Is there life on Mars?

With the recent launch of Perseverance, NASA’s most complex and sophisticated rover yet, scientists are looking forward to discovering evidence holding the secret to learning about life on Mars. It is already known that the Red Planet was, at some point in time, habitable, but this mission hopes to gather samples that could finally reveal if Mars was ever inhabited.

Perseverance launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at the end of July 2020. It is the third Mars mission launched within 11 days, following explorations by China and the UAE.

Its main mission is to explore the diverse geology of the Jezero Crater, a 40-km wide bowl near the planet’s equator. Scientists believe that this crater used to hold a lake billions of years ago, and that its rocks might retain evidence of past microbial activities. This is also where Perseverance is set to land around February of 2021. The one-ton, six-wheeled robot will be searching for any potential signs of ancient microscopic life in this region.

The associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington, Thomas Zurbuchen, explains that Jezero Crater was the perfect place to look for signs of past life. He says, “We may very well be reaching back in time to get the information scientists need to say that life has existed elsewhere in the universe.”

Equipped with the latest technology and advanced scientific features, Perseverance can directly detect life in both its current and fossilized forms. Though, scientists still insist on bringing any discoveries back home so they can perform further analysis in more elaborate Earth-based laboratories to confirm the findings. Therefore, the robot will collect rock and soil samples, then pack them in small tubes for NASA’s two future missions to retrieve later this decade.

Perseverance will be staying on Mars for at least one Martian year, equal to around two Earth years. Unlike the previous rovers, this one features seven instruments that are either new or have been significantly upgraded. With 23 cameras and microphones on the car-like rover, we can expect remarkable never-before-seen images of the Red Planet.

Additionally, this newest mission will help prepare for future explorations by testing out various equipment. This includes samples of spacesuit material so we can learn how they will survive in the harsh environment of Mars. The mission will also attempt to transform carbon dioxide on the planet into breathable oxygen, in preparation for any human astronauts.

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Erica Thajeb

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September 2021
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