Science and Technology

The amazing rocks collected on Mars by the NASA mission

  • Jonathan Amos
  • BBC science reporter

credit score, NASA

The US house company’s Perseverance rover is near finishing its first main Mars mission.

NASA’s Mars rover collected a various array of rock samples that can quickly be deposited on the floor, awaiting transport to Earth on later missions.

It has been 17 months since the automobile arrived in an space referred to as Jezero Crater, hanging on a crane related to a rocket.

Everything that “Percy” – as the rover has been affectionately named – noticed on the floor of Mars since then confirms to scientists that the rover is in the good place to search for indicators of life.

The rover shouldn’t be in search of organisms which are presently alive, as the harsh atmosphere of Mars makes their presence extremely unlikely. Instead, the robotic is in search of traces of biology which will have existed billions of years in the past when Jezero was shaped from a lake.

Scientists hope to search out information of this historic historical past in the “amazing” rock samples, which might be saved in “warehouse” in the coming months.

“If the situations [antigas de Jezero] existed someplace on Earth at any time in the final 3.5 billion years, it is secure to say, or a minimum of assume, that biology would have left its mark on these rocks for us to watch,” mentioned David Schuster, a scientist who works on the Perseverance mission at UC Berkeley.

credit score, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

photograph caption,

Perseverance’s mission is to drill by means of rocks and retailer samples for later return to laboratories on Earth.

NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a plan to revive the rock deposit. It’s a daring plan that can embody one other touchdown system, a number of helicopters, a Martian rocket and an interplanetary cargo ship.

The aim is to convey the samples to Earth in 2033.

Among them are some examples of igneous or volcanic rocks that Perseverance drilled to the backside of the crater. The rocks will primarily inform the story of Jezero earlier than it was crammed with lake water.

Most importantly, the samples are of a rock kind that may be precisely recognized in time. Currently, the time intervals of Mars can solely be achieved not directly.

The remaining samples embody sedimentary rocks that Perseverance collected in latest months from deltaic deposits in the western sector of the 45-kilometer crater.

A delta is a construction product of mud and sand thrown up by a river because it flows right into a wider physique of water.

It is a sort of geological construction which will comprise traces of previous microbial life.

credit score, NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

photograph caption,

Sediment core samples drilled by Perseverance. Wildcat Ridge is on the left

One of the sediment samples, from a rock referred to as “Wildcat Ridge,” was generated when mud shaped in Lake Jezero because it evaporated. It’s filled with salts. But the rover’s devices present that the rock additionally comprises an abundance of natural or carbon-rich compounds.

This is a tempting remark, but it surely comes with vital caveats.

“All life as we all know it’s made up of natural matter. But extra importantly, natural matter may also be composed of chemical processes unrelated to life; for instance by water-rock interactions. Organic matter may also be present in house mud,” mentioned Sunanda Sharma, mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

credit score, NASA/JPL-Caltech/

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Rock samples are saved in titanium tubes

For 4 months, Perseverance labored on the 40m excessive slope that types the fringe of the delta.

The robotic will quickly depart this slope to a flat space close to the crater flooring, the place rock samples of their protecting titanium tubes might be deposited on the floor.

“We’re taking a look at placing 10 to 11 pattern tubes right here on the floor,” mentioned Rick Welch, a undertaking techniques engineer at JPL.

“It will take about two months to put these samples and thoroughly doc the place they’re so {that a} future mission can discover them.”

NASA engineers are learning how the tubes presently saved in Perseverance’s stomach might be discarded. They have a full-size reproduction of the rover at JPL to simulate maneuvers earlier than sending instructions to Mars and performing the precise actions.

A choice on whether or not or to not proceed with the plan is anticipated to be made by NASA after a gathering on October 19.

It is feasible that this primary deposit launched by Perseverance may very well be used as a backup and collected provided that the rover suffers a catastrophic failure in the the rest of its mission.

Scientists wish to gather extra samples. In that case, the restoration plan ought to focus on the place the robotic will go in the future.

The ultimate determination might be motivated by occasions on Mars.

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, praised the “unbelievable Perseverance crew” for the mission’s achievements to this point.

“Not solely did we go to the proper place, however we despatched the proper spacecraft with the proper science devices to discover this amazing historic atmosphere on Mars,” she instructed reporters.

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