Evidence of past life on Mars?
During its tenth flight on Mars, the mini-helicopter “Ingenuity” discovered a few mysterious furrows on the surface. Now scientists are debating whether the Mars rover “Perseverance” should sample there in its search for traces of life.
Elongated elevations discovered on Mars
It was the most complex flight the Mars helicopter “Ingenuity” has completed since its arrival on the Red Planet. As NASA let know, “Ingenuity” had flown on July 24 with twelve meters as high as never before. The small helicopter took ten color photos during the three-minute flight and then landed safely again. Another takeoff is planned shortly.
Impressive is what can be seen on the picture once a 3D version of it is made. This had become necessary in order to also be able to plan the path for the Mars rover. You can see a kind of drift in the upper right corner. These are elevations that point in a flow direction. It is not clear whether it is caused by Martian winds or by water.
Lines across surface and rocks
Kevin Hand, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), says, “In 3D, it almost feels like you can reach out and touch the elevations. But in addition to its beauty, the image offers a lot of detail. If you look closely, you can see some strange lines across the surfaces of several rocks. Are these just from wind and dust blowing over the rocks, or could these features tell the story of the water? We don’t know yet.”
In search of past life on Mars
For NASA scientists, these details are important. In their search for traces of possible life on Mars, the team is now considering taking a rock or sediment sample from these elevations. To get there and take the samples would take several Martian days (sols). The photos taken by “Ingenuity” help with that. That’s because the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory now has a more accurate idea of what the path is like. The researchers now want to discuss whether it is worth the effort.
“Since landing at Jezero Crater, we’ve all realized there’s a wealth of geological riches to be discovered, but it’s a luxury problem,” said Ken Williford, deputy project scientist for the Perseverance mission at JPL. “These aerial images from Ingenuity provide the kind of actionable data that will allow us to narrow down our options and get on with exploring our corner of Mars.”
An email from Mars: Reconnaissance orbiter sends great images
While “Perseverance” and “Ingenuity” explore the surface up close, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been staying several hundred kilometers above the surface, photographing the surface since 2006. The satellite was deployed to map the surface. Out popped some impressive shots, like the ones now released by NASA. In an Instagram post, three images can be seen. The first image shows a layered rock formation in Jiji Crater that has eroded into swamps and stair-like layers. The next image shows a unique polar dune field during spring in the northern part of the planet. The last image shows ice sheets spreading across the south pole of the neighboring planet.
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Mars rover landed on the Red Planet at the end of February
“Ingenuity” had landed on Mars at the end of February aboard the “Perseverance” rover in a risky maneuver. In mid-April, “Ingenuity” took off for the first time – becoming the first air vehicle to complete a flight on another planet. The mission, originally scheduled to last around 30 days, has since been extended. While “Perseverance” collects samples on Mars for shipment to Earth, “Ingenuity” explores the terrain from above and serves as a scout for the Mars rover.
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