sediments on the crater floor.

Seeing below the surface of the crater for signs of life

“From orbit we can see a bunch of different deposits, but we can’t tell for sure if what we’re seeing is their original state, or if we’re seeing the conclusion of a long geological story,” said David Paige, a UCLA professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences and first author of the paper. “To tell how these things formed, we need to see below the surface.”

So as the rover drove onto the delta, Perseverance’s Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) instrument fired radar waves up to 20 meters below the rover, allowing scientists to see down to the base of the sediments to reveal the top surface of the buried crater floor.

Mars Perseverance Rover RIMFAX ground penetrating radar measurements of the Hawksbill Gap region of the Jezero Crater Western Delta, Mars. Hawksbill Gap (credit: Svein-Erik Hamran, Tor Berger, David Paige, University of Oslo, UCLA, California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA)

Perseverance’s soil and rock samples will be brought back to Earth by a future expedition and studied for evidence of past life.

Mars Sample Return: Bringing Mars Rock Samples Back to Earth

NASA and the European Space Agency are developing plans for one of the most ambitious campaigns ever attempted in space: bringing the first samples of Mars material safely back to Earth for detailed study. The diverse set of scientifically curated samples now being collected by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover could help scientists answer the question of whether ancient life ever arose on the Red Planet. Bringing samples of Mars to Earth for future study would happen in several steps with multiple spacecraft, and in some ways, in a synchronized manner. This short animation features key moments of the Mars Sample Return campaign: from landing on Mars and securing the sample tubes to launching them off the surface and ferrying them back to Earth. Animation is contributed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the European Space Agency, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center. Learn more: https://mars.nasa.gov/msr (Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/MSFC)

Perseverance Explores the Jezero Crater Delta, Sept. 14, 2022 (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/AS

Citation: Paige, D. A., Hamran, E., F. Amundsen, H. E., Berger, T., Russell, P., Kakaria, R., Mellon, M. T., Eide, S., Carter, L. M., Casademont, T. M., Nunes, D. C., Shoemaker, E. S., Plettemeier, D., Dypvik, H., Holm-Alwmark, S., & N. Horgan, B. H. (2024). Ground penetrating radar observations of the contact between the western delta and the crater floor of Jezero crater, Mars. Science Advances. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adi8339 (open-access)

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2 thoughts on “Ancient lake on Mars could hold traces of life

  1. Video added: Mars Sample Return: Bringing Mars Rock Samples Back to Earth

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  2. Confirming sediments under an ancient lake is a game-changer. Can't wait to learn what those future soil samples will tell us about the presence of life on Mars.

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