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Scientists believe Mars rock samples contain organic matter

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A photo of the first of the four most-recent sedimentary rock samples collected from the surface of Mars by NASA's Perseverance Rover, which the space agency's scientists believe contain organic matter. Photo by NASA
A photo of the first of the four most-recent sedimentary rock samples collected from the surface of Mars by NASA's Perseverance Rover, which the space agency's scientists believe contain organic matter. Photo by NASA

Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Scientists believe some of the recently-collected rock samples taken by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover likely contain organic matter.

The four most recent samples are all sedimentary rocks from an ancient river delta in the Red Planet's Jezero Crater, NASA confirmed this week.

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They mark the first-ever sedimentary rocks gathered from another planet.

"The rocks that we have been investigating on the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter that we have yet found on the mission," Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley told reporters.

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The space agency believes the rover's current location to be a top prospect for finding signs of ancient microbial life.

"In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived," Farley said in a statement Thursday.

The four newest samples were taken from the crater's Skinner Ridge and Wildcat Ridge, between July 7 and Aug. 3.

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Researchers will eventually examine samples for evidence of microorganisms but will have to wait for some time to do so. The Mars Sample Return campaign being run by NASA and the European Space Agency will eventually land an unmanned spacecraft on the planet, but it won't return to Earth until 2033.

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The rover has retrieved 13 samples so far, with an eventual goal of collecting 38.

"To undertake the challenge and the expense of a Mars sample-return mission, we need a great suite of rocks to bring back," Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said at a briefing Thursday.

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