Mars has always been an endless treasure trove of mysteries, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Perseverance rover and the team behind it, we may soon have answers to some of the questions surrounding our red, rocky sister planet. Perseverance launched earlier this year on February 18th and has since been documenting the Martian surface with the powerful camera integrated into its system. Alongside high-resolution photography, the rover recorded 16 minutes of audio which captured the sound of winds blowing across the landscape. However, the team behind Perseverance plans to up the ante, looking to collect a physical rock sample to examine. The first sample will be taken from a section of the Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.” This task is scheduled to take 11 days due to the delay in communication between mission control and the rover itself. It is one of four samples to be collected over the next year of exploration, which will be stored within the rover’s body until missions can be sent to retrieve them for examination. During this time, Perseverance will perform rudimentary tests on the samples to provide preliminary data. The rover was fitted with several instruments that allow it to collect a range of data points. Key among these is SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera, which will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the sample rock. Using this data, scientists may be able to piece together more about the history of Mars and the viability of future exploration missions. Until now, procuring an extraterrestrial sample for examination was a monumental advancement only achieved by Niel Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew when they collected moon rock from the Sea of Tranquility basin.
The key objective of Perseverance’s mission is to advance the field of astrobiology and look for definitive proof of microbial life having existed on Mars. Utilizing the data collected by the rover, the team hopes to pave the way for human exploration of the planet. Future NASA missions, with cooperation from the European Space Agency, plan to collect the samples stored within Perseverance’s frame and ship them to Earth for more extensive analysis that cannot be performed by the equipment built into the rover. Years of effort made this feat possible and will vastly expand our understanding of the wider universe around us.
If you are interested in reading more, click here for the article from NASA themselves, or click here for the LiveScience coverage. Want to learn more about past missions that Lenox Laser has covered, click here.