• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

The latest persistence sample includes material carried by ancient rivers on Mars

The latest persistence sample includes material carried by ancient rivers on Mars

An image of an ancient riverbed on Mars. (Image credit: Stable Diffusion).

NASA’s Perseverance rover has obtained a sample from an ancient river bed on Mars that contains material that was carried by water from elsewhere on the planet. Small amounts of sampled material in chalk-sized rock cores could give scientists access to locations on Mars that the rover has never visited.

On June 23, 2023, NASA’s Perseverance rover collected its 20th rock core sample from material carried to the region by a river flowing over the ancient Martian surface. This material includes what are known as rock conglomerates, and provides scientists with valuable information about the geology of remote places not visited by the rover.

A field of rocky terrain that perseverance navigates. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS).

The samples will be returned to Earth on a future sample return mission by NASA in collaboration with ESA. The rover collects samples of the atmosphere, regolith and rock cores, naming each sample. The latest sample is called Otis Peak. On Earth, scientists can analyze the material with instruments too heavy to carry to Mars.

Otis Peak sample with different colored minerals carried from elsewhere by an ancient river on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Researchers will be able to determine the age of the sample, the environmental conditions under which the rocks formed, and whether there are any signs of ancient Martian microbes. Currently, Perseverance is exploring a fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rocks formed by rivers that deposited material transported from the surface over millions, even hundreds of millions of years.

Perseverance will next traverse a field of boulders while navigating to a low ridge named Snowdrift Peak. Like the Otis Peak sample, scientists believe an ancient Martian river moved these rocks from somewhere else. The large surface areas of the rocks allow scientists to visually inspect the rocks, and researchers will keep an eye out for any interesting stones as the rover crosses the field.

The Perseverance rover has significantly improved scientific understanding of Mars’ wet past. Scientists have previously identified boulders from Belwa Crater that they believe were transported by an ancient river from elsewhere. Perseverance also found striations in the Martian landscape that indicated the area around Jezero Crater, which Perseverance explores, once hosted a deep, fast-moving river.

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