Mars Perseverance Rover Finds Organic Matter in Rock

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

In just a year and a half on Mars, NASA‘s Perseverance rover has absolutely rocked its science mission. The agency held a briefing Thursday to discuss highlights from the mission so far, and it was a celebration of rock samples and the discovery of organic matter. 

Organic molecules in Wildcat Ridge

A rock named Wildcat Ridge, located in an ancient river delta region of Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of the show. Percy successfully collected two samples from the mudstone rock. Wildcat Ridge is particularly exciting because the organic molecules (called aromatics) found in it are considered a potential biosignature, which NASA describes as a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life but may also have been produced without the presence of life.   

The rover team emphasized that finding organic matter doesn’t mean it’s found evidence of ancient life. Organic molecules have been spotted on Mars before, by the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater and also by Perseverance, which found carbon-containing molecules earlier in the mission.   

Perseverance collected two core samples from Wildcat Ridge and also abraded a round patch to inspect the rock with its Sherloc instrument.


The rover’s Sherloc instrument investigated the rock. (Sherloc stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.) “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument registered the most abundant organic detections on the mission to date,” NASA said.

Scientists are seeing familiar signs in the analysis of Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley in a statement. “The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock — known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth — is important.”

Perseverance isn’t equipped to find definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet. “The reality is the burden of proof for establishing life on another planet is very, very high,” said Farley during the press conference. For that, we need to examine Mars rocks up close and in person in Earth labs. 

Sample drop

Percy currently has 12 rock samples on board, including the Wildcat Ridge pieces and samples from another sedimentary delta rock called Skinner Ridge. It also collected igneous rock samples earlier in the mission that point to the impact of long-ago volcanic action in the crater.

NASA is so happy with…

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