These rocks on Mars could contain clues vital to life on the red planet

Iron-rich rocks near ancient Mars lakes may contain vital clues as to whether life ever existed on the Red Planet, according to new research published in Journal of Geophysical Research .

An international team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, suggests that these rocks should be the main targets for future missions, such as NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which are designed to look for signs of life. This life, if it exists, will probably take the form of tiny microbes, scientists think.

The rocks in question formed at the bottom of the ancient lake beds between three and four billion years ago, when the Martian surface was abundant in water and its climate warmer. They are made of compacted mud and clay, as well as being rich in iron and silica, which can help preserve fossils.

The rocks themselves are better preserved than those of a similar age on Earth because the crust of Mars has no plates, like those found on our planet. On Earth these plates move, a process that can destroy rocks and fossils within them.

For their study, the scientists conducted a review of documents investigating fossils on Earth, while also examining the findings of experiments that replicated conditions on Mars. and data collected from previous Mars missions.

"We apply the recent results of the study of the fossil record of the Earth and fossilization processes, and of the geological exploration of Mars by explorers and orbiters, to select the most favored objectives for astrobiological missions. The authors wrote in the study

"We conclude that silica-rich mud stones and iron-containing clays currently offer the best hope of finding fossils on Mars and should be prioritized, but that many other options warrant further investigation. "

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 180525123212_1_900x600 The delta of the Jezero crater, a delta of a well-preserved ancient river on Mars.

The findings could help future missions to identify landing sites and main locations to collect samples from rock.

"There are many rocky outcrops and interesting minerals on Mars where we would like to look for fossils, but since we can not send them all, we have tried to prioritize the most promising deposits based on the best information available," Sean McMahon of the School of Physics and Astronomy from the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement.

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