Words by Rob Barrie, Science and Technology Editor
The rover on Mars, Perseverance, confirms it is in the correct location to look for life.
Perseverance touched down on the Red planet in February with the aim of finding life on our neighbouring planet. Jezero Crater was chosen as the site of research and for the past few months the rover has been taking pictures and sending a helicopter, Ingenuity, into the air to map the terrain.
NASA have chosen an ancient lake as a site to look for life, as water forms the basis for all lifeforms. It is hoped that remnants of life will be visible in rock samples once brought back to Earth and analysed. From images taken by Perseverance, we now know the exact site where a river system linked up with the lake. This formed a delta and would have been a prime site for microorganisms to thrive.
The rover will drill into the ancient rocks around the shores of the crater and it is likely that if ancient life did exist, such organisms would leave chemical traces in the rock. The rover itself will only do preliminary tests but, as mentioned earlier, confirmation of ancient life on Mars will occur after being tested in advanced laboratories back on Earth.
The landing sites were chosen based on satellite imagery, and so it is encouraging that the pictures taken by the rover on the ground itself consolidate the hypothesis that Jezero Crater is a prime location to look for life. If the mission continues on such a successful trajectory, it will surely not be a question of if but when we find life on the Martian planet.
The samples are due to be brought back in approximately ten years in a joint mission between NASA and The European Agency. Only then will we know the extent of life that existed, or perhaps even still exists, on Mars.