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A piece of this Martian rock could be coming to Earth

NASA’s Perseverance rover will soon try for the second time to collect a sample of Martian rock for return to Earth.

Scientists hope that the gathered material will reveal if microbial life ever existed on the planet.

Perseverance’s first collection attempt ended in failure earlier this month as the drilled sample was too crumbly, causing it to slip out of the collection tube.

In search of another, more stable rock, Perseverance has spent the last few weeks tootling 1,493 feet (455 meters) across the Martian surface.

Its latest rock of interest, which the team has named “Rochette,” looks to be robust enough to resist wind erosion, “a sign that it’s more likely to hold up during drilling,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the Mars mission, said this week.

To determine if the rock is likely to yield a sample that the rover’s collection tube can retain, Perseverance will first use its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to scrape a section of the rock’s surface. This process will allow scientists to get a better look at its composition so they can decide whether it’s worth moving onto the drilling stage.

Several photos of Perseverance’s current location were shared on the rover’s Twitter account.

“The rocks on top of this ridge have been sitting here getting sandblasted by Mars winds for eons,” Perseverance said in the tweet.

The rocks on top of this ridge have been sitting here getting sandblasted by Mars winds for eons. This one looks like a good, solid target for my next drilling effort. Next step: abrade a small test patch. #SamplingMars

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— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 26, 2021

If everything goes according to plan, Perseverance will gather a sample of rock slightly thicker than a pencil and then seal it in one of the rover’s 42 remaining titanium tubes.

Toward the end of its mission, Perseverance will leave its collected samples on the surface of Mars for collection by a later mission that will become the first to transport Martian rock to Earth.

Interestingly, although the first attempt at gathering a rock sample ended in failure, the effort wasn’t entirely fruitless as the tube ended up with a sample of Martian atmosphere, something the team was planning to acquire later in the mission.

Now that Perseverance is in position, the scraping process is likely to take place any day now, with the sample collection taking place soon after, should the team decide to proceed.

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Trevor Mogg
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