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Mars rock samples suggest groundwater was present at some point

Over the last few weeks NASA has been drilling into rocks as Perseverance explores the Jezero Crater.

One particular rock of interest, named Rochette by the rover team, has been drilled not once but twice and while analysis is largely visual, scientists believe that groundwater may have existed on Mars at some stage.

“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said project scientists for the mission, Ken Farley. “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”

The rock that NASA drilled into is believed to have been the product of lava flows. This, NASA says, may help scientists form a timeline of Mars much like has been done here on Earth.

This would give us deeper insight into how the Jezero Crater was formed, how water flowed on Mars and more. There is however the possibility that even if water did fill the crater many aeons ago, it wasn’t there for long.

Despite this, scientists believe that water was present for a long time given the level of alteration on the rock it drilled into.

Perseverance isn’t done yet. It is now headed 200m away to South Séítah which is believed to house boulders and rock shards that are much older than Rochette.

However, that isn’t set to take place for a while due to the Mars solar conjunction. This event takes place every two years when the Sun is between Mars and Earth. Due to the placement of the red planet and our blue-green marble, the Sun’s ionized gas can interfere with radio transmission.

“During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers,” explains NASA.

During this period spacecraft are put on a sort of break where they execute simpler commands. When the solar conjunction last took place Curiosity was stopped from driving and the InSight lander’s robotic arm was moved.

The solar conjunction is set to happen at the start of October and we won’t hear more about Perseverance’s feats until after that period.

As for the samples, NASA will identify samples worth keeping and these will be stored in sealed titanium tubes until Perseverance drops them off to be retrieved on a future mission.

[Image – NASA/JPL-Caltech]

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