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In situ Identification of Paleoarchean Biosignatures Using Colocated Perseverance Rover Analyses: Perspectives for in situ Mars Science and Sample Return

Hickman-Lewis, Keyron and Moore, Kelsey R. and Razzell Hollis, Joseph J. and Tuite, Michael L. and Beegle, Luther W. and Bhartia, Rohit and Grotzinger, John P. and Brown, Adrian J. and Shkolyar, Svetlana and Cavalazzi, Barbara and Smith, Caroline L. (2022) In situ Identification of Paleoarchean Biosignatures Using Colocated Perseverance Rover Analyses: Perspectives for in situ Mars Science and Sample Return. Astrobiology . ISSN 1531-1074. doi:10.1089/ast.2022.0018. (In Press)

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The NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is currently exploring Jezero crater, a Noachian–Hesperian locality that once hosted a delta–lake system with high habitability and biosignature preservation potential. Perseverance conducts detailed appraisals of rock targets using a synergistic payload capable of geological characterization from kilometer to micron scales. The highest-resolution textural and chemical information will be provided by correlated WATSON (imaging), SHERLOC (deep-UV Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy), and PIXL (X-ray lithochemistry) analyses, enabling the distributions of organic and mineral phases within rock targets to be comprehensively established. Herein, we analyze Paleoarchean microbial mats from the ∼3.42 Ga Buck Reef Chert (Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa)—considered astrobiological analogues for a putative ancient martian biosphere—following a WATSON–SHERLOC–PIXL protocol identical to that conducted by Perseverance on Mars during all sampling activities. Correlating deep-UV Raman and fluorescence spectroscopic mapping with X-ray elemental mapping, we show that the Perseverance payload has the capability to detect thermally and texturally mature organic materials of biogenic origin and can highlight organic–mineral interrelationships and elemental colocation at fine spatial scales. We also show that the Perseverance protocol obtains very similar results to high-performance laboratory imaging, Raman spectroscopy, and μXRF instruments. This is encouraging for the prospect of detecting microscale organic-bearing textural biosignatures on Mars using the correlative micro-analytical approach enabled by WATSON, SHERLOC, and PIXL; indeed, laminated, organic-bearing samples such as those studied herein are considered plausible analogues of biosignatures from a potential Noachian–Hesperian biosphere. Were similar materials discovered at Jezero crater, they would offer opportunities to reconstruct aspects of the early martian carbon cycle and search for potential fossilized traces of life in ancient paleoenvironments. Such samples should be prioritized for caching and eventual return to Earth.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Hickman-Lewis, Keyron0000-0001-8014-233X
Razzell Hollis, Joseph J.0000-0002-6239-694X
Beegle, Luther W.0000-0002-4944-4353
Bhartia, Rohit0000-0002-1434-7481
Grotzinger, John P.0000-0001-9324-1257
Brown, Adrian J.0000-0002-9352-6989
Shkolyar, Svetlana0000-0001-9641-1071
Cavalazzi, Barbara0000-0002-5135-9529
Smith, Caroline L.0000-0001-7005-6470
Additional Information:© Keyron Hickman-Lewis et al., 2022; Published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. This Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. Submitted 27 January 2022. Accepted 13 June 2022. KHL gratefully acknowledges the UK Space Agency for funding support in the form of an Aurora Research Fellowship (ST/V00560X/1 – Correlative microscopy analytical strategies for Mars Sample Return). The samples used in this study are part of the sample collection of the INACMa (Inorganic Nanoparticles in Archaean Carbonaceous Matter—a key to early life) project to BC (EU-FP7 Grant no. 618657). JRH carried out research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004). KRM and JPG acknowledge the Simons Foundation and the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life. SS acknowledges support from NASA under award number 80GSFC21M0002. We thank Axel Hofmann (University of Johannesburg) for the provision of samples from the BARB-3 core and Callum Hatch (NHM) for technical support in sample preparation. The authors have no conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, to declare.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)ST/V00560X/1
European Research Council (ERC)618657
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Mars; Astrobiology; Mars 2020; Biosignatures; Buck Reef Chert; Microbial mats
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220801-490164000
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Official Citation:Keyron Hickman-Lewis, Kelsey R. Moore, Joseph J. Razzell Hollis, Michael L. Tuite, Luther W. Beegle, Rohit Bhartia, John P. Grotzinger, Adrian J. Brown, Svetlana Shkolyar, Barbara Cavalazzi, and Caroline L. Smith.In situ Identification of Paleoarchean Biosignatures Using Colocated Perseverance Rover Analyses: Perspectives for in situ Mars Science and Sample Return.Astrobiology.ahead of print
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:115999
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:02 Aug 2022 14:08
Last Modified:02 Aug 2022 14:08

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