Bringing Martian rocks back to Earth crucial for science, say researchers

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Samples need to be collected from Mars' surface and returned to Earth for examination to answer our most pressing questions about the red planet, according to a group of international scientists.

A new publication with more than 70 authors from around the globe provides a blueprint and recommendations for answering the big unknowns about Mars, including important details for future exploration and understanding Mars' origin.

"We can only understand Mars to a certain point using , such as rovers and orbiters," said Chris Herd, a U of A geologist who studies meteorites and a lead collaborator on the paper. "To answer the big questions, we need to collect and return rock samples to Earth."

The recommendations are meant to provide guidance for the scientists involved in the NASA Mars 2020 mission, which will use a rover to collect and cache samples following its landing on the surface of Mars in spring 2021. Following this, the plan is for the samples to be fetched and returned to Earth, although funding for this step is not yet secure.

Context is critical

"Mars 2020 will let us choose where to collect samples and will allow us to get context for the rocks that are collected—their location, surrounding features and more," explained Herd, who is also curator of the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection.

"Returning samples from Mars with that context is the holy grail of Mars exploration. That's the reason why it's so important to bring these samples back."

The U of A is home to more than 1,800 specimens of more than 275 meteorites.

Herd, an internationally recognized expert in Martian meteorites, was lead author on two key sections of the paper, providing valuable insight into the current state of knowledge and the key scientific questions to be asked and answered about Mars.

The paper, "The Potential Science and Engineering Value of Samples Delivered to Earth by Mars Sample Return," was published in Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Explore further

Researchers outline goals for collecting and studying samples from Mars

More information: undefined undefined et al. The potential science and engineering value of samples delivered to Earth by Mars sample return, Meteoritics & Planetary Science (2019). DOI: 10.1111/maps.13232
Citation: Bringing Martian rocks back to Earth crucial for science, say researchers (2019, March 28) retrieved 20 July 2019 from
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Mar 28, 2019
Bringing Martian rocks back to Earth crucial for science, say researchers

I couldn't agree more and a sample return mission has been part of plan for a very long time. In addition to the tremendous science to be gained about a location on Mars, I think it would be foolish to attempt a months-long crewed Mars surface mission without some ground-truth confirmation about what to expect. A sample that includes the Martian atmosphere and dust would obviously be a good idea. Martian environment suits would have to stand up to this stuff for months or years on end and 3D printers might even use dust or other in situ materials for making shelters, etc. If I were a mission planner, I can only imagine having a sample return would help me sleep better at night. Ideally, it would be good to analyze samples from a location at or near the intended first landing site too.

Of course it should be done with all due precautions regarding forward and backward contamination.

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