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Why is the Perseverance rover unable to find life on Mars on its own?

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The US space agency recently sent the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet to collect soil samples. However, this one is not able to determine if the life will be present there or not. The samples will have to be sent back to Earth for analysis.

What is Perseverance looking for?

The rover Perseverance arrived on Mars on February 18, 2021 without a hitch. He also fired his first laser beams a few days ago. Its main objective is to collect samples of soil and other rocks in order to store them before their transport to our planet. It will also characterize the geology of the planet Mars. But what is Perseverance really looking for in terms of alien life? The Jezero crater (Syrtis Major quadrangle) is a priority target, as it was once filled with water with the presence of a large lake as well as a river delta.

According to scientists, it is possible that organic molecules are there, containing a microbial life form. This potential life would have developed four billion years ago, when Mars really looked like Earth. However, it certainly has not passed the single-cell stage.

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Unable to conduct analyzes

Only, there you are, Perseverance does not seek knowingly. If there is a find, it will be determined after the samples are returned to Earth. Indeed, the rover is not equipped with the technology necessary to discover traces of life on its own. Perseverance is therefore not an exobiology rover as such.

Equipping a rover with instruments able to perform chemical analyzes is not in the realm of the impossible, quite the contrary. The ExoMars rover of the European Space Agency (ESA) scheduled for 2022 will have this type of equipment, namely the Mars organic molecule analyzer (MOMA). Perseverance does not take this type of equipment on board, however, and it is no coincidence: NASA has planned a return mission. It was therefore not necessary to carry out extensive testing directly on site. Moreover, the original idea of ​​NASA was only to make this machine a geological and mineralogical exploration rover.

Upon their return to Earth, the samples will be handled with great care and will be stored in a P4 laboratory (maximum security). If the samples contain life, it will be discovered then and not before. If the researchers find bacteria there, it will be a strong confirmation that there is life on the red planet.


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