A NASA Rover exploring Mars found evidence that life could have survived on the planet.
The Perseverance Rover discovered organic material in a rock found in a dried-up river delta on the planet, the U.S. space agency announced Thursday.
Mars 3.5 billion years ago had liquid water in what is now the arid Jezero Crater, including a river that formed a sediment-rich river delta where it flowed into a lake. That mud and sand has become the Wildcat Ridge, a rock that is a yard wide.
The river flowed into a saltwater lake, generating the kind of conditions that supported the birth of life on Earth.
“In the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived. The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock — known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth — is important,” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said.
The Perseverance Rover’s aims include taking caches of Martian rocks to search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, including in the sediment of its long-dead water sources. Some frozen water still exists on Mars.
The delta rocks in particular have been promising.
“The rocks that we have been investigating on the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter that we have yet found on the mission,” Mr. Farley told CNN.
Although the samples do not definitively prove the existence of life on Mars in the past, they do offer stronger comparisons between the Martian past and that of Earth, where life has developed and endured.
“To put it simply, if this is a treasure hunt for potential signs of life on another planet, organic matter is a clue. And we’re getting stronger and stronger clues as we’re moving through our delta campaign,” NASA scientist Sunanda Sharma told CNN.
Perseverance began its mission 18 months ago and currently holds 12 rock samples. The samples will not come to Earth until the 2030s.