Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Two Martian rock samples collected by the Perseverance rover may contain evidence of ancient water bubbles, according to NASA.

The rock samples were found to include salt minerals, which may reveal insights about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars billions of years ago — and could even preserve evidence of ancient life, if it existed on the red planet. Perseverance successfully collected its first two rock samples on September 6 and 8, nicknamed Montdenier and Montagnac, from the same rock called Rochette. The rover is currently exploring Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake more than 3 billion years ago. “Because these rocks were of such high scientific potential, we decided to acquire two samples here,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The rocks within the crater could tell scientists about ancient volcanic activity in the area, as well as if water was present for long periods of time, or if it came and went as the climate fluctuated. These two rock samples show that groundwater was likely present for a long time in the area. “It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Perseverance mission at the California Institute of Technology, in a statement. “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.” The Rochette rock is basaltic in nature, meaning it was likely made by ancient lava flows. Crystalline minerals within rocks like this can help scientists obtain extremely accurate dating and tell when the rock was formed.

The salt minerals within the rocks are the result of the rocks being altered over time. They could have formed when groundwater either changed the original minerals within the lava rock or when water evaporated and left the salts behind. While the groundwater may have been part of the lake that once filled Jezero Crater and its river delta, scientists can’t discount the fact that the water may have traveled through the rocks even after the lake dried up and disappeared. But the rocks give Perseverance’s science team hope; water was likely present long enough to create a habitable environment where ancient microbial life could have thrived.