NASA has landed the Perseverance rover at Jezero Crater in Mars knowing it has the potential to show signs of ancient life, but now it’s clear where the rover should look. Scientists have published a study (Perservance’s first since landing) that provides insights into where the rover could “better search” for traces of past microbial life. The results and images confirm that Jezero Island once contained a lake and river delta, and that some patches (fine-grained material at the bottom of the delta, as well as rocks at the top) are ideal targets for research.
The breakthrough moment came when Perseverance took pictures of “Kodiak,” a prominent rock that would have been on the edge of the delta. They represented the best-preserved stratigraphic layers (layers of geological deposits) ever seen on Mars, confirming the existence of lake and river deltas. The images gave the Perseverance team an idea of where to look months before the rover reached the area.
The cliffs northeast of Kodiak also provided a surprise. The bedrock layered with rocks suggests that flash floods reshaped the relatively slow and restless river. It now appears that Jezero’s waterways were much more complex than previously thought. The water levels in the lake must have changed drastically over the years before it finally disappeared.
The discoveries should save researchers valuable time as they collect samples for their eventual return to Earth. However, it may also help scientists understand why Mars is drying up. In light of this, perseverance should be beneficial even if no hints of past lives are found.
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