Time to collect rocks: Perseverance rover completes the first part of its mission

  • Jonathan Amos
  • BBC science correspondent

September 20, 2022

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Photographer, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

photo caption,

The task of the Perseverance rover is to drill rocks, collect and set aside samples for later sending to Earth.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is close to completing the last items on the first part of its Mars mission list.

The rover has collected a variety of rock samples that it will lay out on the surface of the planet, then to send them to Earth during the next missions.

The rover has been in the Lake Crater region for 17 months. Everything Percy, as the scientists themselves call it, has seen since then confirms that the rover is in an ideal place to search for traces of life.

The conditions on Mars are quite harsh, so finding any living organisms there is extremely unlikely. Instead, the robot is looking for traces of biological activity that could have been here billions of years ago, when the crater was still filled with water and was a lake.

Scientists hope that this ancient history is “written” in the rock samples that the rover collects and will lay them out in the next couple of months for shipment in a designated place.

“If conditions [древнего Езеро] existed almost anywhere on Earth at any given time during the last 3.5 billion years, I think it’s safe to say or at least assume that nature would have done its part and left its mark on these rocks.” I am sure the participant of the project “Perseverance”, a scientist from the University of California at Berkeley David Schuster.

NASA and the European Space Agency are developing a plan to bring the Perseverance collection to Earth. The plan includes another lander, several helicopters, a rocket to Mars, and an interplanetary cargo ship.

The goal is to collect and bring rock samples to Earth in 2033. The collection includes samples of volcanic rock from holes that Perseverance drilled into the bottom of the crater.

Photographer, NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

photo caption,

Sedimentary core samples drilled by Perseverance. On the left is a sample from Wildcat Ridge.

These samples are supposed to tell the story of Lake before the crater filled with water.

It is especially important that these samples belong to rocks that can be accurately dated. So far, scientists can only indirectly judge the age of Mars.

Another part of the collection is the sedimentary type rocks that Perseverance has been collecting in recent months from sediments in the former river delta in the western sector of the crater, which is 45 kilometers in diameter.

A delta is a structure made up of silt and sand shed by a river as it slows down as it enters a wider body of water. This is a geological mechanism through which traces of past microbial life can be found in rocks.

One of the sedimentary rocks is a piece of the so-called “Wildcat Ridge” (Wildcat Ridge), it was formed when silt settled on the bottom of the lake as it evaporated.

lake crater map

The rover’s instruments show that the ridge’s rocks contain large amounts of organic or carbon-rich compounds.

An intriguing observation, but it is important to make a reservation here.

“All life as we know it is made up of organic matter,” explains Sunanda Sharma, mission instrument specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “But, importantly, organic matter can also be created by chemical processes unrelated to life, for example, as a result of the interaction of water with stones, from dust.

For the past four months, Perseverance has been working on a 40-meter ledge at the edge of the delta.

Soon he will descend from the slope to a flat area of ​​the bottom, where he will begin to lay out rock samples.

rock samples

Photographer, NASA/JPL-Caltech/

photo caption,

Rock samples are stored in titanium tubes. Soon the rover will put this collection of its on the surface.

For the past four months, Perseverance has been working on a 40m ledge that represents the edge of the delta.

“We are considering placing 10 to 11 sample vials here on the surface,” says JPL Project Systems Engineer Rick Welch. “Then it will probably take about two months to deposit these samples and carefully document the location so that the next mission can take them.” find”.

NASA engineers tested the process of laying samples on the ground on a full-size copy of the Perseverance in the jet propulsion laboratory, where maneuvers can be simulated before sending a new mission to Mars in reality.

It is expected that the decision to send the mission to NASA will be made after the meeting on October 19.

Perhaps the current collection of the rover will become a backup in case something happens to it. Then the bookmark can be picked up and brought to Earth. But in general, scientists want to collect many more samples, and they may have to be taken from new places where the rover will reach. The final decision depends on how this first stage of collecting and displaying samples goes.

Laurie Gleizes, director of NASA’s Planetary Exploration Division, praised the “incredible Perseverance team” for their progress: “Not only did we go to the right place, we sent the right spacecraft with the right scientific instruments to explore this amazing ancient environment on Mars.”

Tags: Time collect rocks Perseverance rover completes part mission

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