Satellite observations of the Jezero Crater on Mars, the chosen landing spot for NASA's next rover mission revealed evidence of minerals that are extremely good at preserving traces of ancient life, which makes it even a better place to send the rover than originally thought.
If a primitive life existed on Mars billions of years ago – and it is still a great if – there is an excellent chance of finding fossilized remains of this life in the Je zero crater, according to a pair of recent studies . This is extremely good news, considering that next year NASA's will be released to this site, which will still be announced as a 2020 Rover . The fact that Jezero Crater is an excellent target for the rover is hardly a surprise since it was carefully selected by NASA because of its potentially life-saving properties or at least its former potentially life-saving properties. Billions of years ago, this 49-kilometer-wide crater (30 ̵
In a book published in Geophysical Letters, a research team led by Dr. Brown University. student Jesse Tarnas describes the discovery of hydrated silica in rock enclosures located along the edge of an ancient delta river. This is big news, as it is known that hydrated silica, a form of silica, stores fossilized evidence of ancient life on Earth.
And in a separate book published in Icarus, a research team led by Briony Horgan of Purdue University describes the presence of carbonates in the Jezero Crater – a mineral that is also very good for keeping traces of the ancient life and other important biosignatures.
Both of these findings were made possible by NASA's Compact Mars Reconstruction Spectrometer (CRISM), located in the orbit of Mars Intelligence (MRO). Because hydrated silica produces weak spectral signals, Tarnas and his colleagues have been able to validate signatures by applying two methods to process big data. To sniff out the carbonates, Horgan and her team used CRISM data in conjunction with high resolution images and topographic models on the Martian surface.
Going into the project, Tarnas and his colleagues did not necessarily expect to find evidence of hydrated silica .
"We started the project by applying a new data analysis method that we developed for hyperspectral images that we used to obtain composite information about the surface of Mars from orbit, images of the Jezero crater and the surrounding region," writes Tarnas to Gizmodo in email. "When we started, the Jezero Crater had not yet been selected as a landing spot on the NASA Mars 2020 rover, so we were interested in finding new minerals or mineral joints both inside and outside Jezero, as another final candidate for landing – NE Syrtis – was really close.
When the ancient rivers flowed into the crater, they transported minerals from the watershed, producing a deposit of the delta of the sails, which is now rich in clay materials. As described in the Geophysical Letters document, hydrated silica is located at the edge of this low altitude delta . This suggests the minerals formed at the bottom of the delta, known as the bottom layer, thus making it a prime exploration site for the 2020 Rover.
"These minerals and mineral assemblies tell us about the conditions under which water and the rocks have interacted in this area of Mars, "says Tarnas. "Most of this interaction between water rocks took place billions of years ago. Some of these chemical reactions to water rocks create a habitable environment, including the probable habitable environment of the ancient Jezero Crater Lake, which was formed by the physical movement of water over the rock. "
Strong carbonate signatures have been found along the western inner edge of Jezero. A crater that Horgan identified as a" bath ring "in a NASA press release . Carbonates are usually formed in shallow and warm seas and often in connection with biological activity, hence the interest in Mars carbonates On Earth, carbon tests contribute to the fossilization of structures such as mussels, corals and, importantly, stromatolites – rocky structures formed by large clusters of microbial life. that you are following the mussel and also Mars corals are unlikely, but evidence of bacteria similar to microorganisms is, it's a different story.
In terms of what this preserved Martian life might look like, Tarnas says it "probably will look such as microbial cells, permineralized in hydrated silica, meaning that silica has grown in the spaces dividing the cell walls, and the scale containing the microfossils is likely to be rich in complex organic matter. "He said it may look similar to the ancient microfossils found in silica on ancient rocks, including the 3.4 billion fossil aged sf in South Africa and Australia.
Excitingly, both hydrated silica and carbonates should be easily accessible from the 2020 Rover on the Martian surface. The rover will have a built-in chemical test laboratory and a tool capable of detecting complex organic compounds. The rover will also be able to take close-up photos of the deposits to see how they are located relative to other rocks. In addition, there are CRISM-like sensors that will allow comparisons with MRO data. If all this fails, the rover can take samples and leave them as cache for future Earth retrieval and return missions.
All this is very exciting and we would refuse to mention the news earlier this week about the detection of intriguing oscillations of oxygen on Mars. The Red Planet may or may not have hosted once in a lifetime, but we certainly do everything we can to understand. The good news is that we won't have to wait long for the new rover to start sniffing around the Jezero Crater – February 2021 will surely arrive with a blink of an eye.