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Mars Perseverance rover
Perseverancevia YouTube/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA is on the hunt for ancient alien life on Mars

The space agency’s Perseverance rover, which launches later this week, aims to dig up samples destined for Earth

Later this week (July 30), NASA’s Perseverance rover will begin its journey through space to the surface of Mars, aiming to answer the age-old question of whether the planet has ever supported life.

Perseverance, which is equipped with instruments and technology to explore Mars and analyse its findings, will also extract rock and soil samples to leave on the Martian surface, with the intention that they’ll be picked up years later, when another robotic spacecraft arrives to bring them back to Earth.

The project, which is called (appropriately) Mars Sample Return, will give scientists a chance to study Martian materials for signs of ancient microbial life in a lab environment. 

“If you want to confirm that life exists beyond the Earth, you probably cannot do it with any instruments that can be flown today,” says Kenneth Farley, the project scientist for Perseverance, talking to The Verge. “You really have to bring samples back to the lab.”

If all goes to plan, Perseverance will land in Mars’s 28-mile wide Jezero Crater – which contains sediments of an ancient river delta where past life could be preserved – on February 18, 2021. “This is a wonderful place to live for microorganisms,” adds Farley, in a statement for NASA. “And it is also a wonderful place for those microorganisms to be preserved so that we can find them now so many billions of years later.”

Get more information about the Mars Sample Return project in the video below. You’ll also be able to watch the July 30 launch online here.

In the meantime, revisit Dazed’s explainer on what life on Mars would really look and sound like (including the all-important question of what it would be like to listen to David Bowie’s “Starman” on the Red Planet).