Photos from Mars captivate us with their incredible views. Although the Red Planet is a dead dry desert, its diverse landscapes do not leave anyone indifferent, and some even remain imprinted in the memory for a long time. Even space scientists have one or two favorite photos in their catalog.
For Katie Stack Morgan, a deputy scientist on NASA’s Perseverance rover, the first close-up image of layered rocks in the delta of the ancient river delta in the Jezero crater holds a special place in her heart. The image of the rocky outcrop of the “Enchanted Lake”, unofficially named after a landmark in the Katmai National Park and Reserve in Alaska, was taken by a Hazcams camera aboard Perseverance on April 30, 2022.
Exploring this delta was on the wish list of Katie and the rest of the Perseverance science team, as they believe that this place provides one of the best mission opportunities to search for remnants of ancient microbial life – the main goal of the mission.
“When I saw the image of the Enchanted Lake taken by Hazcams, it was love at first sight. The image allowed me to see a glimpse of sedimentary rocks up close – those that I have been most eager to explore since Jezero was named the landing site of Perseverance almost four years ago,” said Katie Morgan.
Why is Perseverance photography so charming?
To better understand why this particular image of Perseverance with sedimentary rock became so touching for Katie, we need to go back to the beginning of the research. After the rover’s descent to the surface on February 18, 2021 on the flat rocky plains of the bottom of the Jezero crater, the device studied boulders and regolith for more than a year. It turned out that almost all rocks were igneous in origin and were formed more than a billion years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions and gradual cooling. Igneous rocks provide a lot of information about the inner environment of Mars. Moreover, the team found evidence that igneous rocks interacted with water and could potentially be habitable.
But, as Stack Morgan notes, the conditions forming igneous rocks usually do not provide an optimal environment for preserving evidence of solidified microscopic life. Sedimentary rocks are another matter. For example, dominating the Jezero Delta, they are an ideal place to search for signs of a past life.
Could the stratified rocks of the “Enchanted Lake” contain evidence that there was once microscopic life on Mars? Quite possibly. However, the answers to this question will have to wait at least 10 years, when the collected Perseverance samples will be delivered by a special mission to Earth and analyzed using powerful laboratory equipment too large to deliver it to Mars.
According to Phys
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