WASHINGTON: Nasa’s Perseverance Mars rover has detected its highest concentrations yet of organic molecules, in a potential signal of ancient microbes that scientists are eager to confirm when the rock samples are eventually brought to Earth.

While organic matter has been found on the Red Planet before, the new discovery is seen as especially promising because it came from an area where sediment and salts were deposited into a lake — conditions where life could have arisen.

“It is very fair to say that these are going to be, these already are, the most valuable rock samples that have ever been collected,” David Shuster, a Perseverance return sample scientist, told reporters during a briefing.

Organic molecules — compounds made primarily of carbon that usually include hydrogen and oxygen, but also at times other elements — are not always created by biological processes.

Further analysis and conclusions will have to wait for the Mars sample return mission — a collaboration between Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring back the rocks that is set for 2033.

Nicknamed Percy, the rover landed on Mars Jezero Crater in February last year, tasked with catching samples that may contain signs of ancient life.

The delta it is exploring formed 3.5 billion years ago. The rover is currently there investigating sedimentary rocks, which came about from particles of various sizes settling in the then watery environment.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2022

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