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The first image NASA’s Perseverance Rover took on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A rock from Marble Bar in Western Australia’s Pilbara region could hold the key to confirming if there was life on Mars

NASA sent a 3.5-billion-year-old ultramafic dunite magnesium-rich rock with its Perseverance rover into space, which landed on Mars this morning Australian time.

The rock was collected near Marble Bar six years ago and was chosen due to the Pilbara region’s similarity to Perseverance’s landing site, Jezero Crater.

Marble Bar’s former claim to fame was as “the hottest town in Australia”, and it is also home to Novo Resources’ Marble Bar gold project, which boasts a sequence of ancient sedimentary and volcanic rocks.

BHP’s Newman and Rio Tinto’s Tom Price operations are also within 100 kilometres of the mining town.

The Marble Bar rock will be used to calibrate instruments before NASA collects samples of intact rock cores from an ancient river that flowed 3.5 billion years ago in Mars.

These samples are paramount in allowing NASA scientists to analyse features that may confirm ancient life on Mars.

“This demanding science goal requires a new suite of cutting-edge instruments to tackle the question from many angles,” NASA stated.

“Two of them will play a particularly important role in the search for potential signs of past life; Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), which can detect organic matter and minerals and Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), which maps the chemical composition of the rocks and sediments.

“The instruments will allow scientists to analyse these features at a higher level of detail than any Mars rover has done before.”

NASA said Perseverance aimed to take the next step in discovering whether there was past microbial life on Mars, following previous studies that confirmed the Red Planet once hosted running water before becoming a frozen desert.