The Perseverance rover may have already found signs of life on Mars

Could NASA's Perseverance rover have found signs of ancient life on Mars? Explore the latest discoveries in Jezero Crater.

The search for life on Mars has been one of humanity's most enduring and exciting searches. Since we first laid our eyes on the Red Planet, we've wondered whether it ever hosted life and, if so, what kind of life forms they were.

This fascination is no coincidence. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system, at least in terms of size, composition, and past environmental conditions. Both planets have a metallic core, a rocky crust, and an atmosphere (although Mars's is much thinner).

But what's really piquing scientists' interest is the evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface . Images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal dry valleys that look suspiciously like ancient riverbeds. There are also mineral deposits that can only form in the presence of water.

If Mars had liquid water in its past, could it have supported life? This is the question that has driven missions like NASA's Perseverance rover.

Jezero Crater: An oasis of potential life

One of the most promising places to look for signs of ancient life on Mars is Jezero Crater , a 45-kilometer-wide depression that was once a lake billions of years ago.

Scientists believe that this lake could have been a suitable environment for microbial life to flourish, and that some of these microbes could have left behind fossils in the rocks and sediments.

That's why NASA sent its Perseverance rover to Jezero Crater in 2021, with the primary goal of collecting and caching samples that could contain traces of past life. Perseverance has been busy exploring the crater, drilling into rocks and storing the samples in sealed tubes.

How do we know Jezero was habitable?

But how do we know these samples are worth bringing to Earth? How can we be sure that Jezero Crater was indeed a habitable place in the past?

Well, Perseverance has another tool to help answer these questions: a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) that can look beneath the surface and reveal hidden layers of history.

GPR works by sending radio waves and measuring how they bounce off different materials. By analyzing reflections, scientists can create a map of the structure and composition of the subsurface.

Recently, Perseverance used its GPR to scan a region of Jezero Crater called "Citadelle," where it had collected some of its samples. The results were surprising: GPR detected multiple layers of sediment indicating that Citadelle was once part of an ancient lake bed.

This is an important discovery, as it confirms that Jezero Crater was indeed filled with water in the past and that the samples collected by Perseverance could potentially contain fossil evidence of ancient life.

The way to bring the samples home

However, there is still a long way to go before we can verify this hypothesis. The samples collected by Perseverance are not enough to conclusively prove the existence of life on Mars. They need to be analyzed in more detail using sophisticated instruments on Earth.

That's why NASA and ESA are planning a bold and ambitious mission to bring the samples home. This mission will involve multiple stages and spacecraft, and will take several years to complete.

Step 1: Collect samples with Fetch

The first step is to send ESA's Sample Recovery Lander (SRL) to Jezero Crater, which will carry a small rover called Fetch. Fetch will drive around the crater and collect the sample tubes left by Perseverance. It will then return them to the SRL, which will launch them into orbit.

Step 2: Capture samples in orbit

The second step is to send another spacecraft called the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), which will meet the sample container in orbit and capture it. ERO will then return to Earth and release the container into the atmosphere, where it will land safely with a parachute.

Step 3: Analyze the samples on Earth

The final step is to recover the container and transport it to a secure laboratory, where scientists will carefully open it and examine the samples inside. This will be a historic moment, as it will mark the first time we will bring material from another planet.

Analysis of the samples could take years or even decades, but it could also revolutionize our understanding of Mars and its history. It could reveal whether Mars ever had life and, if so, what kind of life forms they were. It could also shed light on how life originated and evolved in our solar system and whether we are alone in the universe.

The future of Martian exploration

The search for life on Mars is not over yet. This is just beginning.

Even if the Perseverance samples do not contain definitive proof of life, there will be more future missions that will continue the search. NASA and other space agencies are already planning more advanced rovers and probes that will explore other promising places on Mars.

Additionally, life detection technology is constantly improving. Future rovers could have more sensitive instruments that can detect biomarkers or even live microbes in Martian soil.

Exploration of Mars could also eventually lead to manned human missions to the Red Planet. Although technically challenging, sending astronauts to Mars could open new frontiers in the search for life, allowing for more detailed and direct exploration of the terrain.

No matter what we find, exploring Mars will remain a priority for humanity. Our desire to unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet and understand our cosmic origins is simply too great to ignore.

So stay tuned. The next few years could bring some of the most exciting discoveries in the search for extraterrestrial life. Are we really alone in the universe? We will know soon.

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