Volcanic mountains

NASA Perseverance makes ‘unexpected’ discovery about volcanic lava on Mars

The Perseverance rover was sent by NASA to Mars earlier this year. Its task is to collect rocks from the surface of the planet to identify signs of life. The mission is just the start of Nasa’s broader plans to explore our neighboring planet

Hindustan time

16 December 2021, 09:55

Last modification: December 16, 2021, 10:02 a.m.

Recent explosive volcanic deposit around a fissure in the Cerberus Fossae system. Photo: NASA/JPL/MSSS/The Murray Lab


Recent explosive volcanic deposit around a fissure in the Cerberus Fossae system. Photo: NASA/JPL/MSSS/The Murray Lab

The Perseverance rover, sent by the American space agency NASA to explore the surface of Mars, has made a surprising discovery. The rover’s latest findings suggest that the bedrock it has been rolling over since landing 10 months ago is made up of volcanic lava.

NASA scientists, who are handling the mission, say the discovery was “completely unexpected”. Until now, scientists thought that the stratified rocks that Perseverance had photographed were sedimentary.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said the discovery has the potential to accurately date critical events in the Red Planet’s history.

He also said rocks in Jezero Crater, where Perseverance is making its discoveries, have interacted with water many times, adding that some rocks even contain organic molecules.

The results were announced at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Science Meeting in New Orleans.

Scientists have always wondered about the composition of rocks found on the surface of Mars. “The crystals in the rock provided the compelling evidence,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

To understand the composition of the rock, Perseverance took a sample using a drill mounted on its robotic arm. The drill can grind or abrade rock surfaces to allow other instruments like the Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (abbreviated form PIXL) to map the elemental composition of rocks.

One such sample taken on November 23 showed that the rock had an unusual abundance of large olivine crystals engulfed in pyroxene crystals.

“A good geology student will tell you that such a texture indicates rock formed when crystals grew and were deposited in slowly cooling magma – for example, a thick lava flow, a lava lake, or a magma chamber,” Farley said.

The Perseverance rover has been exploring a four square kilometer patch of Jezero Crater’s floor since landing in search of a scientifically interesting target to collect Martian rocks. The rover carries more than three dozen titanium tubes to collect the sample.

Scientists have identified Jezero Crater as an ancient lake bed that gradually dried up as the Red Planet’s climate changed. They sent Perseverance to collect rocks from the crater as evidence of life on Earth is often preserved in the mud and sand deposited at the bottom of the lake.

The Perseverance rover landed on the Jezero Crated earlier this year. He takes with him the Ingenuity helicopter, which became the first vehicle to fly on Mars with its own propulsion system. The helicopter has so far completed 15 surface test flights.