After celebrating their 1,000th sol, or Martian day, on Mars, at NASA ENDURANCE rover and wisely the helicopter continues to explore Jezero Crater on the Red Planet. Recently, the robotic pair completed their extensive investigation of the ancient river delta within Jezero, with evidence of flowing water that likely filled Jezero thousands of years ago.
As part of its extensive investigation of the river delta, ENDURANCE constantly collecting Martian surface samples, rocks, and other interesting surface features. To date, the rover has collected a total of 23 surface samples as part of the joint NASA/European Space Agency Mars Sample Return mission. However, scientists will get a preliminary look at the samples when ENDURANCE collected them, and they were able to decipher pieces of the geological history of Mars from the samples.
For example, one of the latest samples ENDURANCE collected, named “Lefroy Bay,” contains large amounts of fine silica, which is known to help preserve ancient fossils on Earth. Within the “Otis Peak” sample, scientists identified large amounts of phosphate – a compound often associated with life. Both of the samples also contain carbonate, which preserves the local environmental conditions from when the samples were formed.
We chose Jezero Crater as the landing site because orbital imagery shows a delta — clear evidence that a large lake once filled the crater. A lake is a possible habitable environment, and delta rocks are a good environment for burying signs of ancient life as fossils in the geologic record. After a thorough exploration, we combined the craters with geologic history, documenting the lake and river portion of it from beginning to end, said project scientist Ken Farley of Caltech.
Although scientists have ideas and theories about what Jezero is, in the end they don’t know until ENDURANCE landed there in February 2021. After landing, the rover discovered that the floor of the Jezero crater is made of igneous rock, which means that its surface was created from magma below the surface or volcanic activity above. The discovery of igneous rock above Jezero allowed scientists to confirm that the crater was formed from an asteroid impact nearly four billion years ago.
Successive discovery of sandstone and mudstone by ENDURANCE allowed scientists to determine when the first rivers began to flow within Jezero several hundred million years after the impact of the asteroid. Above these initial sands and mudstones are abundant salt mudstones, indicating the presence of a shallow lake that experienced evaporation. When the lake was full, the strong flow of water brought boulders from outside the Jezero into the lake, where they were finally distributed over the river delta and the entire hole. More discovered by ENDURANCE and wisely led planetary scientists to estimate that Jezero’s lake once had a width of 35 kilometers and a depth of 30 meters.
We see a broad outline of these chapters in the history of Jezeros in orbital images, but it takes close to ENDURANCE to really understand the timeline in detail, said mission manager Libby Ives, a postdoctoral fellow at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
As mentioned, the samples collected in ENDURANCE is planned to be returned to Earth by the Mars Sample Return mission, which means that – in addition to Jezero’s history as a lake – scientists must consider which locations will provide the best samples to determine the landing location on Mars 2020. The return of samples to Earth will allow scientists to investigate the Martian surface and surface features in great detail, such as ENDURANCE there are only a few instruments that can analyze the samples.
However, how do scientists determine where to collect samples?
First, the team must identify a specific area or surface feature that can provide scientists with valuable information about Mars’ environment, past, and more. Once a target is identified, ENDURANCE uses an abrasion tool at the end of its robotic arm to remove a small portion of the target. With some of the target’s content exposed, ENDURANCE studied the chemistry and characteristics of the target using a set of instruments, including the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL).
In one of the The endurance latest sample targets, named “Bills Bay,” PIXL identified carbonates within the abraded surface of the rock. In addition to the preservation of local environmental conditions, carbonates can form in aqueous environments that host conditions that can be favorable for the preservation of organic molecules, formed through geological and biological processes. . In addition, Bills Bay also contains silica, which, as mentioned, is good at preserving organic molecules. The presence of carbonates and silica – among other elements and compounds – within Bills Bay is what led scientists to take samples from it.
On Earth, this fine-grained silica is what you often find in a once-sandy location. This is the kind of environment where, on Earth, the remains of ancient life can be preserved and found later, said PIXL deputy principal investigator Morgan Cable of JPL.
Another sample target investigated by PIXL, named “Ouzel Falls,” was found to contain iron associated with phosphate. Phosphate is an essential component of DNA, the cell membranes of all known terrestrial life forms, and energy-carrying molecules. ENDURANCE carries instruments capable of detecting microscopic, fossil-like structures and chemical changes that may have been left by ancient microbes. However, these instruments have not yet detected any structures or chemical changes within the samples and surface features. ENDURANCE investigating.
The aforementioned samples, Lefroy Bay and Otis Peak, were taken next to abrasion patches at Bills Bay and Ouzel Falls, respectively.
We have ideal conditions for finding signs of ancient life where we can find carbonates and phosphates, which point to a watery, habitable environment, as well as silica, which is good for preservation, Cable said.
With the Jezero river science campaign now complete, ENDURANCE and wisely Now moving on to their fourth science campaign, which will see the robotic pair investigate Jezero’s margin — the area of the crater near the canyon entrance where a river may once have flooded the crater floor. Carbonate-rich deposits have been seen on the sides of the crater.
(Lead image: Perseverance takes a selfie after placing one of its surface sample tubes into the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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