Looking for Life on Mars

photo credit: mars.nasa.gov

photo credit: mars.nasa.gov

Jessica Townsend, Editor

NASA’s new rover is scheduled to land near Mars’s equatorial Jezero Crater in February 2021. This area is suspected to have once been a lake. The goal of the mission is to collect rock samples in order to look for signatures of microbes that used to live there.

Briony Horgan, from Purdue University, says that they will be looking for carbonate deposits, which precipitate out of water. In the process, “everything that’s living there can be trapped inside the mineral” (BBC).

In addition to the carbonate, rocks are also better preserved on Mars than on Earth. Unlike our home planet, Mars does not have tectonic plates that churn and recycle rocks, erasing traces of life. Ken Williford, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says, “paradoxically, it may well be that the older rocks on Mars are better preserved than much younger rocks on Earth.” If there was indeed life on Mars, it will be easy to find remains.

While searching for samples, the rover will also be gathering knowledge on the challenges of possible human expeditions to Mars. It will test “methods for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars” (NASA).

The 2021 rover is similar to the 2012 Curiosity Rover, adding several upgrades. It will use the same sky-crane technique to reach the planets surface, but with greater accuracy, speed, and navigation.  The rover will collect up to 40 samples; however, NASA and ESA won’t be able to retrieve them until the early 2030’s.