- Jonathan Amos
- BBC science reporter
The US space agency’s Perseverance rover is close to completing its first major target on Mars.
NASA’s rover has collected a variety of rock samples that will soon be deposited on the surface, waiting to be flown back to Earth on later missions.
It’s been 17 months since the car arrived in an area called Jezero Crater, suspended from a crane attached to a missile.
Everything Percy, as the rover was lovingly called, has observed on Mars since then assures scientists that the rover is in the perfect place to look for signs of life.
The rover is not looking for any organisms that are currently alive, because the harsh environment on Mars makes existence highly unlikely. Instead, the robot is looking for traces of biology that may have existed billions of years ago, when Jezero Lake formed.
Scientists hope to find records of this ancient history in the “amazing” rock samples that will be stored in a “repository” in the coming months.
“If the conditions [antigas de Jezero] said David Schuster, a scientist who works on the perseverance mission at the University of California, Berkeley.
NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a plan to restore rock deposits. It’s a bold plan that includes another landing system, a few helicopters, a Mars missile, and an interplanetary cargo ship.
The goal is to bring the samples back to Earth in 2033.
Among them are some examples of igneous or igneous rocks excavated by perseverance at the bottom of the crater. The boulders will essentially tell the story of Jezero before it fills with the lake’s waters.
Crucially, the samples are of the rock type that can be accurately identified in time. At the moment, time periods on Mars can only be inferred indirectly.
The remaining samples include sedimentary rocks of the type that persistence collected in recent months from delta deposits in the western sector of the crater, which is 45 kilometers wide.
A delta is a structure built of mud and sand that is inundated by a river as it flows into a larger portion of the water.
It’s the kind of geological structure that can hold traces of past microbial life.
One of the sedimentary samples, from a rock he dubbed “Wildcat Ridge,” was created when mud formed in Lake Jezero as it evaporated. It is full of salt. But the rover’s hardware shows that the rocks also contain organic compounds that are rich in carbon.
This is a tempting note, but it comes with important caveats.
“All life as we know it consists of organic matter. But more importantly, organic matter can also be formed from chemical processes unrelated to life; for example, through interactions of water and rocks. Organic matter can also be found in cosmic dust, ‘ said Sunanda Sharma, mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Perseverance has been working for four months on a 40-meter-high cliff that forms the edge of the delta.
The robot will soon leave this slope to a flat area near the bottom of the crater, where rock samples, in their protective titanium tubes, can be deposited on the ground.
“We are looking into the possibility of placing 10 to 11 sample tubes here on the surface,” said Rick Welch, project systems engineer at JPL.
“It will take about two months to place these samples and carefully document their location so that a future mission can find them.”
NASA engineers are studying how to eject the tubes currently stored in the Perseverance Belly. They have a full-size version of the rover at JPL to simulate maneuvers before sending commands to Mars and performing actual actions.
NASA is expected to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the plan after the October 19 meeting.
This first deposit issued by Perseverance may be used as a backup and will only be collected if the rover suffers a catastrophic failure the rest of its mission.
Scientists want to collect more samples. In this case, the recovery plan should focus on where the bot will go in the future.
The final decision will be driven by events on Mars.
Laurie Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, praised the “amazing perseverance team” for the mission’s accomplishments thus far.
“Not only did we go to the right place, we sent the right spacecraft with the right scientific instruments to explore this amazing ancient environment on Mars,” she told reporters.
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