Set off for Mars

Travel in space with our researchers. Passionate for years about the mystery of our origins, they invite you to an extraordinary adventure...

Come to the Institute of Mineralogy, Material Physics and Cosmochemistry. Our scientists will take you to the four corners of the solar system through their observations, the study of meteorites and their research on Mars! Thanks to their expertise and their cutting-edge instruments, they are involved in the biggest explorations, notably alongside NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency), to discover the mystery of our origins. By scrutinising other planets and studying distant lands formed at the same time, they glean clues that gradually reveal their secrets.

Rover Perserverance

© NASA

One of our researchers pilots the Curiosity robot which has been roaming the Red Planet since 2012! Her role? To study the rocks vaporised by the French ChemCam laser located on the robot's head, in order to analyse their chemical composition from a distance. The results highlight the geological diversity of Mars: the composition of its soils and landscapes. For example, they have revealed a continental crust similar to our own and, above all, traces of water. The lakes and rivers have dried up, but the clays bear witness to the past presence of this precious liquid. Curiosity's other instruments have even revealed the presence of carbon in the Martian soil! So, life or not?

Nous étudions des roches carbonatées formées par des microorganismes (stromatolites ; roches blanches visibles au premier plan), dans des lacs de cratère de volcan au Mexique. Nous visons notamment à déterminer l’identité des microorganismes impliqués ainsi que les mécanismes bio-géochimiques de précipitation des minéraux. Ces lacs peuvent servir d’analogues pour mieux comprendre ce qui a pu se produire, il y a plusieurs milliards d’années, dans un ancien lac de cratère comme celui de Jezero sur Mars.

© MNHN

The robot Perseverance landed in February 2021 to try to answer this question. There is little chance of finding little green men or even living bacteria on the surface, but it could well detect organic molecules in the rocks, suggesting a past form of life. The equipment has in any case been programmed for this, in particular the Raman spectrometer on the robot's head, developed in France. Our teams took an active part in this! In order to determine what they need to find, our researchers made artificial fossils in the laboratory. Thanks to these experiments, they now know what to look for if the rover's laser comes across this particular type of mineralogical construct. To try to find these traces by directing the robot towards the right rocks, four of our scientists are now living on “Mars time”, living according to daily rhythm of the celestial body that is the object of so much curiosity. Thanks to them, you will soon have new answers...

Research teams

The teams involved in the study of Mars at the Institute of Mineralogy, Physics of Materials and Cosmochemistry (IMPMC) are the ROCKS (Research On Carbon-rich Key Samples) and BIOMIN (Biomineralogy: history, mechanisms and applications) teams.

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