NASA’s Perseverance rover has already collected two rock samples, now scientists have stated that both of them have been in contact with water for a long time. “Our first rocks appear to be evidence of a potentially habitable sustainable environment,” said project leader Ken Farley. “It is very important that the water has been there for a long time – it speaks of signs of life on Mars.”
The six-wheeled robot was able to collect the first sample on September 6, and the second on September 8. Both samples, just over a pen in diameter and about six centimeters long, are now stored in sealed tubes in the rover’s cabin. The rover was working in the region of the Jezero crater, located north of the equator, where there was a lake 3.5 billion years ago.
The rock from which the first samples were obtained turned out to be basaltic in composition and, probably, is a product of lava. Volcanic rocks contain crystalline minerals that are useful for radiometric dating. This, in turn, could help scientists get a picture of the geological development of the region. For example, when the crater was formed, when the lake appeared and disappeared, and how the climate changed over time.
“What’s interesting about these rocks is that they show signs of stable interaction with groundwater,” NASA geologist Katy Stack Morgan said at a press conference. Scientists already knew that there was a lake in the crater, but they could not rule out the possibility that it was only floodwaters that had filled the lake for only 50 years. Now they are confident that groundwater has been present on the planet for much longer.
“If water has been present in these rocks for an extended period of time, then there may be habitable niches in them that could support ancient microbial life,” added NASA’s Stack Morgan. Salt minerals in rock cores may have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water.
The researchers also added that salts are excellent minerals for preserving signs of ancient life on Earth. The same can happen on Mars. NASA wants to return samples to Earth for in-depth laboratory analysis as part of a joint mission with the European Space Agency in the 2030s.