Scientists Suspect Mars Rover Could Have Already Scooped Up Signs of Life

Confirmed Suspicions

Scientists are getting increasingly hopeful that NASA's Perseverance rover could have already scooped up evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.

The evidence is circumstantial, but promising. Perseverance has been exploring what scientists long suspected to be an ancient lake — and now, thanks to data obtained by the rover's RIMAX ground radar, they've been able to confirm that the Jezero crater, initially created by a meteor impact billions of years ago, was indeed once brimming with water.

Here on Earth, that would make it the perfect area to collect samples of ancient bacterial life. And that means we have more hope than ever of finding traces of life in the samples collected by Perseverance. It's collected 23, which are slated to eventually make their long journey back to Earth — where they could finally answer the question of whether we're alone in the universe.

That's if all goes according to plan, that is. With budget overruns and layoffs at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the agency's sample return mission is on very thin ice.

Below the Surface

The latest discovery, as detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, suggests the Jezero crater's floor is comprised of different layers of lake sediment. Over time, the ancient lake started shrinking and carrying huge amounts of sediment away, forming a massive delta.

The remaining sediment was then eroded over time, forming the geological features Perseverance has been studying since landing in 2021.

In short, our longstanding theories about the planet's environmental changes over roughly three billion years appear to be accurate, meaning the gambit of searching for life in Jezero, so far, is looking prescient.

"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 UCLA professor and first author David Paige in a statement. "To tell how these things formed, we need to see below the surface."

Radar observations by Perseverance have allowed scientists to peer up to 65 feet below the surface. The data examined by Paige and his team showed that the lake bed was made of regular, horizontal sediment deposits, much like the ones we've observed on Earth.

"The changes we see preserved in the rock record are driven by large-scale changes in the Martian environment," Paige explained. "It’s cool that we can see so much evidence of change in such a small geographic area, which allows us to extend our findings to the scale of the entire crater."

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