The rover will abrade a rock this week, allowing scientists and engineers to decide whether that target would withstand its powerful drill.
In its search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is once again preparing to collect the first of many rock core samples that could eventually be brought to Earth for further study.
This week, a tool on the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm will abrade the surface of a boulder dubbed “Rochette,” allowing scientists to look inside and determine if want to capture a sample with the rover drill bit. Slightly thicker than a pencil, the sample would be sealed in one of the 42 remaining titanium tubes on board the rover.
If the team decided to acquire a core from this rock, the sampling process would begin next week.
The mission attempted to capture its first recording of the crater floor on August 6 from a rock that ultimately turned out to be too friable, shattering into powder and fragments of material too small to be retained in the tube. sample before it is sealed and stored in the rover. .
Perseverance has since trucked 1,493 feet (455 meters) to a ridge dubbed “Citadelle” – in French for “castle,” a reference to how this craggy spot overlooks the floor of Jezero Crater. The ridge is capped with a layer of rock that appears to resist wind erosion, indicating that it is more likely to resist during drilling.
“There are potentially older rocks in the ‘South Séítah’ region ahead of us, so having this younger sample can help us reconstruct the entire Jezero timeline,” said Vivian Sun, one of the scientists on the mission. at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. .
The team added a step to the sampling process for this next attempt: after using their Mastcam-Z camera system to look inside the sample tube, the rover will pause the sampling sequence so the team can examine the image to make sure a rock core is present. Once a sample is confirmed, they will order Perseverance to seal the tube.
Although the pulverized rock escaped capture during the initial effort to acquire samples, the first sample tube still contains a sample from the Martian atmosphere, which the mission had originally planned to acquire later. .
“By returning samples to Earth, we hope to answer a number of scientific questions, including the makeup of Mars’ atmosphere,” said Ken Farley, Project Perseverance scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “This is why we are interested in an atmospheric sample as well as rock samples. “
At the top of the Citadel, Perseverance will use its underground radar, called RIMFAX – short for Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment – to observe the rock layers below. The top of the ridge will also provide an excellent vantage point for Mastcam-Z to look for other potential rock targets in the area.
Learn more about the mission
A key objective of the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the past geology and climate of the planet, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (shattered rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples on the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s approach to exploring the moon to Mars, which includes Artemis missions to the moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the red planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech, built and manages the operations of the Perseverance rover.
To find out more about Perseverance:
mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and nasa.gov/perseverance
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California