Life on Mars breakthrough: NASA’s latest discovery could prove ‘ancient microbial life’

NASA scientists are one step closer to finding evidence of alien life on Mars after collecting “high value” rock samples from an ancient Martian lakebed.

NASA scientists are one step closer to finding evidence of alien life on Mars after collecting “high value” rock samples from an ancient Martian lakebed.

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NASA confirmed on Friday the Mars rover Perseverance has successfully collected and stored its second rock sample, less than seven months after landing on the Red Planet. The two rock samples, dubbed “Montdenier” and “Montagnac”, were collected from a region of Mars believed to have once been volcanically active and filled with water. If alien life ever developed on Mars, scientists are convinced these would have been the perfect conditions for microbes to thrive.

Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said: “It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment.

“It’s a big deal that the water was there for a long time.”

The two rocks may have been the product of lava flows and contain a number of promising minerals that could shed more light on Mars’s ancient climate.

Scientists believe the bone-dry planet once resembled a young Earth, with a hot and humid atmosphere and bodies of water on the surface.

NASA’s Perseverance is presently exploring the 28-mile-wide (45km) Jezero Crater, which was filled with water more than three billion years ago.

NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars

However, scientists are uncertain just how long the water stayed in the crater and whether it was long enough for life to develop.

An analysis of the volcanic minerals stored in the collected samples will help paint a better picture of the conditions in Jezero billions of years ago.

Scientists are also hopeful salt minerals found inside of the rocks may have trapped bubbles of ancient Martian water.

NASA geologist Katie Stack Morgan told a press conference: “If these rocks experienced water for long periods of time, there may be habitable niches within these rocks that could have supported ancient microbial life.”

She added: “Salts are great minerals for preserving signs of ancient life here on Earth, and we expect the same may be true for rocks on Mars.”

The rover collected its first sample on September 6 after a previous attempt failed.

The second rock core was drilled out of a rock formation dubbed “Rochette” on September 8.

Mitch Schulte of NASA Headquarters, the mission’s programme scientist, said: “These samples have high value for future laboratory analysis back on Earth.

“One day, we may be able to work out the sequence and timing of the environmental conditions that this rock’s minerals represent.

“This will help answer the big-picture science question of the history and stability of liquid water on Mars.”

NASA’s rover will prepare the samples for a planned retrieval mission in the future.

If all goes according to plan, NASA will launch a second rover to Mars to retrieve the samples and launch them back to Earth.

NASA's rovers on Mars
NASA'S Perseverance rover on Mars

The mission will be carried out in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) in the 2030s.

Perseverance’s next likely target is a sample site known as “South Séítah”.

South Séítah is a formation of ridges covered by sand dunes, rock shards and boulders about 656ft (200m) from where the rover is now.

The site is likely older than Rochette and will provide new insights into life at the crater floor.

However, the rover will not drill into the site until “sometime” after October.

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