NASA’s science rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another world, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday, February 18 and landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, its first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. (National Post)
Here are some experts from McGill University that can provide comment on this issue:
Erin Gibbons, PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
"It has been almost 4 decades since a space exploration mission has explicitly looked for signs of Martian life. All of the expertise and knowledge we as a science community have gained in that time will come to bear on the surface of Mars starting this Thursday, and I couldn't be more ecstatic! My role on the mission will be to help interpret the chemistry and mineralogy of the surface so that we can guide Perseverance towards the locations with the greatest likelihood of preserving signs of past life."
Erin Gibbons is a PhD candidate and a Vanier Scholar in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. She is also a Science Team Member and Rover Operator as part of the Mars 2020 science team. Her research is dedicated to enhancing the search for life on Mars by studying the extremotolerant organisms in Earth's most inimical settings and developing data management strategies for information returned by Mars exploration rovers.
erin.gibbons [at] mail.mcgill.ca (English)
Richard Leveillé, Adjunct Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
“The SuperCam will be used to laser rocks and soils around the rover to examine their elemental and mineral composition. Our team will help determine what exact route the rover will take and what targets to analyse with the SuperCam. Following the landing, we will contribute to the analysis and interpretation of data and images captured by the instrument. We will also help the mission team interpret the geologic and environmental context of Jezero Crater – even whether there may be signs of microbial life in the ancient rocks.”
Richard Leveillé is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and an Associate Member of the McGill Space Institute. He is one of the co-investigators of the SuperCam instrument team and part of the overall Mars 2020 team. His current research is focused on Mars geochemistry and mineralogy and preparing for future astrobiology missions to Mars (and Europa) by performing investigations in analog environments here on Earth.
richard.leveille [at] mcgill.ca (English, French)
Lyle Whyte, Full Professor, Department of Natural Resource Sciences
“Mars 2020 is both a magnificent engineering and scientific achievement that could potentially lead to the discovery of past life on Mars. It is incredibly unique in that this is the first stage of the Mars Sample Return that will, with a bit of luck, bring samples back to Earth by approximately 2030. This could be the start of an approximately 10-year voyage of discovery in the Jezero Crater, one of the best places on Mars to look for life.”
Lyle Whyte is a Full Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and holds a Canada Research Chair in Polar Microbiology. His research program examines microbial biodiversity, activity, and ecology in polar ecosystems, especially permafrost and unique cold saline springs, in the emerging field of cryomicrobiology, the exploration of the low-temperature limits of microbial life.
lyle.whyte [at] mcgill.ca (English)