A study released Thursday said that images from Mars show how water shaped the Red Planet's landscape over billions of years. These images will help guide the search for evidence to support ancient life.
NASA's Perseverance Rover landed in Jezero Crater in February. Scientists believe that a long-gone river once nourished a lake. The sediment was then deposited in a delta-shaped fan visible from space.
Science published high-resolution images taken by Perseverance from the cliffs that once formed the banks of the Delta.
The formation of the cliffs is revealed by layers within them.
Amy Williams, an NASA Astrobiologer, and her Florida team discovered similarities between the features of the cliffs as seen from the crater floor (and patterns in Earth's river Deltas).
According to the study, the shape of the three bottom layers indicated a steady flow of water in the early stages of Mars' history. This suggests that Mars was "warm enough to sustain a hydrologic cycle" around 3.7 billion years ago.
MastcamZ enhanced color mosaic shows a butte close to Jezero crater, dubbed "Kodiak". (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ASU/MSSS)
The top and latest layers contain boulders that measure more than a meter in size scattered around, likely from violent flooding.
It is the fine-grained sediment in the base layer that would be most likely to be sampled for signs of long-extinct living things if they existed on Mars.
Researchers will use the findings to determine where to send a rover looking for soil or rocks that could contain valuable "biosignatures", which may be signs of Martian life.
Williams stated in a press release that "from orbital images, it was water that formed the Delta."
These images are like reading a book, not just looking at its cover.
Perseverance's main goal is to determine whether life existed on Mars. This was a complex project that cost billions and took many decades.
The multi-tasking rover will collect 30 soil and rock samples over the course of many years. These tubes will be sealed to allow for future lab analysis.
Mission scientists announced last month that Perseverance had gathered two rock samples from Jezero, showing signs of contact with groundwater over a prolonged period.
They believe that the samples may have once been home to ancient microbial life. Evidence of this could have been captured by salt minerals.
Williams stated that discovering that Mars may once have been home to life would be one the most "profound" discoveries humanity has ever made.
She expressed her wonder at the possibility of seeing an ancient river system from another planet.
She said, "It's truly eye-opening for everyone to see something that no one on Earth has seen before."
Illustration of Jezero as a lake. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Perseverance arrived on Mars on February 18th. The study examines long-distance images that it took during its three months on Mars.
It is about the same size as an SUV and has 19 cameras, a robotic arm that measures two meters (seven feet) in length, two microphones and a range of cutting-edge tools.
SuperCam is one of these tools. It laser-zaps stones from a distance to reveal their chemical composition.
Perseverance took seven months to reach Mars with Ingenuity, its sister craft. Ingenuity is a small helicopter whose rotors must spin five times faster than Earth's to gain lift in Mars's less dense atmosphere.
It is planned for the rover's to cross the delta, then explore the edge of the crater.