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London, UK Posted 2 years, 6 months ago

New Images From Mars Will Guide Search for Evidence of Ancient Life, Says Study

Pictures taken by Perseverance rover show how water helped shape planet's landscape billions of years ago

Images from Mars reveal how water helped shape the red planet’s landscape billions of years ago, and provide clues that will guide the search for evidence of ancient life, according to a new study.

In February, Nasa’s Perseverance rover landed in Jezero crater, where scientists suspected a long-gone river once fed a lake, depositing sediment in a fan-shaped delta visible from space.

The study in Science analysed high-resolution images captured by Perseverance of the cliffs that were once the banks of the delta. Layers within the cliffs reveal how its formation took place.

Nasa astrobiologist Amy Williams and her team in Florida found similarities between features of the cliffs seen from the crater floor and patterns in Earth’s river deltas. The shape of the bottom three layers showed a presence and steady flow of water early on, indicating Mars was “warm and humid enough to support a hydrologic cycle” about 3.7bn years ago, the study says.

The top and most recent layers feature boulders measuring more than a metre in diameter scattered about, probably carried there by violent flooding.

But it is the fine-grained sediment of the base layer that will probably be the target of sampling for signs of long-extinct life – if it existed – on Mars.

The findings will help researchers figure out where to send the rover for soil and rocks that may contain precious “biosignatures” of putative Martian life forms.

“From orbital images, we knew it had to be water that formed the delta,” Williams said. “But having these images is like reading a book instead of just looking at the cover.”

Finding out whether life might have existed on Mars is the main mission of Perseverence, a project that has taken decades and cost billions of dollars to develop.

Over the course of several years, the multitasking rover will collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes, to be eventually sent back to Earth sometime in the 2030s for lab analysis.

Read the full article at: theguardian

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