The launch this week of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission should enable the eventual transportation of rock samples from the red planet to Earth, but did you know that when the rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday, NASA’s Mars rover will be taking with it a small piece of Martian rock for a trip back to its original home?
In what’s set to be the first-ever interplanetary round trip for a meteorite, the small chunk of rock (pictured below) will be used by NASA to help calibrate the function of a particular science instrument on the Perseverance rover, the BBC reports.
According to London’s Natural History Museum, where the rock, called SAU 008, has been on display since its discovery in an Oman desert in 1999, it began its journey from Mars some 650,000 years ago when it was blasted off the planet by an almighty collision with an asteroid or comet. It’s not clear when it eventually landed on Earth, though the museum suggests it could have been around 1,000 years ago.
The diminutive meteorite comprises pyroxene, olivine, and feldspar minerals, and has been placed inside a housing on Perseverance with nine other types of material. These materials will be intermittently scanned by Perseverance’s SHERLOC instrument fro calibration as the rover explores the Martian surface.
SHERLOC (short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) will use its imagers and laser spectroscopes to examine rocks without destroying their texture.
NASA believes that using the rock to calibrate the instrument will help to validate any interesting discoveries made by Perseverance, and could prove vital during its all-important search for evidence of past life on the faraway planet.
Perseverance will focus on a 25-mile-wide crater called Jezero as it looks for signs of ancient life. Scientists believe the crater once held water that may have hosted microbial activity.
If the rover discovers any rock or soil samples that point to life on Mars, it will gather them together for collection by another vehicle in a later mission. That mission will attempt to bring the samples to Earth so that scientists can examine the haul more closely in an effort to confirm any findings.
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