The “Perseverance” rover is exploring Mars for NASA – and shortly after its arrival it answered a crucial question.
Pasadena / Frankfurt – The NASA rover “Perseverance” faces major tasks on Mars. Among other things, he should look for signs of earlier microbial life on the red planet and research the geology and the former climate of Mars. The rover has already answered an important question with the first images it sent to Earth, as NASA has now announced. The recordings and an accompanying study were published in the journal Science.
“This is the key observation that confirms to us once and for all that there was a lake and a river delta at the Jezero crater,” said the scientist Nicolas Mangold, the main author of the study, in a message from NASA. Today the Jezero crater, in which “Perseverance” landed in February 2021, is bone dry. But once there was water there, experts conclude from the recordings of the Mars rover. The Jezero crater was therefore 3.7 billion years ago a lake that was fed by a small river.
Nasa rover revealed: Jezero crater on Mars was once a lake with a river connection
The recordings also show the experts that there must have been heavy flooding on the lake. According to the researchers working with Mangold in their study, these floods carried large stones for kilometers along the river and deposited them in the lake where they are still located today.
Nasa rover “Perseverance”: No accidental disclosure
It is no coincidence that “Perseverance” hits the bull’s eye so soon after its arrival. The landing site in the Jezero crater was selected by NASA experts because it was suspected that water once flowed there. Recordings from Mars orbiters had shown in advance that the Jezero crater looks like a dry lake that is connected to a river delta. “The rover has solved one of the biggest puzzles without going anywhere,” says a delighted planetologist Benjamin Weiss. “Until we got there, it was always a question: Was the crater once a lake?”
Mars experts believe that the red planet once had water on the surface, but dried up about 3.5 billion years ago. At that time, according to the current state of research, Mars lost its magnetic field and gradually lost its atmosphere. Another theory suggests that Mars was too small to hold water permanently.
NASA plan: Rover “Perseverance” is to visit the former river delta
Meanwhile the rover “Perseverance” has covered about 2.6 kilometers in the Jezero crater and if everything goes according to plan, it will also see the rocks that it photographed from a distance to solve the mystery of the lake close up. It is planned that the rover will drive to the former river delta to take soil samples there. Experts believe that sediments from the former lake may contain traces of previous life in the water. Therefore, “Perseverance” should also collect such samples. “We now have the opportunity to search for fossils,” explains Tanja Bosak from MIT.
The soil samples that Perseverance collects will be stored by the rover on the surface of Mars. A future mission will bring the samples back from Mars to Earth, where they can be examined directly by scientists. “It will take some time to get the stones in which we will hopefully find traces of life. It is a marathon with great potential, ”continued Bosak.
Nasa rover “Perseverance”: Soil samples are to be sent from Mars to Earth
But until that happens, research will have to rely on “Perseverance” and the older NASA rover “Curiosity”, which conducts research in a different region on Mars. “A better understanding of the Jezero crater is key to understanding the changing hydrology in the area,” said Perseverance scientist Sanjeev Gupta in a NASA release. “That could give valuable insights into why the whole planet has dried up.”
Weiss also has another hope: it is possible that the time can be found in the rock when the crater “passed from an earth-like, habitable environment to this devastated wasteland,” he explains. “These rubble beds can be records of this transition. We haven’t seen that in other places on Mars. “(Tanja Banner)