An engineer tests with NASA's Mars 2020 Rover.
On a sunny day next summer, a rocket launches in front of a crowd at the Kennedy Space Center that carries NASA's next, best hope for life on Mars.
Seven months later, the Mars 2020 rover lands near the Jezero Crater, a dry lake in the northern hemisphere of Mars. With its six wheels and a series of high-tech instruments, it will search the surrounding rocks for evidence that alien microbes once lived on the Red Planet, harboring a dense atmosphere and water on its surface. The researchers even discovered traces of complex organic molecules – potential building blocks for living cells.
Two new studies suggest that Mars 2020 could provide even stronger evidence for the life of Mars, if it ever existed.
Jezero rocks point to carbonate and hydrated silicic acid molecules known to help preserve microscopic fossils over billions of years.
"It's a big, bright street sign saying" Look, look, "said Briony Horgan, a planetary researcher at Purdue University and principal author of a study in the journal Icarus, which reports on the carbonate evidence." The Jezero ̵
But what would Mars 2020 have to do to find out Whether Scientists Are Certain That Martians Once Did?
Both studies published this week relied on the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM), a rotating camera that can scan the surface of Mars in infrared and visible light At a height of 400 kilometers, CRISM generates colorful maps of minerals on the Red Planet.
Everywhere in the Jezero Crater were Carbonates found when carbon dioxide interacts with rocks and water. However, CRISM showed a particularly high concentration of the mineral on the inner rim of the crater, exactly where the shoreline of the lake was more than 3 billion years ago.
For Horgan, this indicates that they may have been left behind by waves of stone. She compared the deposits to the foam line that forms when water hits the sides of a bathtub (scientists have even referred to the region as a "bathtub ring").
"What makes this so exciting is that [carbonate] includes everything that goes wrong," Horgan said. "It mimics the structures of the microbes, so you get preserved textures … but it also captures the organic material in it."
If microbes had lived on Jezero's lakeshore, the carbonate would have taken a good chance.
Some of the world's oldest fossils were stored in carbonate. Scientists have found stromatolites – layered structures of carbonate-containing bacterial mats – that date back to 3.7 billion years.
Jesse Tarnas, a planetary researcher at Brown University, also relied on CRISM maps for his research. His article, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, describes hydrated silica near Jezeros Delta, where water from a long-lost river is fed into the ancient crater lake.
Hydrated silica, better known as opal, can form during volcanic eruptions and at the edges of hot springs. However, if it is composed of sediments on the seabed, it can form strong, robust crystals that are particularly effective in maintaining vital signs. On Earth, scientists have found samples of hydrated silica containing ancient organic matter and even fossilized cells.
Since the hydrated silica of Mars is so close to a delta, it is possible that it contains material from the river system. And if the rivers of Mars ever led to life, remnants of ancient organisms could still be trapped in these crystals.
Hydrogenated silica "was not found before," said Katie Stack Morgan, Deputy Project Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the 2020 Morgan mission, who was not involved in Tarnas' research, said the mineral is likely to land after its landing will be a major goal for the rover.
"It's really exciting to believe that there are deposits in Jezero like we have Earth," she said. "We will consider how to get as close to them as possible. "
The 2020 Rover will be equipped with a variety of tools to study these minerals, and cameras could capture images of stromatolites, if any, and lasers and molecular" snoopers ", known as spectrometers, will become the composition
"They will be able to do the kind of astrobiological research we've been doing on Mars for decades," Horgan said.
The Curiosity Rover, on the road in Gale Crater since 2012, can measure molecules only "in large quantities," Morgan said, and although it has found organic molecules, it can not pinpoint them on specific rock layers or associate them with microscopic structures.
"By 2020, we can go there and we can say that we see an associated concentration of elements or minerals quite special fine scale structure ", s acted stack. "These very subtle structural differences are what people seek and sharpen their eyes on when they speak out for biosignatures."
But even in the dream scenario of the scientists – one in which there was life on Mars and its remains were preserved, and the 2020 Rover can find the fossils – it is unlikely that mission alone will prove whether Martians ever existed proofs – Evidence that only a human can deliver.
"We're really trying to look for potential biosignatures with this rover," Horgan said. But only if "we check it here with all our incredible lab equipment," she continued, "can we turn a" potential biosignature "into a" biosignature. "
The 2020 mission is just the first step of a four-part proposal proposal. Once the rover identifies the most interesting rocks around the Jezero Crater, he will use a specially designed drill bit to collect and buffer samples of the material.
One day scientists (if everything goes according to plan) will launch follow-up missions to retrieve the samples and bring them home. Eventually, in an undeveloped, highly secure facility, they will analyze the rocks at the elemental level to finally determine if they contain any clues to life.
The whole process will take years, if not decades. It can never happen. The necessary follow-up missions have not yet been approved, much less funded and developed. And traveling to Mars is notoriously difficult: about 50 percent of all attempts to reach the Red Planet have failed.
"There is this tantalizing evidence that maybe [life] was there, but you will not know it until you get the samples back," Tarnas said. "And you really just have to have the patience and the strength to fight it."
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