Bringing back samples from Mars and the search for life on the red planet

This seminar is part of the EAI on-line seminars

By Sandra Siljeström, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Sweden

7 November 2023, 16:00 CET

Mars contains many morphological and mineralogical features indicating that it once was covered by liquid water and, therefore might have been habitable and contain biosignatures. Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is currently exploring Jezero Crater on Mars, which contains an ancient lake-delta-fan system with a high potential for past habitability. In addition to searching for biosignatures and studying the geological history of Jezero Crater, one of Perseverance’s primary science goals is to collect a set of samples for return to Earth (Mars Sample Return; MSR). To date, Perseverance has sealed 26 tubes containing rock cores, regolith samples, an atmosphere sample, as well as several blank samples at the crater floor, the delta-fan, and the margin of Jezero Crater. Perseverance will continue to explore Jezero crater and beyond, adding to the cache of samples for MSR, which is planned to bring the samples back to Earth by the early 2030s.

If returned to Earth, these rocks will be the first sedimentary rocks from Mars to be studied in terrestrial laboratories. Especially, the phyllosilicates, sulfates, and other alteration phases present in the delta-fan front rock cores could potentially have trapped organic matter and other biosignatures originating from the ancient lake or the Jezero watershed. Thus, these samples will be exceptionally valuable for astrobiological investigations, using cutting-edge instrumentation and techniques, back on Earth. They will provide scientists the opportunity to answer long-standing questions about potential life on Mars and the evolution of the red planet.

In my presentation, I will talk about the search for organic molecules and life on Mars, specifically the exploration of the Jezero Crater by Perseverance and the samples being collected for Mars sample return.