Scientists are already making discoveries from the first two core samples drilled from a Martian rock by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Perseverance Rover, which were successfully collected earlier this week.
Preliminary analysis indicates the rock being studied was formed by volcanic activity and also spent a great deal of time interacting with water, JPL announced during a news conference on Friday. Both rock core samples were drilled from the same rock, with confirmation of successful collection confirmed on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
While the samples are being examined remotely with Persevereance’s suite of scientific instruments, for now, the ultimate plan is to return them — along with dozens more still to be collected — back to Earth for in-person study through a future mission in partnership with the European Space Agency.
The chalk-sized rock cores are the first to ever be collected on another planet, according to JPL.
And the early results confirm that Mars was once a very different place in its distant past, and possibly more hospitable to life, according to Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech.
My first two rock samples are likely volcanic with hints of salts that may hold bubbles of ancient water. They’re pieces of a bigger puzzle, to learn:
– how this area formed
– its history of water
– if past life ever existed here
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) September 10, 2021
“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” he said. ““It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”
The sampled rock, nicknamed “Rochette” by scientists, appears to have been formed by a lava flow, according to JPL.
Furthermore, researchers have already spotted salts in the samples.
“The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water,” the statement said. “If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well-known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.”
Perseverance Surface Mission Manager Jessica Samuels of JPL took a moment to reflect on what the events of the past week have meant to her.
“This has been the culmination of so many years of so many people’s hard work and time and effort, and I know when I joined this particular project in 2014, I wanted to be a part of this moment: To be able to achieve something that has never, ever been done before,” she said.
“While it definitely was a very long time waiting, I think all of us can say that it feels fantastic to be able to be up here and share this all with you,” Samuels said.
Perseverance will collect more rock core samples as it continues to explore the Red Planet. But first, it will take a break for a few weeks.
“By the start of October, all Mars missions will be standing down from commanding their spacecraft for several weeks, a protective measure during a period called Mars solar conjunction,” according to the JPL statement.
During the conjunction, the Earth and Mars will be on opposing sides of the sun,making radio communications between them difficult. More sample drilling will likely not take place until afterward.
More information about the Perseverance Mars Rover is available online at https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020-perseverance-rover.