by Ashley Strickland | CNN
Nearly a year after the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover on a nearly seven-month journey to Mars, Robot Explorer is preparing to collect its first Mars sample within the next two weeks.
This sample, to be returned to Earth by missions in the 2030s, may contain evidence that there was past life on Mars.
The rover has also collected some of its first scientific observations of the Red Planet as it searches among rocks and dust.
Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater in February. Billions of years ago, the site was home to an ancient lake and river delta. Since June 1, the rover has explored a 1.5-square-mile area of the crater, known as the “Crated Floor Fractured Rough,” in search of the crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of rock.
On the rover’s 7-foot (2-metre) long robotic arm is a drill that will help it collect samples to be placed inside its caching system within the belly of the rover. The process of collecting Perseverance’s first Mars sample would take about 11 days – more than 3 minutes and 35 seconds to astronaut Neil Armstrong to collect the first lunar sample.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement, “When Neil Armstrong took the first samples from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that could help humanity learn more about the Moon. Knew, would write it again.”
“I sincerely hope that the first samples of Perseverance from Jezero Crater, and those that follow, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.”
Earth to Mars directions
Persistence will receive instructions from its teams on Earth before collecting the first sample.
First, the fixture will align itself so that everything needed for sampling can be hooked up to a robotic arm, followed by an image survey using the rover’s suite of cameras. This survey will allow the rover’s science team to select the site of the first sampling as well as a different target in the same area.
They will analyze the second target before collecting the sample at the first target.
Vivian Sun, co-lead of the science campaign at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said, “The idea is to get valuable data on the rock that we are looking for by finding its geologic twin (nearby) and doing detailed in-situ analysis.” Sample takers.” .
The rover will use an abrasive tool to scrape off the top layers of the rock, clean it and study it using Persistence’s science instruments.
Together, these instruments will provide an in-depth look at the rocks of Mars, including mineralogical and chemical analysis.
On the day of sampling, the rover’s arm will retrieve a sample tube from its cache inside Perseverance’s abdomen and drill about 5 centimeters into the untwisted twin of the rock that was analyzed. This sample will be approximately the size of a piece of chalk.
Then, the sample volume will be measured, photographed, sealed and stored within the rover.
Each sample will tell a different part of the story of Mars.
Dozens of samples to be collected eventually
As this part of the crater continues to be investigated, it will continue to drive and collect four unique samples. These would later be cached on the surface of Mars and brought back to Earth for future missions. The rover will collect about 40 samples during its two-year mission.
“Not every sample persistence will be collected in the search for ancient life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive evidence,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance Project Scientist at the California Institute of Technology. , in a statement.
“While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and are incredibly valuable for filling gaps in our geologic understanding of the region.” – The things we’ll desperately need to find out if life ever existed on Mars.”
Conducting Science on Mars
The main goal of the Perseverance rover is to help unlock the history of Mars, taking us back to a time when the planet was warmer and wetter, to understand whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.
“We’re getting amazing data back. The site we’re on is absolutely spectacular, and we’re getting beautiful, national park-like views of Mars every day,” said Briony Horgan, part of the rover’s science team. and associate professor of planetary science in Purdue University’s department. In a statement from the College of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences in Science.
Traveling about 328 feet (100 meters) a day thanks to its autonomous navigation capability, it has been a fixture on a summer road trip.
Persistence instruments can zap rocks with lasers to help scientists understand whether rocks on Mars are sedimentary or igneous, which will reveal more about water flows and ancient Martian atmosphere. If the rocks are igneous, they are formed by volcanoes. But sedimentary rocks will contain layers of information from the lake itself.
The rover is currently driving what scientists call pewter stones, and they are curious to know if they are sedimentary or volcanic.
Scientists are trying to test a hypothesis whether the lake within Jezero Crater had multiple episodes of filling and drying up.
“This is very important because it means you will have multiple time periods in which we can potentially learn about the environmental conditions on Mars,” Farley said. “And we also have several time periods where we may be able to see evidence of ancient life that may have existed on the planet.”
Persistence-taken images of ancient river deltas have revealed something surprising.
There are indications that late in the lake’s history, a sudden flood occurred within the delta, capable of moving large boulders. None of these were visible in the images obtained from orbits around Mars. It took a lot of effort to investigate on the ground to find out.
Persistence has spied a wealth of rocks that intrigue scientists. One of them is a small hill of layered rocks called the Artubi, which is named for a river in southern France.
The rocks appear to have formed within the lake itself, possibly from the lake’s soil that turned into rock over time. And those rocks may contain evidence of ancient life or even microscopic fossils.
“This is exactly the kind of rock we are most interested in examining while looking for potential biosignatures in this ancient rock record,” Farley said.