NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars has seen its future, and it’s stuffed with rocks. Heaps and plenty of rocks. After spending the summer season trundling by means of Jezero Crater and trying out the sights, it’s now time for Percy to get to work, teasing out the geologic historical past of its new dwelling and looking for out indicators of historic microbial life.
“We’ve truly been on a street journey,” mission supervisor Jennifer Trosper, who is predicated at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., mentioned at a July 21 information convention. “And through it, we are going to take our very first pattern from the floor of Mars.”
Percy is about 1 kilometer south of the place it landed on February 18 (SN: 2/17/21). After driving itself round a area of sand dunes, accompanied by its tagalong helicopter Ingenuity (SN: 4/30/21), the robotic explorer has pulled as much as its first sampling spot: a backyard of flat, pale stones dubbed paver stones. “That is the world the place we’re actually going to be digging in, each figuratively and actually, to know the rocks that now we have been on for the final a number of months,” mentioned Kenneth Farley, Perseverance mission scientist at Caltech.
The group has been making an attempt to determine whether or not these rocks are volcanic or sedimentary. “We nonetheless don’t have the reply,” Farley mentioned. Photographs taken a couple of centimeters above the floor present what the group is up towards: The rocks are plagued by mud and pebbles, in all probability blown in from elsewhere, and the smoother surfaces have a mysterious purplish coating. “All of those components conspire to forestall us from peering into the rock and truly seeing what it’s made out of,” he mentioned.
Within the coming weeks, Percy will bore a easy cavity in a kind of rocks and get beneath the floor crud. Devices on its robotic arm will then transfer in shut to provide detailed chemical and mineralogical maps that may reveal the rocks’ true nature. Then, someday in mid-August, the group will extract its first pattern. That pattern will go right into a tube that may finally get dropped off — together with samples from different locales — for some future mission to choose up and produce to Earth (SN: 7/28/20).
Cameras scouting farther afield have turned up future sampling websites. A small far-off hill exhibits hints of finely layered rock which may be mud deposits. “That is precisely the type of rock that we’re most concerned with investigating for searching for potential biosignatures,” Farley mentioned.
And the best way that rocks are strewn about an historic river delta within the distance means that the lake that when crammed Jezero Crater went by means of a number of episodes of filling in and drying up. If true, Farley mentioned, then the crater might have preserved “a number of time durations once we would possibly be capable of search for proof of historic life that may have existed on the planet.”