NASA's Perseverance rover spots thousands of 'unusual' white rocks on Mars

Mars, the red planet has puzzled scientists once again. NASA's Perseverance rover which has been exploring Mars' Jezero Crater since early 2021 has discovered thousands of white rocks strewn across its surface. Recently delivered images by the rover show over 4,000 light-toned, pebble-sized "unusual" rocks scattered throughout the crater floor.

"These rocks are very unusual, and we're trying to understand their origin," said Candice Bedford, a planetary scientist at Purdue University and a member of the Mars 2020 science team, during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) last month.

This comes as NASA completes an architectural review of its Mars Sample Return (MSR) program, which aims to bring Martian rocks back to Earth for analysis.

Analysis of rocks found THIS

Initial analysis of the rocks by Perseverance's instruments revealed that they are dehydrated. Not only do they lack water content, but also other minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.

"These rocks are pretty depleted in a lot of things," Bedford noted.

She suggests that the dehydrated nature of the rocks indicates they were heated and metamorphosed by processes like lava flows or asteroid impacts elsewhere on Mars before being deposited in the crater.

The team is keen to understand the origins of these rocks, in order to provide insights into Mars' past, including the timing of water presence in the Jezero crater, which is now a dry landscape.

Perseverance, which has covered over 15 miles (24.8 kilometers) on Mars, celebrated its 1,000th day on the planet in December last year. It has filled 26 of its 43 sample tubes with Martian rock samples, which could be studied extensively.

"Each sample has innumerable grains that we could potentially study for forever, essentially," said Benjamin Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences at MIT and a member of the Mars 2020 team.

As part of a bonus mission, Perseverance has started moving towards the Jezero Crater rim, where its long-distance camera has already spotted more light-toned rocks. Scientists believe the crater rim and beyond hold unique geology, including rocks that could provide clues about Mars' early climate and the possibility of past life.

Returning these samples to Earth is crucial for scientists to fully understand Mars' history. "It will revolutionize our understanding of Mars," said Benjamin Weiss.

Mars Sample Return (MSR) programme

NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) program is spearheading the effort to bring these samples back to Earth. Questions remain about the program, including the timeline and approach for returning the samples. A response team (MIRT) was commissioned to evaluate alternative approaches after an independent review board (IRB) found issues with the current plan. NASA's budget for MSR is yet to be finalised, with a revised plan and budget expected in April.

Post a Comment