NASA’s persistence rover is nearing its first goals for Mars exploration.
NASA’s robotic probe has collected various rock samples that will soon be placed on the surface of Mars by the probe, awaiting future Mars missions to bring the samples back to Earth.
Seventeen months ago, the rover was lifted into the area known as “Jezero Crater”.
What the film Perseverance has seen since then has confirmed for scientists that the rover was sent to the best place to look for life on Mars.
The rover does not look for any living organisms; the chances of an organism surviving in the harsh environment of Mars are slim. The probe is looking for traces of life left over billions of years ago, when Jezero Crater was a lake full of water.
Scientists say the ‘amazing’ rock samples collected can record far back in history. The rock samples will be placed in a “storage site” on Mars in the coming months.
“If the conditions (ancient Jezero) have been similar to those on Earth at any time during the last 2.5 billion years,” said Persistence researcher David Shuster of the University of California, Berkeley. Conditions, I think, we can pretty much say — at least say that biological activity leaves a mark on the rock that we can observe.”
NASA and the European Space Agency are collaborating on plans to retrieve rock samples from Mars. The plan is bold and will use another landing system on Mars, as well as helicopters, a Mars rocket and an interplanetary cargo spacecraft.
The aim is to transport rock samples back to Earth in 2023.
The rock samples include igneous, or volcanic, rocks that Perseverance drilled beneath the surface of Jezero Crater. These rocks can provide clues to the conditions before the crater formed the lake.
Crucially, the age of these rock samples can be determined. The geological age on Mars can only be guessed indirectly at this time.
Another sample of rock is sedimentary rock that Perseverance has collected in recent months from the delta there, west of the 45-kilometre wide Jezero Crater.
As rivers flow into wider bodies of water, their flow slows, and silt and sand settle on the river bed, creating raised areas called deltas. Such geological formations can preserve traces of microbes that have existed in the past.
Satellite images show a huge raised surface formed by sediments to the west of Jezero Crater, a depression near the Martian equator long suspected to be a delta.
The Mars rover took samples of sedimentary rock from a rock called Wildcat Ridge, which is formed when sediment is deposited in a crater lake and the lake water evaporates. Rocks are very salty. But the probe’s instruments showed that the Wildcat Ridge rock also contained plenty of organic or carbon-rich compounds.
This observation is significant but needs to be treated with care.
“All known life is made of organic matter,” said Sunanda Sharma, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But importantly, there is also organic matter in a chemical that has nothing to do with life.” example, water interacts with rocks. Organics are also found in interstellar dust.”
For the past four months, the Perseverance rover has been working on the 40 meter high rock face at the edge of the delta.
Soon the probe will leave the slope to the flat surface below a nearby crater, where it will place a rock sample outside in a titanium tube.
“We’re looking at the possibility of putting 10-11 rock samples on the surface of Mars,” said Rick Welch, project engineer for Persistence at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“It may take about two months to get these rocks out and carefully record their locations so that future projects (going to Mars) can find these rock samples. “
NASA engineers have been practicing how to put a titanium tube on the belly of the Perseverance rover. They have an exact replica of the rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and they do simulation exercises on it before they can go to Mars on a mission and actually complete the design.
The final decision on whether to go to Mars is expected to be made at a NASA meeting on October 19.
The release of the first rock samples may have been an insurance plan for the Persistence rover, meaning that in the event of a catastrophic accident during the rover’s subsequent mission, the stored rock samples could still be collected by later Mars rovers for sent back to earth.
The researchers hope to collect more samples of Martian rocks, so plans to sample from Mars focus on where the robotic probes will go in the future.
The final decision will be influenced by how activity on Mars develops.
Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s planetary science division, praised the Perseverance Mars rover team’s successes so far.
“Not only did we go to the right place, but we sent the right spacecraft with the right scientific instruments to explore the incredible ancient surface of Mars,” he told reporters.
This article is reprinted with the permission of “BBC News Chinese”, the original text is published here
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