The Perseverance Mars rover is preparing to collect its first rock sample from the site of an ancient lake bed, as its mission to look for signs of past life begins in earnest, said NASA Wednesday.
The milestone is expected to occur within two weeks in a scientifically interesting region of the Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.”
“When Neil Armstrong first took a sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process of writing down what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at Headquarters. of NASA.
“I have every expectation that the first sample of Perseverance from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars.”
Perseverance landed on the Red Planet on February 18, and over the summer it moved about a mile south of its landing site, project scientist Ken Farley told reporters. .
“We are now looking at environments that are much further ahead in the past – billions of years in the past,” he said in a statement.
The team believes the crater was once home to an ancient lake that then and pulled several times, potentially creating the necessary conditions for life.
Analysis of the samples reveals clues about the chemical and mineral composition of the rocks – revealing things such as whether they were formed by volcanoes or are sedimentary at origin.
In addition to filling in the gaps in the geological understanding of the region’s scientists, the rover will also find possible signs of ancient microbes.
First, Perseverance uses its 7-foot (two-meter) long robotic arm to determine exactly where to take its sample.
The rover then uses an abrasion tool to scrape the top layer of the rock, revealing unmixed surfaces.
These will be analyzed by scientific instruments mounted on the turrets of Perseverance to determine the chemical and mineral composition, and look for organic matter.
One of the instruments, called a SuperCam, will shoot a laser at the rock and then take a reading of the resulting plum.
Farley said a small cliff containing thin rocks may have been formed from the lake’s mud, and “those are great places to look for bioscopes,” though it will be a few more months before Perseverance reaches that explosion. .
Each rock perseverance analysis will have untouched geological “twins” that the rover collects, seals, and stores under its belly.
Eventually, NASA is planning a return mission with the European Space Agency to collect the stored samples and send them back for laboratory analysis on Earth, sometime in the 2030s.
Only then will scientists be able to say with greater confidence whether they have really found signs of ancient life forms.