First Martian Rock Samples Reveal a “Potentially Habitable Sustained Environment”

The first rock samples that were collected on Mars by NASA’s Perseverance Rover have revealed very interesting results. The first sample, which has been named “Montdenier”, was collected on September 6th, followed by a second sample named “Montagnac” on September 8th.

Experts are hoping that by collecting the rock samples, they will be able to get a better understanding of the planet’s history and so far so good as indicated by Caltech’s Ken Farley who is a project scientist for the mission that is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, “It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” adding, “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”

The rocks from the first sample are composed of basalt which may have been a result of lava flows. And since volcanic rocks contain crystalline minerals that can be radiometric dated, experts may be able to pinpoint the date of when the lava flows occurred. The information provided in the rocks may also answer many other important questions regarding the area in which it was collected, such as when the Jezero Crater was formed, when its lake appeared and then disappeared, and what type of changes the climate endured over time.

An artist’s concept of a lake inside Jezero Crater (via Wikipedia)

Scientists do know that a lake once filled the crater, but they’re still unsure as to how long it lasted. The samples that they have collected so far seem to indicate that groundwater was there for a significant amount of time – but the question of whether it was there for thousands of years or even millions of years remains unanswered, at least for now. The longer the water was there would have provided a better opportunity for microscopic life to have survived if there was any.

Additionally, salts have been found in the rocks and they could have formed when there was groundwater in the area that affected the minerals in the rock or perhaps the salts were left when the water evaporated. If the salt minerals were able to trap small water bubbles, they could provide scientists with answers regarding the climate on Mars during ancient times as well as if the planet was ever habitable.

The first two samples were collected from an area which is believed to contain some of youngest rock layers in the crater. Their next location for collecting rock samples will probably be in “South Séítah” which is only about 656 feet (200 meters) away. This area, which is believed to be older than the original site, contains ridges that are covered by boulders, rock shards, and sand dunes.

Surface of Mars

Once the samples are eventually brought back to Earth, scientists will analyze them in further detail as described by Mitch Schulte from NASA Headquarters and who is the mission’s program scientist, “One day, we may be able to work out the sequence and timing of the environmental conditions that this rock’s minerals represent. This will help answer the big-picture science question of the history and stability of liquid water on Mars.”

A picture of the two drill holes in the rock can be seen here.

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