Three years later, search for life on Mars continues | Science & Technology

In the three years since NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars, the NASA science team has made the daily task of investigating the red planet seem almost mundane.

The rover and its helicopter sidekick Ingenuity have captured stunning images of Mars and collected 23 unique rock core samples along 17 miles of an ancient river delta.

One science team member, University of Cincinnati Associate Professor Andy Czaja, said he sometimes has to remind himself that the project is anything but ordinary.

“This is so cool. I’m exploring another planet,” he said.

Czaja teaches in the Department of Geosciences in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. He is a paleobiologist and astrobiologist helping NASA look for evidence of ancient life on Mars using a rover outfitted with custom geoscience and imaging tools with three of his UC graduate students, Andrea Corpolongo, Brianna Orrill and Sam Hall.

Three years into the mission, the rover has performed like a champ, he said.

“Perseverance has excelled. It’s been fantastic. It has such capable instrumentation for doing the geology work. It’s able to explore distant objects with its zoom lens cameras and can focus on tiny objects at incredible resolution,” Czaja said.

Along the way, the mission has recorded a number of firsts: first powered flight, first recorded sounds of Mars, the longest autonomous drive (nearly a half-mile) and new discoveries about the planet’s geology, atmosphere and climate.

Czaja was part of the NASA team that decided where on Mars to land the rover. And he remained on the science team that would pore over its daily data and discoveries to decide what the rover should do next.

Among the new discoveries was finding primary igneous rocks in Jezero Crater. These rocks are the hardened result of liquid magma. They offer scientists promising clues about refining the known age of the planet.

Scientists suspect Mars once had long-lived rivers, lakes and streams. Today, water on Mars is found in ice at the…

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