NASA’s Perseverance rover is preparing to collect its first samples on Mars, which could happen within the next two weeks, agency officials said today (July 21).
On February 18, Perseverance landed on the Red Planet at the bottom of an ancient lake known as Jezero Crater to explore and explore the planet for signs of ancient life. To do this, the rover was designed to collect and store samples of Martian material that will be returned to Earth by a mission in the early 2030s.
Starting its science phase on June 1 and exploring the 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers) area of the crater floor, Perseverance will take its first trials in an area known as the Cracked Floor.
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“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that rewrote what mankind knew about the Moon.” – Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Assistant Administrator for Science Mission Management. NASA said in a statement… “I very much expect the first Perseverance sample from Jezero crater and those that follow it will do the same for Mars. We are on the verge of a new era of planetary science and discovery. “
“I just cannot convey how excited I am,” Zurbuhen added during today’s briefing. He added that those months of research laid “the foundation for one of the most ambitious campaigns ever,” referring to a partnership with the European Space Agency to bring these samples back to Earth.
Collecting and exploring pieces of Mars
Perseverance will take about 11 days to collect the first sample, which she will do with her 7 feet (2 meters) robotic arm to first image and survey the site to determine the exact sampling location, and then collect material for sampling. a tube. Soon after the rover takes its first sample, it will take the second sample for a different target in the same general area for “proximity science” or additional research, according to NASA. Each sample is a finger-sized cylinder that is stored in tubes.
After that, the rover keeps full tubes in its body for a while; The location and date of their transfer to the sample return mission remains to be determined, Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley told Space.com in a briefing today.
“Over the next year, we will collect four unique specimens and keep them on board, we will deliver them to a site that has not yet been determined, where we will store them for future use,” added Farley.
Although the samples will be thoroughly examined right away on Earth, the onboard Perseverance technology will still be able to learn a little about the rocks by studying the sampling sites.
Other instruments on the rover include SHERLOC (scanning living environments using Raman scattering and luminescence for organic and chemical substances), PIXL (planetary X-ray lithochemistry instrument) and the WATSON camera (wide-angle topographic sensor for operation and design). Using these three technologies and other cameras, the rover can perform mineral and chemical analyzes of the terrain, as well as collect detailed high-resolution images.
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Journey to the Red Planet
To reach this key mission point, Perseverance undertook what team leaders today described as a “road trip” across the surface of Mars.
“We have a destination, we have a set amount of time, and we also have many interesting places nearby or along the way that we really want to visit,” said Vivian Sun, Persistence Science Campaign. the leader said today. The challenge, she says, is to decide “exactly where we want to go and how we’re going to fit everything into our schedule.”
The team has now chosen a destination for the “car trip” and three more attractions along the way, and as NASA announced today, they intend to take their first Martian specimen within the next two weeks.
The first samples of the rover will be taken in an area known as the Cratered Floor Fractured Rough, which is about 900 meters south of the Perseverance landing site in Jezero Crater, an area known as Octavia. E. Butler’s landing site.
Song explained that the material here is a crater area “very similar to the area you see on the moon.” The rover will also sample lighter colored rocks, which are usually covered in sand and dunes. “These are the two main types of rock that we are really exploring in this first science campaign,” Sun said.
In search of science
While Perseverance’s main scientific goal is to find evidence of ancient life on Mars, these samples will also provide scientists with data to study the planet and its history.
“Not every specimen that Perseverance collects will be used in the search for ancient life, and we do not expect this first specimen to provide definitive evidence anyway,” Farley said in a statement. “While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not excellent time capsules for organic matter, we believe they have existed since the formation of Jezero Crater and are incredibly valuable in filling the gaps in our geologic understanding of the region – something we desperately need to learn. , will we discover that life once existed on Mars. “
To get the most out of their samples, the team wants to collect a sample that can represent a large area. “We want this sample to really summarize and capture the history of this entire device as much as possible,” Sun said at the conference. Specifically, Perseverance scientists want their sample “to have the typical texture, chemistry and mineralogy of all other crater crater rocks that we have examined and seen so far on our journey.”
In fact, sampling this stone could reveal a mystery plaguing the missionary team. Although this crater is the site of an ancient lake where scientists expect to find sedimentary rock, the team believes the region may have been volcanic rock.
“We still don’t know if this is volcanic rock, such as a volcanic flow, or if it is sedimentary rock deposited through the air or water,” Sun said. “And, of course, understanding the origin of this fractured unit at the bottom of the crater will be critical not only for reconstructing the history of this lake, which used to be here, but also important for understanding the geological history as a whole, as well as the region around Jezero in this region of Mars “.
Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@ or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.