NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has begun its search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate. Called PIXL, or Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, the rover’s X-ray instrument delivered unexpectedly strong science results while it was still being tested, said Abigail Allwood, PIXL’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Scientists say Jezero Crater was a crater lake billions of years ago, making it a choice landing site for Perseverance. The crater has long since dried out. Tiny segments of rock surfaces that might show evidence of past microbial activity. “If life was there in Jezero Crater, the evidence of that life could be there,” said Allwood, a key member of the Perseverance “arm science” team.
Perseveranance’s tools uses an ultraviolet laser to identify some of the minerals in the rock. Details can provide important clues about formation history, water flow, and ancient, potentially habitable Martian environments. Hundreds of earthbound scientists are still involved in analyzing results and planning further investigations. The geological details are critical, Allwood said, to place any indication of possible life in context, and to check scientists’ ideas about how a second example of life’s origin could come about.