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This fall, we are exploring how space inspires progress. The exploration missions of today will fuel the deep space expeditions of tomorrow. One of these pioneering missions, Mars 2020, involves the Perseverance rover roaming the red planet with invaluable cargo that will help us learn more about ancient Mars as it searches for signs of life.

Earlier this year, NASA’s fifth Martian rover touched down on the surface of the red planet. Ever since, it has been exploring its landing site, Mars’ Jezero Crater.

Scientists and researchers are hoping this location can unlock secrets from the red planet’s past, and give them a unique geologic snapshot of ancient Mars. Perseverance is also searching for signs of ancient microbial life, which if discovered, would be a game changer.

This month, scientists accomplished a huge milestone when Perseverance collected its first rock samples from the Martian regolith.

Its very first successful sample, named “Montdenier,” was taken on Sept. 6, and its pair, dubbed “Montagnac,” was collected just two days later. Both samples were taken from the same Martian rock, which was given the name, “Rochette.”

They may only have collected a few samples thus far, but researchers are already gaining new insights into the geologic timescale of Mars, as well as its past habitability.

So, was there life on Mars?

Scientists believe these latest samples, and others that have yet to be collected by the rover, hold the key to answering this highly anticipated question. However, preliminary findings have indicated that in the past, conditions were conducive to sustaining life on Mars.

The first samples collected by Perseverance are igneous Martian rocks, which indicate volcanic activity. NASA believes these samples may have been created from lava flows in Mars’ ancient past.

According to NASA, scientists have also identified salts in these samples, which may have trapped water bubbles that could act as small “time capsules” capable of preserving ancient microbial Martian life.

However, researchers will have to wait to get a closer look. While Perseverance is busy collecting samples on the surface of the red planet, the rover can only securely store and deposit the core samples at various locations on Mars. It is relying on future NASA missions to Mars for transport of the most important samples home to Earth.

Until then, Perseverance will continue exploring Mars and collecting more core samples for later analysis and examination.

Learn more about Perseverance here.