Perseverance drilled its first finger-sized core on September 6, repeating the procedure a few days later.
Scientists believe the targeted rock is of volcanic origin, meaning it can be dated precisely.
It also contains salts, which are indicative of water alteration, and which increase the possibility of life.
Or, at least, the potential of the past life.
Biology is not obvious everywhere there has been H₂O, but it is difficult to see how organisms could have existed without it.
NASA’s Perseverance rover was sent to Jezero crater on Mars precisely because it appears to have had a habitable environment billions of years ago.
Satellite images suggest that a lake was once present in the 45 km wide bowl.
There is what appear to be extensive river and deltaic sediments to the west of the crater.
The period of existence of this aquatic environment could now be considerably reduced by the rock samples that had just been acquired.
The donor slab, nicknamed “Rochette”, rests on Jezero’s soil and, as such, should represent the oldest layers of the crater.
If the minerals in the samples can be dated, then they will provide a “no older than” age for the lake.
The salts – probably calcium sulfate or calcium phosphate – are fascinating because they will almost certainly harbor small inclusions, or bubbles, of water.
“Salts are great minerals for preserving signs of ancient life here on Earth, and we would expect the same to be true for rocks on Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, associate scientist for the project. Perseverance.
Of course, in order to do any of these surveys, the samples must first come back to Earth.
NASA’s plan is for Perseverance to collect more than two dozen rock cores over the next two years and package them in sealed titanium tubes.
These will be left on the surface of Jezero for later missions to be collected before 2030 for transport back home.
“Due to (…) such high scientific potential, we decided to acquire two samples at Rochette,” Dr Stack Morgan told reporters.
” The [Perseverance] the scientific team intends to place one or more sample caches. And so to make sure that each of these sample caches is as complete as possible, we have a strategy to acquire two samples at each of our highest priority sample locations. “
To get to Rochette, Perseverance traveled approximately 2.2 km (1.4 miles) from its February landing site.
It is currently heading west along a slightly raised ridge to a place called “South Séítah” where more rock core will be collected. Meanwhile, the rover is followed by his mini helicopter, Ingenuity, which watches the ground in front of it.
At some point, scientists want the rover to move north, where river and delta sediments are most evident and where the chances of finding traces of past life are greatest.
Meenakshi Wadhwa is the lead scientist in NASA’s Mars Sample Return. She stated that the carrots taken from Rochette also had their own names: “Montdenier” (September 6) and “Montagnac” (September 8).
“I cannot stress enough the importance of these rock samples collected by Perseverance. This is a truly historic achievement – the very first rock cores collected from another Earth planet. It’s incredible.
“These two rock cores now represent the beginning of the return of samples from Mars.
“I have dreamed of having samples from Mars to analyze in my lab since I was a graduate student. And now it’s starting to feel real. “