The Mars Perseverance Rover has made great progress in exploring the mysterious red planet since its launch on July 30, 2020. The full audio recordings Perseverance collected while traversing the Martian surface, as well as the rustling of the planet’s solar winds had scientists and astronomy enthusiasts excited. The mission’s goal began last year by drilling for Martian rock samples in the Jezero crater. Analysis of data provided by Perseverance indicates that Mars may have had ancient flash floods in the area. The clarity of the images showing massive lake and river formations have scientists undoubtedly excited. The evidence gives insight into how Mars was formed, the planet’s hydrology, its layers and composition, among others. By the time studies from future launches in 2030 are complete, researchers hope to have collected approximately 30 samples for analysis.
Initial attempts to collect Martian samples were conducted by the Curiosity Rover in 2016, but the larger drill bit shattered during its attempt on Mount Sharp, sidelining the mission for several years after. However, in the wake of this setback, NASA shifted gears to analyzing organic molecules present in loose samples the rover had previously collected. The ‘wet chemistry lab’ aboard Curiosity has only 9 cups of solvent and each one is single use, so samples must be chosen carefully and with great intention. The most difficult part of the experiment is collecting organic molecule samples without them breaking down into smaller molecules due to heat. The solvent avoids this problem by reacting with the compounds first to ensure they can be collected for analysis with the least risk of them breaking down. From the sand Curiosity had collected from Ogunquit Beach, researchers found ammonia, benzoic acid, among others, including several compounds that had not been found on Mars before. As of yet, no amino-acid like molecules have been discovered, so we still cannot conclusively say if there was life on Mars or not.
Even if scientists are unable to discover proof of organic life on our red sister planet, the success of this new experiment paves the way for further research into not just extraterrestrial bodies, but our own planet.
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