July 12, 2023

Meet two of the Martian samples that have been collected and are awaiting return to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. As of late June 2023, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover has collected and sealed 20 scientifically selected samples inside pristine tubes. The next stage is to get them back for study.

Considered one of the highest priorities by the scientists in the Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032, Mars Sample Return would be the first mission to return samples from another planet and provides the best opportunity to reveal the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for ancient life. NASA is teaming with ESA (European Space Agency) on this important endeavor.

Learn more about Samples No. 6 and 7 – “Robine” and “Malay” – a pair of rock cores collected by Perseverance from the “Issole” outcrop in Jezero Crater. When the rover used its drill’s abrasion bit to grind away the surface of “Issole,” its cameras spotted an intriguing sulfate crystal resembling the shape of a polar bear. Mineral types within this target rock are known by scientists on Earth to be capable of preserving signs of ancient life.

Read about all the carefully selected samples: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars-rock-samples

Learn more about the Mars Sample Return campaign: https://mars.nasa.gov/msr

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, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, as well as be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).








Sunanda Sharma: Sample 6 is called “Robine” and sample 7 is “Malay.” And we got them from a rock called “Issole” in “South Séítah” in the crater floor.

In order to learn more about a rock, to decide if we actually want to pick up a sample there, we do what's called an “abrasion patch.” So we take a bit on our rover and we scrape off the surface of a rock.

And so you can see some of the interior that's less altered by the exterior environment.

In the abrasion patch associated with these cores, we saw this beautiful big sulfate crystal that looks exactly like a polar bear. And I remember it so strongly because we saw signals that look like sulfate, we saw signals that look like hydration, and it had another chemical that we think is either perchlorate or phosphate.

These samples are interesting because they capture some of the diversity of minerals that we saw on the crater floor and we saw things like white sulfate crystals. Those are exciting because on Earth they can preserve signs of life for a really, really long time.

For me as an astrobiologist, the other really exciting thing about this rock is that we saw multiple types of signals that are consistent with organics. And organics are the building blocks of life, and they're also signs of potential habitability in this environment. So maybe there are organics in the sulfate crystal that's in that polar bear in this rock.

Out of this pair, we dropped Malay in the sample depot at Three Forks.

That mix all together in just one 100 micron spot, which is a really, really small area that was really unique and exciting about this rock.


For more information on Mars Rock Samples:



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