While organic matter has been found on the Red Planet before, the new discovery has been greeted with excitement and hope in the scientific community. That’s because the specimens came from a lake where sediment and salts where life could exist had accumulated.
Initial results showed a class of organic molecules called aromatics that play an important role in biochemistry.
“It’s very possible to say that these will be the most valuable rock specimens ever collected,” Perseverance mission scientist David Shuster told reporters during a briefing.
Organic molecules are compounds composed primarily of carbon, often containing hydrogen and oxygen, but sometimes also containing other elements, and cannot always be formed by biological processes.
The rover, nicknamed Percy, landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021 and was tasked with characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, as well as caching samples that may contain signs of ancient life.
The rover is now there, investigating sedimentary rocks made up of particles of various sizes that settled in the watery environment at the time. The delta investigated are sediments formed 3.5 billion years ago.
Percy took two samples of a boulder called “Wildcat Ridge”, about a meter wide, and eroded part of its surface so that it could be analyzed with an instrument called the SHERLOC, which uses ultraviolet light, on July 20.
The results showed a class of organic molecules called aromatics that play an important role in biochemistry.
“This is a treasure hunt for potential signs of life on another planet,” said NASA astrobiologist Sunanda Sharma.
“The organic matter is a cue, and we’re getting stronger and stronger cues… Personally, I find these results very impressive because I feel like we’re in the right place, with the right tools, at a crucial moment.” he said.
Other encouraging clues have previously been found about the possibility of life on Mars, including repeated detections of methane by Perseverance’s predecessor, Curiosity.