Perseverance on Mars

NASA’s latest rover will search for evidence of past life on the red planet

Illustration of the Perseverance rover entering the Martian atmosphere. Photo from NASA.

— 1 minute read — By Sam Portillo

NASA has landed a fifth rover on the surface of the red planet. Equipped with high-resolution cameras, digging tools and even a miniature helicopter, scientists hope Perseverance will be able to find clues about the possible existence of life in Mars’s past.

Named after the Roman god of war, the planet’s redish hue has long meant it has a reputation as Earth’s chaotic and hellish sister. Since first landing a rover on the Martian surface in 1997, however, scientists have come to terms with the fact that the planet is essentially a barren desert. Temperatures near the equator, where Perseverance will study, can reach up to 20 degrees Celsius or as low as negative 100.

Its precarious temperature range also deems most of the planet too cold to sustain liquid water. Coupled with an abundance of toxic gases in the air and an atmosphere too thin to hold a vibrant ecosystem, scientists are now less optimistic about finding complex life on the planet. However, the fact that frozen water exists on the Martian poles and in valleys sheltered from the Sun suggests that liquid water may have once been present in the planet’s past. Further still, the rocky surface is scored with features that resemble riverbeds and grooves that appear formed by flowing water.

On Earth, the NASA scientists responsible for the mission identified a number of rock formations that are near the rover and may contain biological remains of past life. They believe that the Jezero crater in which the rover will complete its work may have even been a lake itself.