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We may not know whether there is life on Mars or not for many years to come, said Professor Fernando Rull, the head of the calibration system of NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission Perseverance Rover. Rull said we will only be certain “after a long time and debate” that may last years.
Rull spoke at a press conference, explaining the role of the group he leads at the University of Valladolid (UVa) in Spain. The press conference was hosted one day after the successful landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars, which took off seven months ago.
“It will take a long time and debate, long and hard discussions to know if a sample collected is the result of biological activity or not. There won’t be any scientific news for a long time, it will even take years,” he said of the complexity involved in analyzing compounds that were potentially created millions of years ago.
The production of chemical compounds by a living being, namely a bacterium or a fungus “is not reliable for biological activity,” said the professor. He explained that it would be difficult to know if the compounds are products of million of years of physical-chemical processes or of biological activity.
Perseverance, a six-wheeled, three-meter-long rover, has an instrument called SuperCam attached to a mast, which consists of several spectrometers (light emitters that provide information from Mars) designed by NASA.
The optics and laser of this SuperCam were designed in France. The technical calibration was designed by Rull’s research team at the Spanish university.
The Perseverance will conduct intense work during the first three months on Mars. The first three weeks will solely focus on the efficiency of its instruments before fully surveying the surface on Mars.
“The scientists will develop a long term plan, and then will decide what to explore,” but decisions will be taken depending on the daily data collected by the system, said Rull of the mission, which has a life expectancy of one year.
The “extraordinary technological complexity” of the SuperCamp can identify the mineralogical and chemical composition of the materials by projecting a pulsed laser, he added.
This camera will aid with the search of carefully selected materials that could potentially return to Earth for further research, “when there is the possibility of return missions,” which at present are not possible, since all the material sent to Mars on this mission will remain there.
In all this work, the SuperCamp needs proper calibration, which has been taken care of by Professor Rull and his team at the headquarters of the UVa-CSIC’s Associated Unit of the Astrobiology Center located in the Technological Park of Castilla y León.
Antonio Largo, UVa’s dean, expressed his pride and satisfaction for the contribution of his institution to a “historic milestone in world science and technology.”