Percy Looks For Signs Of Life On Mars
One of the most interesting aspects was that it capture and relayed footage of the event back to Earth (on February 22nd viewers could watch the spacecraft).
Perseverance rover, "Percy," will survey the Martian surface searching for signs of ancient life collecting samples as she goes. Perseverance is NASA's first true astrobiology mission in the search for evidence of life on another planet
In 2017, NASA announced that ocean worlds, like Saturn's moons of Titan and Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa, may be the most promising places to find life in space.
Two missions are scheduled to launch this decade, the Europa Clipper is set to launch in 2024, while Dragonfly is slated for 2027.
"Perseverance will get people thinking in terms of astrobiology and the strategy of looking for signs of past life," said Jorge Núñez, astrobiologist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who is working on teams for both Perseverance and Dragonfly.
"Missions to outer planets, like Europa and Dragonfly, will take a lot of time. But we have to be open to what we might be able to find in terms of possibilities for life. These missions are part of this strategy in trying to understand how environments evolve. Is life a more common thing, or is it rare? And what is out there?"
For the next two years, Perseverance will survey the crater floor and river delta, studying rocks, minerals and dirt and their chemical compositions. Microfossils of ancient microbial life could be trapped inside of them.
"We study the formation, preservation and detection of signs of life and planetary evolution in geologic samples," said astrobiologist Ken Williford, the deputy project scientist for the Perseverance rover.
"The instruments on rover missions are sort of portable versions of instruments we have in labs like mine and other labs that work on ancient rocks and measure the chemistry and shapes preserved in them," added Williford, who is also the director for the astrobiogeochemistry at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"We're looking for lifelike compositions and shapes that occur together," Williford said. "Carbon-based life is made of organic matter. They fossilize, get buried, squished and squeezed and turned into organic goo like oil or coal."
This goo ends up in rocks, so "ancient organic matter may be the very old bodies of Martian microbes," he said.
Stromatolites are the oldest fossils on Earth dating back 3.5 billion years ago.
"It would be exciting if we find wrinkly layers of rock that looks like stromatolites on Mars," Williford said.
"Every boundary is important," he said. "Life loves to live at interfaces, where there is disequilibrium and things are a little out of balance. Life thrives at those areas and hopes to put them into balance."
Much like when the first lunar samples were returned to Earth in 1969 following the successful landing of the Apollo 11 mission, returning samples from Mars will lead to a "transformative scientific revolution," he said.
The Dragonfly mission won't reach Titan until 2035. Dragonfly will be a rover-sized drone that flies through Titan's thick atmosphere to observe the moon's diverse environments, which include a subsurface liquid water ocean, as well as clouds, rain, rivers and lakes composed of methane.
"Titan is similar to Earth in the sense that it has an atmosphere and hydrological cycle but it's a cycle of natural gas, like methane and ethane," Núñez said. "But you still see similar features. Besides this organic chemistry right on surface, we have this atmosphere of natural gas. Reactions from the sun makes these chemicals that are more complex. Dragonfly is looking for prebiotic chemistry."
"Titan is a natural laboratory that allows us to explore how that initial chemistry came into being," Núñez said.
Europa is another icy moon possibly concealing a subsurface ocean, and Europa Clipper will send 45 planned flybys of Europa.
"Europa is the most likely place to find life in our solar system today because we think there's a liquid water ocean beneath its surface, and we know on Earth everywhere that there's water we find life," said Robert Pappalardo, mission project scientist.
"Could Europa have the ingredients to support life? If there is life in Europa, it almost certainly was completely independent from the origin of life on Earth. That would mean the origin of life must be pretty easy throughout the galaxy and beyond."
If the plumes captured in images by the Hubble Space Telescope are truly sending columns of water high into space, "then we could fly through those plumes with a spacecraft and literally taste it to understand the composition of Europa's interior," he said.
"We might be actually looking at a body that is presently alive, presently active and presently undergoing its geology," said Claudia Alexander, Galileo mission project manager between 1999 to 2003.
"There is too much evidence right now lying around on the surface, the red stuff, that suggests something's going on there. Is that an environment that is habitable for any sort of life form? We'll have enough instrumentation to really pinpoint exactly how the mechanisms would work for replenishing the nutrients in a subsurface ocean."