NASA's Perseverance rover begins looking for signs of life in Mars lake bed

The Martian rover has done plenty of rolling. Now it's ready to rock.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
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The Watson camera on the Perseverance rover's Sherloc instrument focusing in on a region of the Mars surface. The test was performed on May 10. 


Approximately 195 million miles away, on the surface of Mars, NASA's helicopter Ingenuity has been performing some extreme feats of space exploration. The tiny rotorcraft achieved the first powered flight on another planet in April and has been stealing a lot of the Martian spotlight since. But its sister robot, the rover Perseverance, is also trying to achieve a monumental first: discover signs of life on another planet.

In a NASA blog post Tuesday, the space agency details some of the images snapped by a camera known as Watson, positioned on the rover's robotic arm . The instrument -- and a suite of other cameras -- is critical to analysis of the rover's landing zone in Jezero Crater, which scientists believe was once home to a giant lake.

And where there was water, there may have been life.

One of the key questions NASA hopes to answer is what type of rocks are in Jezero. Sedimentary rock, which is formed on the surface of a planet over time as minerals and even organic matter accumulates, could contain past signs of alien life. Another type of rock, formed deep below a planet's surface by volcanic activity, may also reside on Jezero's floor.

Perseverance will be tasked with grinding away pieces of rock with its robotic arm to determine the composition of the rocks in the crater. Another instrument on the arm, Sherloc, will use light to analyze which chemical and minerals are present among Jezero's pebbles.

"When you look inside a rock, that's where you see the story," Ken Farley, Perseverance's project scientist, said in a statement.

Perseverance's search for life will also include sampling and storing samples from the surface, which will be left on Mars for a future return mission. Eventually, they could be launched back to Earth, safely cracked open and studied in detail.

Just don't expect to find any mushrooms inside.