- Jonathan Amos
- BBC Science Correspondent
NASA’s Perseverance rover completes first mission to explore Mars
NASA’s robotic rover has collected various rock samples, which the rover will soon place on the Martian surface, awaiting future Mars missions to bring the samples back to Earth.
Seventeen months ago, the rover lifted off into an area known as “Jezero Crater.”
Scientists have confirmed that the rover has been sent to the best place to look for life on Mars.
The rover is not looking for any living things; The chances of a creature surviving in the harsh Martian atmosphere are slim. The probe is looking for traces of life left when Jezero Crater was a liquid lake billions of years ago.
Scientists say the ‘amazing’ rock samples collected are very old in history. The rock samples will be placed in a “storage site” on Mars in the coming months.
“[പുരാതന ജെസീറോ]”If conditions were similar to Earth at some point in the last 2.5 billion years,” said David Schuster, a persistence researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, “I think we can say a lot — at least hypothesize — that biological activity is leaving traces in the rocks that we can observe.”
NASA and the European Space Agency are working on plans to retrieve rock samples from Mars. The plan is bold and will use another Mars Landing System, helicopters, a Mars rocket and an interplanetary cargo spacecraft.
The goal is to return rock samples to Earth in 2023.
Rock samples include igneous or volcanic rocks that Perseverance drilled beneath the surface of Jezero Crater. These rocks can provide clues about the conditions before the crater lake formed.
Crucially, the age of these rock samples can be determined. The geological age of Mars can now only be guessed indirectly.
Another rock sample is sedimentary rocks collected by Perseverance in recent months from the delta, west of the 45 km wide Jezero Crater.
As rivers flow into wide bodies of water, their flow slows down and silt and sand accumulate in the river bed, creating raised areas known as deltas. Such landforms may retain traces of past microbial life.
Satellite images show a large surface formed by debris west of Jezero Crater, long suspected to be a delta near the Martian equator.
The Mars rover took samples of sedimentary rock from a rock known as Wildcat Ridge, which forms when sediment accumulates in the crater lake and the lake water evaporates. The rocks are very salty. But the investigation’s tools showed that the Wildcat Ridge rock contained enough organic or carbon-rich compounds.
This observation is significant, but needs to be handled with caution.
Sunanda Sharma, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “All known life is made of organic matter,” but essentially, organic matter is in a chemical process unrelated to life. Organics are also found in interstellar dust.
For the past four months, the Perseverance rover has been working on the 40-meter-high rock surface at the edge of the delta.
Soon the probe will descend to a flat surface beneath a nearby crater, where it will place a rock sample in a titanium tube.
“We’re looking at the possibility of putting 10-11 rock samples on the surface of Mars,” said Rick Welch, Perseverance Project Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“It may take about two months to excavate these rocks and carefully record their positions so that future (to Mars) missions can find these rock samples.”
NASA engineers practiced how to burst a titanium tube inside the Perseverance rover’s belly. They have an exact replica of the rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and are doing simulation exercises on it before finalizing the plan to go to Mars on a mission.
A final decision on whether to go to Mars is expected to be made at a NASA meeting on October 19.
That could be an insurance plan for the Perseverance rover to release the first rock samples, meaning that in the event of a disaster during the rover’s subsequent mission, the stored rock samples could be collected by Mars rovers later. to earth
Researchers hope to collect more samples of Martian rocks, so samples from Mars will be the focus of future robotic probes.
The final decision will depend on how the work on Mars progresses.
Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, praised the Perseverance Mars rover team’s achievements so far.
“Not only did we go to the right place, but we sent the right spacecraft with the right scientific instruments to explore the amazing ancient face of Mars,” she told reporters.
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