February 1, 2023

Perseverance’s first major successes on Mars — an update from mission scientists

This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the short article to Space.coms Expert Voices: Op-Ed & & Insights.Melissa Rice, Associate Professor of Planetary Science, Western Washington UniversityBriony Horgan, Associate Professor of Planetary Science, Purdue UniversityIn the short time because NASAs Perseverance rover landed in Mars Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, its already made history.At the minute, Mars and the Earth are on opposite sides of the sun, and the two planets can not interact with each other. After working continuously for the previous 216 Martian days, the science groups are taking the very first real break considering that the objective started.We are 2 members of the Perseverance group, and with the rover hunkered down for the 20 days of combination, it is the best time to go back and review the mission thus far.Perseverance has tested out all of its engineering capabilities, driven 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) over rough surface and taken 10s of countless images with its 19 cams. Of all of these unbelievable successes, there are three major turning points that were particularly delighted about: gathering the very first rock core samples, flying the Ingenuity helicopter and publishing our very first scientific results about the Jezero Crater delta.Return shippingOne of Perseverances primary goals is to use its sample caching system to extract small rock cores– approximately the size of dry-erase markers– and seal them in special sample tubes. A future mission will then select them up and bring them on a long, interplanetary journey back to Earth.For Perseverances first drilling effort in August, our team picked a nice flat rock that was simple to access with the drill. After 6 days of assessing the bedrock– and lastly drilling into it– we were enjoyed see a hole in the ground and get verification that the sample tube had sealed successfully. The next day the rover sent out pictures of the inside of the tube, and we saw it was really empty. Some of Mars environment is trapped inside and will be useful to study, but its not what the group was hoping for.Ultimately, our team concluded that the rock itself was much softer than anticipated and it was totally crushed throughout the act of drilling.Perseverance has actually currently cached 2 samples of Martian rocks after drilling cores out of a rock, the very first of which is the hole seen here. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)Three weeks and 1,800 feet (550 meters) later, we stumbled upon some promising-looking rocks extending up above the red surface. This recommended that the rocks were more difficult and for that reason much easier to take a sample of. This time Perseverance successfully drawn out and kept 2 core samples from the grayish, wind-polished rock. After gathering up to a couple of lots more, it will drop the samples at a safe and easily accessible location on Mars surface area. NASAs Mars Sample Return mission, which is currently in advancement, will pick up the sample tubes in the late 2020s and bring them home.But scientists do not need to wait that long to discover the rocks. At both sites, Perseverance used the SHERLOC and PIXL spectrometers on its arm to determine the composition of the rocks. We found crystalline minerals that recommend the rocks formed in a basaltic lava circulation, in addition to salt minerals that might be proof of ancient groundwater.First in flightPerseverance might be a long way from Earth, but it has a partner. The Ingenuity helicopter detached from the rover quickly after they arrived at Mars and ended up being the first craft to fly in the atmosphere of another planet.Ingenuity is solar powered, weighs 4 pounds (1.8 kg), and its main body is approximately the size of a grapefruit. On April 19, 2021, the helicopter took its very first flight, hovering 10 feet (3 meters) in the air for 39 seconds prior to coming straight down. This brief hop showed that its long blades might produce enough lift to enable flight in Mars thin air.The next flights checked the helicopters ability to move horizontally, and it covered longer ranges each time, traveling as much as 2,050 feet (625 meters) in its farthest journey to date.Ingenuity has now flown 13 times and has actually caught in-depth images of the ground to hunt out the rough surface ahead of Perseverance. These images are assisting the team decide how to navigate around challenges on the way towards the rovers ultimate location, a large delta in Jezero Crater.A delta in Jezero Crater, seen in this satellite image, is where Perseverance will gather most of its samples. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)Zooming into the Jezero deltaNASA picked Jezero Crater as Perseverances landing website specifically because it gives the rover access to a big stack of rocks that sits at the end of a dry river valley. Based upon satellite images, scientists believe that these rocks are made from sediment transferred by an ancient river that flowed into a lake roughly 3.5 billion years earlier. If real, this place might have been an outstanding environment for life.However, the resolution of the satellite information isnt high enough to state for sure whether the sediments were transferred slowly into a long-lived lake or whether the structure formed under drier conditions. The only way to understand with certainty was to take images from the surface area of Mars.This structure of stones and sediment reveals the geological history of the delta. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/ MSSS)Perseverance landed over a mile (roughly 2 kilometers) far from the cliffs at the front of the delta. We are both on the team in charge of the Mastcam-Z instrument, a set of cameras with zoom lenses that would enable us to see a paper clip from the opposite side of a football field. Throughout the very first couple of weeks of the objective, we utilized Mastcam– Z to survey the remote rocks. From those breathtaking views, we picked specific areas to look at in more information with the rovers SuperCam, a telescopic camera.When the images got back to Earth, we saw slanted layers of sediments in the lower parts of the 260-foot-tall (80 meters) cliffs. Toward the top we found stones, some as large as 5 feet (1.5 meters) across.From the structure of these developments, our team has been able to rebuild a geological story billions of years old, which we published in the journal Science on Oct. 7, 2021. For a long period of time– possibly millions of years– a river flowed into a lake that filled Jezero Crater. This river gradually deposited the slanted layers of sediment we see in the cliffs of the delta. Later on, the river ended up being mostly dry other than for a few huge flooding events. These events had adequate energy to carry huge rocks down the river channel and deposit them on top of the older sediment; these are the stones we see atop the cliffs now.Since then, the climate has actually been dry and winds have slowly been deteriorating away the rock.Confirming that there was a lake in Jezero Crater is the very first major science result of the mission. In the coming year, Perseverance will drive up to the top of the delta, studying the rock layers in microscopic detail along the way and gathering lots of samples. When those samples eventually make their method to Earth, we will learn if they consist of signs of microbial life that might as soon as have actually thrived in this ancient lake on Mars. [Get the very best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.] This short article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 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Of all of these unbelievable successes, there are three significant milestones that were especially thrilled about: gathering the very first rock core samples, flying the Ingenuity helicopter and publishing our first scientific results about the Jezero Crater delta.Return shippingOne of Perseverances primary objectives is to use its sample caching system to draw out little rock cores– roughly the size of dry-erase markers– and seal them in special sample tubes. A future objective will then pick them up and bring them on a long, interplanetary journey back to Earth.For Perseverances very first drilling effort in August, our team selected a nice flat rock that was easy to gain access to with the drill. Some of Mars environment is caught inside and will be useful to study, however its not what the team was hoping for.Ultimately, our group concluded that the rock itself was much softer than expected and it was completely crushed throughout the act of drilling.Perseverance has already cached 2 samples of Martian rocks after drilling cores out of a rock, the first of which is the hole seen here. NASAs Mars Sample Return objective, which is currently in advancement, will pick up the sample tubes in the late 2020s and bring them home.But researchers dont have to wait that long to learn about the rocks. In the coming year, Perseverance will drive up to the top of the delta, studying the rock layers in microscopic information along the method and gathering lots of samples.

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