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NASA’s Perseverance Rover finally hits Mars

View of the Jezero crater, seen by the Ingenuity helicopter.

View of the Jezero crater, as seen on Ingenuity helicopter.
Picture: NASA JPL

With his Helicopter babysitting duties are over, Perseverance can finally get serious about research the Martian landscape for signs of past life.

“We put the commissioning phase of the rover and the landing site in our rearview mirror and hit the road,” Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. declaration.

Indeed, Perseverance is no longer necessary during the trials of savagely successful Ingenuity helicopter, which is currently performs flights without the watchful eyes of the rover. Freed from this task, tThe rover can now embark on its first scientific expedition.

Over the next 14 weeks, Perseverance will explore 1.5 square miles of land [4-square-kilometer] area in the Jezero crater, as it works to fillthe slew of scientific objectives. These goals include a better understanding of the geology of the area, assessing its potential before harbor life, and of course, the ultimate prize: finding signs of ancient microbial life.

To this end, Perseverance will locate and collect promising rock and sediment samples, some of which will be stored in cans for a future mission to Mars to recover and deliver. on Earth for analysis. The rover will also take measurements and perform technical tests in anticipation of future human and robotic missions to the Red Planet.

The first step is for the SUV-sized vehicle to reach a panoramic vantage point, where it will observe the ancient geological features of the crater. Percy’s automatic navigation capabilities and sampling systems will be fully brought online during this process.

From there, the rover will begin its investigations in two specific areas, both of which are believed to harbor deep, ancient layers of exposed bedrock. The first area has been dubbed the Crater Floor Fractured Rough, which, as the name suggests, is filled with craters. The second area is called Séítah, which means “in the middle of the sand” in Navajo. Séítah has its “fair share of Mars’ bedrock, but is also home to ridges, rock layers and sand dunes,” according to NASA.

Annotated map showing Percy's planned route.

Annotated map showing Percy’s project road.
Picture: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The rover’s route has already been decided, and the card above shows where Perseverance will wander over the next 100 Soils, or Martian days. Mission planners have their “route planned, with optional forks and areas of interest labeled and potential obstacles in our way”, Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s JPL and co-leader of the project, explained in the statement.

The Séítah exploration unit is expected to be difficult, as it includes a sand dune complex. To avoid problems, the rover will navigate the border between this region and the adjacent Crater Floor Fractured Rough. When an area of ​​interest within Séítah is identified, Percy will proceed to that location, perform his science tasks, then return to a safe place. The team plans to identify at least four locations in these two areas that are deemed to be the most capable of revealing the primitive environment and geological history of the crater. It is from these four spots that the rover will take its samples.

“Starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Séítah geological units allows us to start our exploration of Jezero early on,” Hand said. “This area was under at least 100 meters [328 feet] of water 3.8 billion years ago. We’re not sure what stories the rocks and layered outcrops will tell us, but we’re excited to start.

In a few months, once this phase of the mission is completed, the rover will return to the Octavia E. Butler landing site. At that time he should have traveled 1.6-3.1 miles (2.5-5 km), while eight of its 43 sample tubes should be filled with Martian soil and rock.

This first science campaign looks good, but the next mission promises to be even better. Perseverance will travel north and then west to the Jezero Delta region, which once featured the confluence of an ancient river and lake. The delta could be rich in carbonates, that is to say in minerals capable of retaining fossilized signs of life. If microbial life once existed on Mars – and it’s still a big if – this delta it would have been a perfect place for that live.

Perseverance may be starting its first official ceremony scientific expedition, but to be honest the rover has been scrutinizing for the moment he landed in February. In addition to record sounds on Mars, it’s already produces small amounts of oxygen of the Martian atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide.

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