It was a busy first month for NASA’s persevering rover on Mars. From Jizero Crater, Where it landed perseverance On February 18th, it was doing as much geology as possible – taking pictures of its surroundings and analyzing rocks nearby. The team’s scientists have already determined that many of the rocks are chemically similar to igneous rocks on Earth, and that wind and water eroded some of them.
“So far, everything has been working fine so far,” said Kenneth Farley, a geochemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and scientist for the expedition project. He and others described the progress of perseverance on March 16 at a hypothetical meeting of the Planetary and Lunar Sciences Conference.
As planned, major science experiments for the vehicle will have to wait a few more months, while engineers continue to test its scientific instruments and prepare for the first helicopter flight to another world. Ultimately, Perseverance will deploy an arsenal of tools, including a drill, a close-up camera, and multiple chemical sensors. To look for signs of past life Inside Mars rocks.
Meanwhile, the team’s scientists plan how the rover would travel from its landing site – named after science fiction writer Octavia Butler – to the 40-meter cliffs in the ancient river delta that drew perseverance to Jezero in the first place. The delta, deposited billions of years ago by a river flowing on Mars, was an ideal sight for ancient microbial life, if it ever existed. But there is a treacherous dune field located between the Tenaba and the delta, which the rover cannot cross. Researchers debate whether to drive clockwise or counterclockwise around a dune field. The latter will be a shorter journey, while the former will pass by a larger group of interesting rocks.
But none of this is likely to happen until June at the earliest. First, perseverance must lead to a suitable place to test creativity, his helicopter. The slick was likely a boulder area not too far from the rover’s current location. There, the Creative Rover will drop from its belly, travel from a safe distance and shoot a video as the helicopter cruises through the Martian sky. “We’re looking at these historic films that are the first flying films,” said Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe who leads one of the rover camera teams. The helicopter test comes first because Ingenuity will fly with the rover as it is driving, which helps perseverance to navigate through the landscape.
Until the first flight test, expected in the coming weeks, the team’s scientists were exploring rocks around the landing site. Immediately surrounding the craft are lighter-colored rocks that emerge from the darker soil. Perseverance used a laser-based tool to determine that many of these rocks, including two of the team’s scientists named Máaz and Yeegho, are chemically similar to the basaltic rocks on Earth, which are made up of molten rock. The tool strikes rocks with a laser to vaporize small parts and study their chemical composition. Through this analysis, scientists see that Yeegho is showing signs of water retention in his minerals, said Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and head of the laser instrument team. These discoveries are consistent with what scientists expected from Jezero – that it may have volcanic rocks on the crater floor, which could interact with water over time.
Several rocks around the landing site appear to have been carved by the strong winds, including a dark, strange-looking object that scientists have called the “ harbor seal, ” for its resemblance to a seal perched on a rock. Bell said that the winds appeared to roam the rocks mainly from the northwest, a trend that corresponds to major wind patterns calculated by global circulation models of Mars.
Farley said another dark-colored rock appears to be affected not by the wind but by the water. This indicates that it could have fallen into running water – perhaps in the ancient river that flows into Jezero Island, or its lake. “This is very promising for our study,” he said.
Perseverance scholars gave informal names to rocks, craters, and other objects around the landing site in the Navajo or Denné language. According to a tradition from previous landings on Mars, scientists select topics for names based on geological maps of Gezero, which have been divided into sections named after National Parks on Earth. The perseverance to land occurred in the section named after the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is located in Arizona on the territory of the Navajo tribe. Aaron Yazi, an engineer on the rover team, is a member of Navajo Nation and led the efforts to coordinate the names. Máaz, for example, means Mars, while Yeehgo is an alternate spelling of the word “diligent.”
After testing the helicopter, and before the perseverance set off to the delta, the rover would likely drill its first rock sample into the dark fractured rocks that make up a large portion of Jezero Crater’s floor. Scientists have not yet determined whether this rock is volcanic, but if it is, it could help determine the age of the crater floor because molten rocks trap radioactive elements that decay at a predictable rate and can be used as a clock even now when the material was originally molten.
During its mission, Perseverance will collect nearly 30 tubes full of Martian rocks and soil, and place them on the surface of Mars so that a future mission can restore them and return them to Earth for scientists to analyze, no later than 2031. The first sample returns from Mars.