NASA landed the Perseverance rover in Mars’ Jezero crater knowing it had the potential for signs of ancient life, but now it’s clearer where the rover should be looking. Scientists have published a study (Perservance’s first since landing) providing information on where the rover can “best search” for traces of past microbial life. Finds and images confirm that Jezero once had a lake and a river delta, and that certain patches (the fine-grained material at the bottom of the delta, plus rocks at the top) are ideal targets for research.
The decisive moment came when Perseverance captured footage of “Kodiak,” a rock outcrop believed to have been on the edge of the delta. It represented the best-preserved stratigraphy (the stratigraphy of geological deposits) ever seen on Mars, confirming the existence of the lake and the river delta. The imagery gave the Perseverance team an idea of where to look months before the rover reached the area.
The escarpments northeast of Kodiak also created a surprise. Layers of boulder suggest flash floods reshaped the otherwise slow and relatively calm river. It now appears that Jezero’s waterways were considerably more complex than previously thought. The lake’s water levels must have changed dramatically over the years before eventually disappearing.
The findings are expected to save researchers valuable time as they collect samples for possible return to Earth. However, they could also help scientists understand why Mars dried up. From this perspective, perseverance should be useful even if there are no clues from past life to be found.
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