WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021. And now, the rover will begin the next phase of work which involves returning samples of rocks back to earth.

In the first year of its mission, Perseverance conducted reconnaissance of its surroundings, flying a mini helicopter over the Jezero crater on which it landed.

Eventually, it discovered what research scientists confirmed as a delta.

And it could eventually provide answers as to whether or not there is life on Mars

Briony Horgan is an Associate Professor of Planetary Science at Purdue University and rover scientist on NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover.

“They tell us that a river once flowed into this crater, filled it up to form a lake, and then kept flowing to eventually form this delta out into the, out of the lake. And that’s really exciting for telling us that there was, in fact, a sustained, ancient, habitable environment where ancient microbial life could have lived,” she explains.

The rover will work to drill into pieces of rock to create samples as tiny as pens or pencils.

And getting the samples back to earth won’t be straightforward.

“At some point soon, we are hopefully going to lay down a set of these tubes to cache them on the surface for eventual return to Earth. And that’ll actually happen through a series of other missions, we call this Mars sample return. And that’ll happen through another small rover coming out to grab the samples, putting them on a little rocket which will launch into orbit, rendezvous with another satellite, and then eventually return that back to Earth,” says Horgan.

The process is long drawn out, and the samples won’t make it back to earth for closer inspection until approximately 2030.

The rover is over a year into the two-year mission to explore the dry river delta and drill into rocks that may hold evidence of life.

Horgan says the team could be releasing more information later this year about the potential of microbial life.

But she is cautious and keen to dampen over-excitement.

“There are things that we can see with the rover that may help us identify potential biosignatures. We just you know, we’re always going to be careful and say it’s potential until we bring it back and look at it carefully,” she says.