Thousands of strange white rocks found on Mars. Will they ever be brought to Earth?

Mars’ rusty red surface may have given it its famous “Red Planet” status, but the Martian soil also appears to be strangely littered with thousands of white rocks. NASA on Persistence Rover, a robotic geologist exploring the Jezero Crater since early 2021, has baffled scientists when it delivered images of more than 4,000 light-toned, pebbled rocks scattered across the crater floor.

“These are very unusual rocks and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” Candice Bedford, a planetary scientist at Purdue University in Indiana and a member of the Society. Mars 2020 science team, said at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LSPC) last month.

The announcement comes as NASA architectural review of Martian rocks returned to Earth as part of the agency’s ambitious Mars Sample Return (MSR) program.

Related: NASA’s Endurance rover captures a 360-degree view of Mars’ Jezero Crater (video)

The white rocks pictured are what scientists refer to as “floats,” meaning they were removed and transported from their original habitats; some are pitted and others appear to be an amalgamation of multiple layers. Initial analysis, carried out with instruments on board Perseverance, showed that the rocks are dehydrated – not only in terms of water content but also in other minerals including iron, magnesium, calcium and sodium. “These are pretty much reduced in a lot of things,” Bedford said.

The team is particularly interested in the origins of these unusual rocks because their origins can reveal clues about the history of the Red Planet, including exactly when water would have sunk into the Jezero crater, which we see as a piece of dry land. today. Despite seeing more than 4,000 such rocks, Persistence failed to see even a hint of what is known as “regen” associated with the rocks, which is essentially bedrock of similar properties that would have left the surface the Martians.

The dehydrated nature of the rocks suggests that they were heated and metamorphosed by lava flows or an asteroid impacts elsewhere on Mars and later dumped on the crater floor, Bedford said. Whatever the specific process might be, she and her team suspect it would be recent in terms of Jezero Crater’s geological history.

The Endurance rover, which has driven more than 15 miles (24.8 kilometers) since arriving on Mars, celebrated 1,000 science days last December, which also marked the official end of the mission it was designed for make a beginning. It has now filled 26 of the 43 Mars rock sample tubes, and mission team members are shared by LPSC. “Each sample has countless grains that we could study forever, basically,” said Benjamin Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Mars 2020 team.

As part of a bonus mission that began this spring, Bedford told Persistence that began inching its way towards the edge of Jezero Crater, and its long-distance camera has already imaged more light-toned rocks scattered in that area as well.

All of these awesome rocks, however, are not the only reason scientists are eager to find Persistence at the edge of the universe and perhaps beyond. It is where they believe there is a unique, as yet undiscovered geology within the crater floor. This includes pre-Jezero rocks that may contain records of Mars’ crust formation and early climate. It may even have evidence of biomarkers.

Scientists are tagging various interesting sampling locations as they map the edge itself in more detail, said Lisa Mayhew, a research associate at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The terrain near the Jezero crater called Nili Planum is of great interest to scientists, who think its rocks were formed in hot conditions during the most likely time when life changed — if it ever did. the world that is now without end, that is. Sampling such rocks would “provide additional scientific value to the existing deposit on Persistence,” Mayhew said.

However, that scientific value can only be fully realized after those rocks have been returned to them World.

Scientists have to date them using equipment on Earth, without which they would not have a precise timeline of when the Red Planet was habitable and when it became desolate. “It’s no exaggeration to say it will revolutionize our understanding of Mars,” Weiss said.

Questions remain about the NASA-led MSR program, including when and how the agency plans to return collected samples to Earth. Last October, NASA commissioned a response team (MIRT) to evaluate alternative approaches to MSR after an independent review board (IRB) found that the current architecture would result in cost and schedule overruns.

Related Stories:

— Mars rover celebrates 1,000 days of endurance on the Red Planet

— Strange underground polygons on Mars hint at the Red Planet’s wet weather

— How persistence rover captured the youngest samples from Mars’ Dream Lake (video)

“Much of the work has already been completed,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University and MSR’s principal scientist. The MIRT’s recommended report on a new approach was expected by the end of March, followed by a revised plan and budget from NASA sometime in April, she said.

The agency’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, publicly available on 11 March, allocated $2.7 billion for planetary science but funding for MSR remained “TBD.” NASA’s budget for this year and next will be announced in April after the MIRT review is complete, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters at the time.

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