Los Angeles, US, Dec 16 (EFE).- Scientists with NASA’s Perseverance Mars mission have discovered that the bedrock, across which the six-wheeled explorer has been rolling on since landing in February, might have been formed from red-hot volcanic magma, a key finding to know critical historical events on the red planet.
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) announced the “surprising” discovery in a statement on Wednesday.
“The discovery has implications for understanding and accurately dating critical events in the history of Jezero Crater – as well as the rest of the planet,” Caltech said.
The team has also concluded that rocks in the crater have interacted with water multiple times over the eons.
Some rocks contain organic molecules, they said.
The findings were presented Wednesday during a news briefing at the American Geophysical Union fall science meeting in New Orleans.
The Perseverance rover was sent by American space agency NASA to explore the surface of Mars amid mystery about the origin of the rocks in the crater.
“I was beginning to despair we would never find the answer,” said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena.
“But then our PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) instrument got a good look at the abraded patch of a rock from the area nicknamed ‘South Séítah,’ and it all became clear: The crystals within the rock provided the smoking gun.”
Perseverance’s robotic arm has a drill at its end that can rob off, or grind, rock surfaces to allow other instruments to study them.
“On Nov.12, PIXL analyzed a South Séítah rock the science team had chosen to take a core sample from using the rover’s drill.
“The PIXL data showed the rock to be composed of an unusual abundance of large olivine crystals engulfed in pyroxene crystals,” the Caltech statement said.
The robotic rover landed on Mars in February after nearly seven months of travel from Florida.
It collected the first sample on martian soil in September to analyze whether there was ever any life on the red planet.
The sample was a slightly wider pencil-thick chunk of rock taken from the Jezero crater, which will be part of the Mars Sample Return program.
The plan is to bring them to Earth by 2031.
The sample and other discoveries collected by the rover are in one of the 43 hermetic titanium tubes of the spacecraft.
Of Perseverance’s 43 sample tubes, six are sealed to date.
Four are with rock cores, one with a martian atmosphere, and one contains “core” material to look at any contamination the rover may have brought in from Earth.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) plan a series of future missions to return the rover samples to Earth for further study. EFE