Science

Mars rover’s first rock samples uncover extended water exposure

The first two rock samples inspected by NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance give researchers a firm belief that water immersed Jezero Crater for a supported timeframe, the office reported Friday.

“We determined salt granules in the rock indicate it was exposed to water,” Julia Goreva, a NASA researcher for the rover program, said in a news conference from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The rocks, penetrated Monday and Wednesday, came from igneous or volcanic rock. The office previously realized that water once filled the crater, yet not for how long.

The salt deposits mean NASA would now be able to preclude an abrupt “flash in the pan” water event, the office said in a news release.

“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the mission, said in the release. “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”

The rover sampled a rock NASA named Rochette on a ridge named Artuby. The two samples are named Montdenier and Montagnac after a French mountain and region, respectively.

Researchers picked the Rochette drilling site after a past attempt to drill a sample failed on the grounds that the fragile rock target disintegrated.

The samples currently are stored and sealed inside the rover as part of a multinational effort to take Mars rocks back to Earth by 2031, said Kate Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project researcher.

The samples might be dropped on the Martian surface for a future rover to recover and launch into space, where another shuttle would get them and return them to Earth. At last, the goal is to use advanced equipment on Earth to examine the rocks for indications of antiquated life on Mars.

“We plan to continue exploring Jezero Crater … for about two Earth years,” Stack Morgan said in the news conference. “We will make decisions then on which samples we’d like to put down in that first cache.”

The samples, about the thickness of a pencil, were 2.4 inches long and 2.6 inches long, which are almost great, said Jessica Samuels, the Perseverance surface mission manager, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Reflecting on this moment, it has been the culmination of so many years of so many people’s hard work and time and effort,” Samuels said.

“While it definitely was a very long time waiting, I think all of us can say that it feels fantastic to … be up here and share this with you.”

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