Over the past few months, NASA’s Perseverance Rover has been hard at work combing through the remains of a Martian river delta at the bottom of the Jezero Crater, collecting and analyzing rock and sediment samples in search of signs of life. Recently, this noble quest has begun to yield increasingly promising findings.
The most recent samples collected are said to contain an abundance of organic matter. As Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology put it at a press conference on Thursday, "the rocks that we have been investigating on the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter that we have yet found on the mission, And of course, organic molecules are the building blocks of life… So this is all very interesting, in that we have rocks that were deposited in a habitable environment in a lake which carry organic matter.”
BREAKING : NASA's Perseverance rover has found organic matter in rock samples on Mars pic.twitter.com/B0ddjRKXnY— Latest in space (@latestinspace) September 15, 2022
So the key components are there. And they’re right where we want them, at the bottom of a dried-up lake bed, where life would most likely arise.
Sunanda Sharma, SHERLOC scientist (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, added, "While the detection of this class of organics alone does not mean that life was definitively there, this set of observations does start to look like some things that we've seen here on Earth." The recent samples also apparently contain sulfates, which according to Sharma, “are known to conserve organics and can harbor signs of life [here on Earth], which are called biosignatures.”
The Perseverance Rover is set to come home in 2033, at which point the samples will be scanned more thoroughly. Though these samples themselves can’t be considered biosignatures, we’re closer than we’ve ever been to unequivocal proof of life on Mars. All evidence points toward yes. We just happened to miss it by a couple billion years.