Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

At New Scientist: The Perseverance rover is finding more and more organic matter on Mars


NASA’s Perseverance rover is exploring a long-dry river delta on Mars, and it has seen signs that indicate that the region is full of organics – molecules containing carbon that are widely considered to be the building blocks of life.

NASA?s Perseverance rover puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called ?Skinner Ridge? in Mars? Jezero Crater. Composed of multiple images, this mosaic shows layered sedimentary rocks in the face of a cliff in the delta, as well as one of the locations where the rover abraded a circular patch to analyze a rock?s composition. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
A mosaic image of NASA’s Perseverance rover at a rocky outcrop called Skinner Ridge on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The rover has taken measurements and samples in an area called Skinner Ridge made of layered sedimentary rocks, some of which contain materials that were most likely transported from hundreds of kilometres away by running water billions of years ago.

“With the samples we’re taking now in this more sedimentary area, we’re of course right at the heart of what we wanted to do to start with,” said NASA science lead Thomas Zurbuchen during a press conference on 15 September. The goal was to look at areas similar to those on Earth that harbour signs of ancient life, he said.

These sedimentary rocks contain complex organic molecules called aromatics, as well as clays and sulphate minerals, which can be produced when water interacts with rocks. While none of these materials are definitely signs of life, known as biosignatures, they do mean we are looking in the right place.

“This is really important that this has sulphate in it and also clays, because that means that this rock has high potential for biosignature preservation, meaning that if there were biosignatures in this vicinity when that rock formed, this is precisely the type of material that will preserve that for us to study when [the samples] come back to Earth,” said David Shuster at the University of California, Berkeley, during the press conference.

The prevalence of organic matter has increased over the course of Perseverance’s drive through the crater in which it landed towards the river delta. “If this is a treasure hunt for potential signs of life on another planet, organic matter is a clue,” said Sunanda Sharma at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California during the press conference. “We’re getting stronger and stronger clues as we’re moving through our delta campaign.”

However, we most likely won’t be able to hunt for definitive signs of life in these rocks until Perseverance’s samples are brought home in a mission planned for launch in 2028.

New Scientist

Note that “aromatics” are not exactly “complex organic molecules.” Benzene, composed of a ring of 6 carbon atoms, is a common example of an aromatic. Finding some brick-shaped rocks on a mountainside does not support the hypothesis that all the structure and infrastructure of a city came about by natural processes.

The Mars images look better because imaging technology has improved. A CCD or Charge-Coupled Device provides high quality images. No mistakes were made going to the moon. In fact, things went better in 1969 than today. Fueling with liquid hydrogen was accomplished then but the current Artemis rocket is going nowhere until they fix leaks in the hydrogen inlet/valve system. relatd
I guess the Mars images look better because they learned from the mistakes they've made when they "went" to the Moon ? Lieutenant Commander Data
Yes, "organic matter" is just molecules that include carbon, and yes, "aromatics" are usually quite simple molecules. So these are pretty basic "building blocks" of life. You can be sure that if they had found anything more, it would be hyped up in the article. Nevertheless, it is still fascinating work; what mere humans have managed to accomplish from their perch on the third planet in the past century or so! Fasteddious

Leave a Reply