Perseverance captures an incredible photo of an object on Mars

On December 21, the rover NASA’s Perseverance Mars left a titanium tube containing a rock sample resting on the surface of the Red Planet. The image of the object taken by the rover itself caused a stir on social networks, as it resembled a lightsaber like those used in the movie Star Wars.

During the next two months, the rover will deposit a total of 10 tubes in the place, called “Three Forks”building humanity’s first repository of samples on another planet. The deposit marks a historic first step in the Mars Sample Return campaignwhich he intends to have a future ship collect and swallow them back to Earth for analysis and thus finally reveal whether the planet has or ever had any form of microscopic life.

One of the tubes with the collected samples. Photo: NASA

Now, the rover has just taken another rare image. The Perseverancethe size of a car, took a photo of the helicopter ingenuity when the device weighing only 1.8 kilograms landed on a Red Planet sand dune.

“The #MarsHelicopter and I are closer than we’ve been in a long time, and guess who I saw lounging on a dune between flights. Can you believe that Ingenuity is preparing for flight #39?” the Perseverance team wrote. on his Twitter account last Wednesday (January 11), in a post that featured a photo of the small helicopter.

The ingenuity and Perseverance landed together inside the Jezero crater of Mars in February 2021. The 45-kilometre-wide crater was home to a large lake and river delta long ago, and the rover is scouring it for signs of old life.

Another shot of the image taken by the rover. Photo: NASA

The six-wheeled robot it is also collecting and caching dozens of samples for its future return to Earth.

The rover currently has the 17 samples (including an atmospheric sample) taken so far in its belly. Based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a future robotic lander. The lander, in turn, would use a robotic arm to place the samples in a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would blast off into Mars orbit, where another spacecraft would capture the sample container and return it safely to Earth.

The deposit will serve as a backup if Perseverance is unable to deliver your samples. Then, a pair of sample recovery helicopters would be called in to finish the job.

The first sample that fell was a core of igneous rock the size of a chalk informally called “Malayo”, which was collected on January 31, 2022, in a region of the Jezero crater of Mars called “South of Séítah”. The complex sampling and caching system It took Perseverance nearly an hour to retrieve the metal tube from inside the rover, see it one last time with his CacheCam internal and drop the approximately 35-inch sample onto a carefully selected patch of the Martian surface.

Engineers use OPTIMISM, a full-size replica of the Perseverance rover, to test how it will deposit its first sample tube on the Martian surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The work was prepared by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California, which built Perseverance and is leading the mission. Once they confirmed that the tube had fallen, the team placed the camera watson located at the end of Perseverance’s 2-meter robotic arm to look under the rover, verifying that the tube had not fallen out and rolled under the rover’s wheels.

They also wanted to make sure the tube hadn’t landed in such a way that it was standing on its end (each tube has a flat end called a “glove” to make it easier to pick up on future missions). That happened less than 5% of the time during tests with the earthly twin of Perseverance at JPL’s Mars Yard. In case it happens on Mars, the mission has written a series of commands for Perseverance to carefully hit the tube with part of the turret at the end of its robotic arm.

Another image of the experiment carried out on Earth. Photo: NASA/Caltech

In the coming weeks, they will have other opportunities to see if Perseverance needs to use the technique as the rover deposits more samples in the Three Forks repository.

“Seeing our first sample on the ground is a great highlight for our primary mission period, which ends on January 6,” said Rick Welch, deputy project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “It’s a good lineup that just like we’re starting our cache, we’re also closing out this first chapter of the mission.”

Since March, the rover has been conducting a mission described as the most important since it is on Martian soil. The autonomous rover climbed a mound of an ancient delta that formed a Martian river to collect rocks that could harbor signs of extraterrestrial life that may have existed. on the surface of the red planet millions of years ago.

The journey that began on March 14, and in which the robot covered 5 kilometers, to an ancient river delta within the Jezero crater, where a lake existed billions of years ago.

This delta is one of the best locations on Mars for the rover to look for signs of past microscopic lifesince the Jezero crater was a kind of lake in the past, so “It is an ideal place to look for remains of life if there were any in the remote past on Mars,” he explained. Juan Carlos Beamin, astronomer of the Chilean Astronomy Foundation (Fuchas).

“If we think of the Earth, the rivers and the rains carry bodies and elements of life and remain in the beds like lakes, this is what we would expect to find in this crater, although more than finding a skeleton (which is what we would find here ) the evidence on Mars is likely to be organic elements embedded in the rocks.” added.

So, using a drill at the end of its robotic arm and a complex sample-collection system in its belly, Perseverance is collecting rock cores to return to Earththe first part of the campaign Mars Sample Returna project that seeks to send a spacecraft to the red planet to collect the samples collected by the rover.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover views its wheel tracks on March 17, 2022. Photo: NASA

Likewise, the robot must “package” the collected samples, so that by the end of this decade they can be sent to Earth and thus can be analyzed in depth.

In the Martian rocks, explains Beamín, a lot of information can be found, “particularly the samples that will be collected in the delta of the crater they could have traces or traces of organic elements that would help us to study the possibility that there may have been life in the past on Mars. Without these analyzes of the Martian rocks and dust it would be simply impossible to know if there was ever life there.”