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Was there life on Mars? British scientists play a key role in NASA’s Red Planet mission.




The mission of the probe, supported by the British government, is to explore and collect samples that will return to Earth in the future in the various ancient environments of Mars. With over 400,000 funding from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help determine which samples to send to Earth to find evidence of ancient microbial organisms on Mars.

The subject of study is the Jezero crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing sediments from the ancient river delta. In this position, evidence of past life can be preserved. The Perseverance Rover uses a drill to collect samples of Martian rock and soil. The probe stores sample cores in tubes on the surface of Mars for a return mission to bring about 30 samples to Earth in the early 2030s.

Jezero crater on Mars, the landing of patience Credit: ESA_DLR_FU-Berlin

Scientists, artists, and engineers from all over the world must all work together to make a successful mission.

Learn about their story and how to get involved at

Returning to Earth, Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London will help NASA oversee the mission operations from a scientific and engineering perspective, while Professor Mark Sephton of Imperial College London will help identify samples of Mars that may contain evidence from the past. Will give. life.

Meanwhile, Professor Caroline Smith of the Museum of Natural History will study the mineralogy and geochemistry of several rocks found in Jezero Crater. Dr. Keyron Hickman-Lewis of the Museum of Natural History will study the environment reflected by sedimentary rocks exposed to Jezero Crater and the preservation potential of ancient microbes within them.

British scientists play a key role in NASA’s exploration of Mars

Science Secretary Amanda Solloway said:

The red planet has been a source of fascination for centuries, and it’s thrilling that we’re getting a little closer to finding out if there’s life on Mars.

We are very grateful to the scientists, researchers and engineers who have participated in this effort in the UK and around the world, and we believe that this will inspire a new generation of space scientists across the country.

NASA’s Perseverance rover was one of three space missions sent to Mars during its July 2020 launch. This minimum energy launch period occurs about once every two years and two months, and is the most economical time to launch a rocket to reach its intended target. In the next window of 2022, you can see the British-made Rosalind Franklin rover exploding into space.

Patience will also study Mars’ geology and climate. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The patience mission has several scientific goals. It carries the tools to find the carbon components of living organisms and other microbial biometric properties (morphological and chemical traces of living organisms) and reconstruct Martian geological history.

Sue Horne, director of space exploration at the British Space Agency, said:

It is very good to see strong representatives of British scientists and engineers involved in the patience mission. Over the next few years, our scientists will play a leading role in these international efforts, from managing scientific operations to deciding which samples to return to Earth.

Patience will take us one step further in answering the questions that have been in the mouths of Bowie fans and scientists over the past 40 years.

Its equipment will analyze scientifically interesting samples from the surface of Mars. Selected samples are collected by drilling down to several centimeters, then sealed in special sample tubes and stored in the rover.

When the probe reaches the proper location, the tube’s cache will drop onto the Mars surface and will be collected by the Sample Fetch Rover, currently under development at Stevenage’s Airbus, and taken to the NASA Mars Ascent vehicle. Professor Caroline Smith is working with NASA and ESA scientists to plan how to curate samples when returning them.

Professor Caroline Smith, a planetary scientist at the Museum of Natural History, said:

It is a great honor and excitement to work with a fantastic team of international scientific and engineering experts on this groundbreaking mission. We had the best chance to answer the question: Did we finally have life on Mars with fantastic instruments and amazing samples of patience returning to Earth?!

The rover also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which flies short distances from the rover and first attempts power-controlled flight on another planet. A successful test of the helicopter can lead to more flying probes to investigate the landscape of other planets.

Patience carries an Ingenuity helicopter light enough to fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Patience is about testing your skills to help astronauts explore Mars in the future. This includes testing how Mars’ atmosphere produces oxygen, identifying other resources such as groundwater, improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather and other environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.

Geologist Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London will study the ancient delta and lake sediments exposed to the Jezero crater to reconstruct evolution.

Professor Gupta is also one of ten long-term planners for the mission. He will work closely with the science team to develop a mission strategy science vision to help achieve science goals. Every day, he works with an engineer in the rover job to search for rock samples that will return to Earth in the future.

Professor Sanjeev Gupta, professor of earth science at Imperial College London, said:

It is important to understand what the Martian climate was like in the early days of Mars history and whether it could have been inhabited for life. Data analysis from Perseverance-mounted instruments will help define the best point to collect rock samples for future return to Earth.

Laboratory analysis of such samples on Earth allows us to search for the morphological and chemical features of ancient life on Mars and answer key questions about Mars geological evolution.

In addition, Professor Mark Sephton of Imperial College London is an astrobiologist specializing in recognizing the organic record of past life in rocks and will help the team select a sample that will ultimately return to Earth.

Professor Mark Sephton, head of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

This could be your mission to answer the question of whether life existed on Mars. On other planets, evidence of biology means that life on Earth is not alone.

We need to select the best samples on the planet, worthy of the opportunity, and return about 0.5 kg of material from Mars. The molecular fingerprints of life on Mars have not only been created, but must be preserved for billions of years.

Returning safely to Earth, Mars samples will reveal their secrets when examined with the most powerful tools available.

Dr. Keyron Hickman-Lewis, a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History, will work as part of the returned sample science team, focusing on identifying geological substances with high biosignature preservation potential. In short, this sample increases the likelihood of finding signs of life and revealing secrets from Mars’ past environment and what kinds of ecosystems could have existed.

Dr. Keyron Hickman-Lewis, an aurora researcher at the British Museum of Natural History, said:

Jezero Crater has a wide variety of rocks in an environment that could have saved lives. Fine-grained sediments, carbonates and silicates are all known to preserve traces of fossilized life on Earth with exceptional fidelity. We hope the same can be the case on Mars, and hope that this will provide an unparalleled opportunity to understand the environment and potentially biosphere in Mars’ early history.

British company Teledyne e2v provided image sensors to drive two devices onboard Perseverance, SuperCam and SHERLOC. Teledynes sensors were previously used on ChemCam instruments mounted on NASAs Curiosity rovers. SuperCam and SHERLOC’s Perseverance instruments advance this capability by searching for organic compounds and minerals that represent changes caused by a watery environment, and show the habitable environment where microbes lived on Mars in the past.

Dr Miles Adcock, President of Space and Quantum at Teledyne e2v, said:

Teledyne e2v has a long and very proud tradition of providing imaging technology to Mars missions for both orbital and rover type vehicles, and is also providing sensors to the Rosalind Franklin rover. Our Essex-based team is constantly working to develop technologies that meet the demanding performance requirements for missions like going to Mars, and we want the mission to succeed on behalf of everyone.

Next year, the Rosalind Franklin probe (named after a pioneering British chemist) will travel to Mars as part of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission to investigate Mars’ subterranean geological environment and find traces of life past or present.

The Rosalind Franklin rover, built by Stevenage’s Airbus, is capable of collecting samples in areas unaffected by radiation or oxidation on the surface through a drill at a depth of 2 meters.

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