Skip to main content

Perseverance rover finds conditions where life could have thrived on Mars

The Perseverance rover has made an exciting discovery on Mars, identifying the building blocks of life in a sample from an area of the Jezero crater where there was once plentiful liquid water. The organic molecules it discovered can be formed in various ways including non-organic processes, so they aren’t proof that life once existed there — but they do show that life could potentially have thrived there millions of years ago.

NASA’s Perseverance rover puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in Mars’ Jezero Crater.
NASA’s Perseverance rover puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in Mars’ Jezero Crater. Composed of multiple images, this mosaic shows layered sedimentary rocks in the face of a cliff in the delta, as well as one of the locations where the rover abraded a circular patch to analyze a rock’s composition. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

As the Perseverance rover continues its explorations of the Jezero river delta for its second science campaign (the first science campaign was the exploring of the Jezero crater floor), it has been collecting samples as it goes. One particularly exciting sample was collected from a 3-foot wide outcrop rock named Wildcat Ridge, which the rover collected on July 20.

When the sample from Wildcat was studied using Perseverance’s SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument, researchers discovered that the sample included organic molecules. These building blocks of life have previously been discovered on Mars by the Curiosity rover in the Gale Crater, but in the case of the recent finding, the molecules were found in the sedimentary rock close to sulfate minerals that form in water.

“In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in a statement. “The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock – known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important. However, as capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance are, further conclusions regarding what is contained in the Wildcat Ridge sample will have to wait until it’s returned to Earth for in-depth study as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign.”

NASA hopes to bring the samples collected by Perseverance back to Earth through its Mars Sample Return mission in the 2030s, enabling in-depth study of the martian samples.

“I’ve studied Martian habitability and geology for much of my career and know first-hand the incredible scientific value of returning a carefully collected set of Mars rocks to Earth,” said Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “That we are weeks from deploying Perseverance’s fascinating samples and mere years from bringing them to Earth so scientists can study them in exquisite detail is truly phenomenal. We will learn so much.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Yes, Perseverance is exploring an ancient lake bed but no, it hasn’t found signs of life (yet)
The Jezero Crater on Mars, showing a delta where an ancient lake was once located.

A new study shows exciting results about the Jezero Crater on Mars, where the Perseverance rover is currently exploring -- but despite what some headlines suggest, Perseverance hasn't yet found evidence of life on the red planet.

The Jezero Crater is the most exciting place on Mars and was deliberately chosen for the Perseverance rover to explore because it's the best guess scientists have at a location that could potentially have hosted microbial life billions of years ago. What makes the crater so special is the large delta that exists there, which is thought to have been an ancient wetland. An ancient lake is believed to have existed in the crater long ago -- which would make it a hospitable place for life to have emerged. The new research confirms that this area did indeed host a lake, but it doesn't say anything about whether there was life there.

Read more
NASA says goodbye to Mars helicopter Ingenuity after an incredible 72 flights
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

It's a sad day for space fans, as the plucky little helicopter Ingenuity has finally come to the end of its mission on Mars. The helicopter will not be making anymore flights due to damage to one of its rotors that occurred during a recent landing, NASA said in an announcement on Thursday, January 25.

The mission was originally planned to make just five flights and to last 30 days, but has been successful beyond what anyone had imagined. The helicopter has made a total of 72 flights over the course of its three-year mission, which began when it was set down on the surface of Mars by the Perseverance rover. The rover arrived on Mars with the helicopter tucked up underneath its belly in February 2021, and Ingenuity sat on the surface for the first time in April 2021. It then made history by becoming the first rotorcraft to fly on another planet with its maiden flight.

Read more
NASA regains communications with Mars helicopter Ingenuity
The Ingenuity helicopter is pictured on the surface of Mars.

Just a few days after losing contact with the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, NASA announced that it has regained communications with the plucky little helicopter. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which designed and operated the helicopter, announced that it is back in touch following an unexpected communications dropout.

The Ingenuity helicopter is pictured on the surface of Mars. NASA

Read more