In a significant breakthrough, NASA's Perseverance rover has discovered a diverse array of organic molecules in a Martian crater.
Organic compounds, often considered as the building blocks of life, are molecules composed of carbon and often include other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
The discovery of these compounds in ten different rock samples on Mars hints at the possibility that the building blocks of life could have been present for a long time on the surface of Mars, in more than one place.
The discovery was made in Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake basin that displayed high potential for past habitability. The crater floor also possesses clays and other minerals that may preserve organic materials.
The researchers used the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument onboard Perseverance, the first tool on Mars capable of conducting fine-scale mapping and analysis of organic molecules.
The researchers found signs of organic molecules in all ten targets that Perseverance drilled into at Máaz and Séítah, two rock formations on the Jezero Crater floor. The organic compounds mostly appeared connected to minerals linked to water, suggesting they might have originated from a number of different minerals and mechanisms of formation.
While the scientists could not identify specific organic molecules, the discovery opens up the possibility of different formation, preservation, or transportation mechanisms across the crater and, more broadly, the surface of Mars.
The confirmation of the presence of organics and their specific types would require the samples to be returned to Earth, a goal that the scientists are working towards. This discovery marks a significant step forward in our quest to understand the potential for life on Mars.