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Perseverance makes an "unexpected" volcanic discovery on Mars

Perseverance makes an “unexpected” volcanic discovery on Mars

(CNN) – At one point, lava flowed at the site of an ancient lake on Mars. The persevering rover landed on the planet only 10 months ago, but it actually did so all of a sudden Discovery.

The rover’s recent discovery indicates that the bedrock it’s been driving since the descent was formed from lava flows — something “completely unexpected,” according to expedition scientists. They previously believed that the layered rocks picked up by perseverance were sedimentary.

The rocks I’ve tested perseverance so far too I showed That there has been interaction with water several times, some of which contain organic molecules.

These discoveries could help scientists create an accurate timeline of events that occurred at Jezero crater, the site of an ancient lake, and have broader implications for understanding Mars.

The result was announced Wednesday during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.

For years, scientists have wondered whether the rocks in this crater were sedimentary rocks, made up of layers of material deposited by an ancient river, or igneous rocks, which form when lava cools.

“I’m starting to despair that we’ll never find the answer,” said Ken Farley, a perseverance project scientist at the Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.

Everything changed when Perseverance began using a drill at the end of his robotic arm to scrape rocky surfaces.

“The crystals inside the rock provided the definitive evidence,” Farley said.

Perseverance is armed with a suite of advanced tools that can visualize and analyze these revealing rocks, revealing their composition and mineral content. One such instrument is the PIXL, or Lithuchi’s X-ray Chemistry Planetary Instrument.

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Perseverance records an amazing video of a tour of Mars 0:33

In November, Perseverance used its tools to study a rock the team dubbed “Brak”. The analysis revealed large olive crystals surrounded by pyroxene crystals, indicating the fact that the rocks came from lava flows.

“A good student of geology will tell you that such texture suggests that rocks formed when crystals grew and settled in cold, cold magma, for example a dense lava flow, a lava lake, or a magma chamber,” Farley said.

The rock was then altered by water several times, making it a treasure that will allow future scientists to date events on Jezero Island, better understand the period when water was most common on its surface, and reveal the early history of the planet. Returning the Martian sample would have some great options to choose from.”

The team now wants to know if the olivine-containing rock was formed by a lake of lava that cooled, or if it originated in an underground lava chamber that was later eroded.

“This was completely unexpected and we are working to understand what it means,” Farley said.

“But I would speculate that this is probably not the floor of the original crater. Given the diameter of this crater, we would expect the floor of the original crater to be much deeper than we are now.”

He said it was possible that lava flowed into the crater, but the floor of the original crater was under the rocks they were now driving.

Mars: How a persistent rover copes without human help 0:42

Samples obtained by perseverance on Mars

So far, Perseverance has collected four rock samples with plans to collect as many as 37 more. These samples will be returned to Earth on future missions, which will allow them to be studied in great detail and in different ways. Samples taken from Jezero crater and its river delta can reveal whether life exists on Mars.

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Once back on Earth, the igneous rocks can be dated to a very high accuracy, so these latest samples could help the team establish more accurate dates for features and events on Mars.

These rocks react with water over time to form new minerals. The minerals in the samples can reveal what the climate, the environment, and even the composition of the water was like billions of years ago on the Red Planet.

“This will tell us whether the water in there could have been habitable in the past,” said Kelsey Moore, a geobiologist and postdoctoral researcher in planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology.

The rover also detected organic particles in the rocks it sampled, using its SHERLOC instrument, or by scanning habitable environments with Raman and fluorescence for organic and chemical products.

The presence of organic molecules does not necessarily imply signs of past life or vital fingerprints. Organic matter can be created biologically or abiotically, which is a physical process that does not involve living organisms.

Perseverance advances over an extinct lake on Mars 0:54

The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, detected organic compounds within its Gale Crater landing site. “This helps us understand the environment in which organic matter formed,” Luther Beagle, principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said in a statement, after persistence also discovered these elements.

While more research is needed to determine how these organic molecules are created, their presence gives the scientific team hope. This is because it means that signs of past or present life could also be preserved on Mars, if life was present there.

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“When these samples are returned to Earth, they will be a source of research and scientific discovery for many years,” Beagle said.

Perseverance also uses a ground-penetrating radar instrument on board, the first to be tested on Mars. Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary sciences at Purdue University and a roving mission scientist, said the Radar Imager for the Mars Subsurface Experiment, or RMFAX, has been used to “look deep into the Earth and identify the structure of a rock under our wheels.”

The experiment was used when the rover was crossing a hill. Radar data revealed multiple downward-sloping rock formations, continuing below the surface from the same ridge line. Tools like RIMFAX could help scientists create a better geological map of Mars to understand its history.

Investigation of an ancient river

Perseverance had a remarkable year in 2021 and will move into an even more intriguing region next year: the ancient river delta.

This fan-shaped structure has baffled scientists for years, and Farley said the rover will reach the Delta in about six to eight months.

The rocks in the delta are likely sedimentary, trapping and holding precious layers of silt from the river that once flowed into the crater lake. And the samples could reveal whether organic molecules associated with signs of life, or even microfossils, could be hidden within the delta debris.