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Friday, August 19, 2022

‘Enchanted Lake’ on Mars: Why it is the best spot to look for signs of life

The sedimentary rocks of the "Enchanted Lake" make it a good location to look for signs of early life on Mars.

The image was captured by the Perseverance rover's Hazcams on April 30, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has shared images of the “Enchanted Lake” on Mars, where scientists believe that the Perseverance rover could find the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. The Enchanted Lake is a rocky outcrop, informally named after a landmark in an Alaskan National Park. The image was captured by the rover’s Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) on April 30, 2022.

Taken near the base of the Jezero Crater’s delta, the image provided scientists with the first close up of sedimentary rocks. Such sedimentary rocks are formed when fine particles carried by the atmosphere or water are deposited in layers which turn into rocks over time. Even though the feature is called Enchanted Lake, it is dry as a desert, just like the rest of the red planet.

But scientists believe that water did exist here in the past and there is a chance that it could have harboured life when it did. One of the Perseverance rover’s key objectives is the search of signs of ancient microbial life. It will characterise the planet’s geology and past climate to pave the way for human exploration of the planet and will become the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (Mars’ version of soil).

“When I saw the image of Enchanted Lake, it was love at first sight. It provided our first up-close glimpse of sedimentary rocks – the ones I’ve been most eager to explore since Jezero was named the landing site for Perseverance nearly four years ago. Enchanted Lake was our first close encounter with sedimentary rocks in Jezero, but we’re going to do what rover missions do best – look around, drive, and then look some more,” said Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, in a NASA press statement.

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The extremely hot pressure-cooker-like conditions that produce the igneous rocks that lines most of the floor of the Jezero crater don’t usually provide a good environment for preserving fossilised microscopic life, this is why sedimentary rocks are important.: they provide an ideal spot to look for signs of past life.

Since the image was taken in April, the Perseverance rover has travelled and parked itself halfway up the delta in a field of sedimentary rocks the science team calls ‘Hogwallow Flats.” Over the coming weeks, the rover will analyse and maybe even sample one or more of the rocks in the area. The team will then decide whether to return to Enchanted Lake or explore other outcrops of the Jezero delta.

First published on: 30-06-2022 at 01:51:18 pm
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