by Rida Fatima
(Figure 1: Image of “Yori Pass” taken by Hazard-Avoidance Camera (Hazcams) on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Nov. 5, 2022, the 609th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
To seek evidence of ancient microbial life, Perseverance is investigating a spot called Yori Pass located in the Jazero Crater of the Red Planet. Mars once had a dense atmosphere and liquid water running on its surface. However, it has now been a barren wasteland for billions of years. Studies have shown Microbes from Earth could also thrive on Mars for many millions of years. On Mars, the river channels spewed over the crater wall and formed a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. Water carried minerals from the nearby region into the crater lake. Microbial life might have existed in Jezero during these wet periods. If this is the case, evidence of their remains may be found in lakebed or shoreline sediments.
The Sensational Sandstones on Mars
Scientists are looking for ways to investigate how the Martian environment formed and evolved. Search for signs of past life is at its full pace. Rover is collecting samples of Mars rock and soil that may contain such traces. The region, Yori Pass is located in a long-gone river delta region and at the base of Jezero Crater. The crater is believed to have been flooded with water early in Mars’s history. The delta may have once carried the molecules required for life. After spotting some sensational sandstone, NASA’s Perseverance rover decided to explore Mars’ secrets with much excitement. The rover found some rocks there that have excited scientists back on Earth.
Rock sample collection from the Jazero crater is the primary objective of the Perseverance Mars rover. It has to find any signs that life once existed on the Red Planet. It could be any element, molecule, substance or feature that is characteristic of life. According to NASA, scientists find Yori Pass features to be tantalizing as it is sandstone. Not only that but it is also composed of fine grains that might have come from somewhere else due to flowing water before ending up settling and turning into stones. The geological pieces of evidence are so exciting here for the scientists because they consider these fine-grained rocks to have the best chance of preserving the indication of life. Furthermore, they also contain a higher concentration of clay materials that can protect large organic molecules from harmful UV radiation. Hence, due to the presence of this clay material sandstone molecules remain protected from degradation.
Clues of Ancient Life
Historical confirmations of water on Jazero Crater are the main reason NASA chose it as a landing site for its life-exploring rover. The ancient Mars atmosphere could have supported an underground world overflowing with microbial species. The rover used an abrasion tool to clean off a bit of the rock and look beneath the dusty surface. It uncovered veins of lighter material within the beige surroundings. “Could it hold clues about ancient life?” the Perseverance team tweeted. NASA expects that Perseverance will reveal biosignatures in the Yori Pass rock. This discovery could be defined as “any property, element, molecule, material, or trait that can indicate ancient life.” The rover has recently explored organic compounds in a rock sample, although it is too early to tell if this is proof of microscopic organisms from the red planet’s old days.
Yori Pass and Hogwallow Flats
To properly comprehend what’s going on with the bedrock from Jezero Crater, researchers will have to get their hands on them which is possible through NASA’s innovative Mars Sample Return mission. NASA intends to retrieve rock samples collected by Perseverance and return them to Earth for analysis. A sample of the Yori Pass sandstone would be a valuable prize. Katie Stack Morgan is a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL by NASA) research scientist who is interested in Martian sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geologic mapping of planetary surfaces. Morgan compares the Yori Pass rock bed to Hogwallow Flats, popularly known as “the Bacon Strip” attributed to its light-coloured stripes stones since they are both situated at the very same altitude. They also have a massive, traceable footprint that is evident on the Martian surface. The rocks in Hogwallow Flats look to be particularly fine-grained. Fine-grained rocks are intriguing for mission scientists as they may have the best chance of preserving signs of life.
The Perseverance rover has been investigating the Jezero Crater since it landed on Mars in February 2021. For the first time, the rover’s spectacular fall was captured on video by the spacecraft. This spectacular Mars rover has gathered 14 rock-core samples and an air sample. Since then, these samples are kept in the rover’s belly. The sample-collection mission started in September 2021. First of all, it efficiently extracted a pencil-thin rock core from Jezero Crater. Then it was deposited in an airtight titanium sample tube. These materials are a significant part of the proposed joint NASA/ESA sample-return mission, which seeks to send a spacecraft to Mars. It will recover encased Martian rock and soil samples from Perseverance. Then they will be delivered to Earth for comprehensive and detailed in-depth investigation.
- Fine-Grained Rocks at Hogwallow Flats . (2022, June 23). Retrieved from NASA Mars: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/status/387/fine-grained-rocks-at-hogwallow-flats/
- Lea, R. (2022, November 20). NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover hunts tantalizing bedrock that could hide evidence of life. Retrieved from Space.com: https://www.space.com/perseverance-mars-rover-reaches-yori-pass
- Perseverance Rover’s Landing Site: Jezero Crater . (n.d.). Retrieved from NASA MARS: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/science/landing-site/