A new time-lapse released by NASA shows its Perseverance rover speeding across the surface of Mars.
To be clear, Perseverance doesn’t really move that fast. The rover’s top speed on flat, hard ground is a mere 4.2 centimeters per second, or 152 meters per hour — a little less than 0.1 miles per hour.
To create the effect of rapid movement, NASA sped up the time-lapse (below) up by about 200 times, with around 30 seconds between each frame.
The resulting footage offers a clearer idea of how the rover tackles the martian terrain, its onboard sensors and software expertly steering the autonomous vehicle around rocky patches on the planet’s surface.
Solar conjunction is over and I’m ready to get rolling again. Nothing like the feel of Mars under your wheels.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) October 19, 2021
NASA posted the video to mark the resumption of operations on Mars after the space agency cut contact with Perseverance and its other Mars-based machines at the start of this month.
The planned downtime was prompted by a phenomenon known as solar conjunction when the orbits of Earth and Mars place the two planets on opposite sides of the sun. A situation like this can disrupt commands sent by NASA to its Mars-based kit, and so engineers overseeing the mission down tools until normal communications can resume.
The time-lapse shows the six-wheeled Perseverance rover using its auto-navigation technology — also known as AutoNav — to drive a distance of 548 feet (167 meters).
“AutoNav allows the rover to autonomously re-plan its route around rocks or other obstacles on its way to a pre-established destination,” NASA explained in a post on its website.
The first few meters of a Perseverance driving expedition are based on commands sent by NASA’s rover operators. This allows Perseverance to build a 3D map of the terrain under and around it, which then allows the rover’s AutoNav function to evaluate the safety of available routes as it heads toward its destination.
“Once AutoNav takes over, the rover autonomously chooses a path to reach the intended destination, continually imaging around itself to maintain a 98-foot-by-98-foot (30-meter-by-30-meter) map centered on the rover,” NASA said.
Perseverance is NASA’s most advanced Mars rover to date and is packed with science tools that include a plethora of cameras for a range of tasks.
The rover arrived on Mars in spectacular fashion in February after a six-month journey from Earth. One of the mission’s main goals is to search for evidence of ancient life on the distant planet. For that purpose, Perseverance is exploring different parts of Jezero Crater, a dried-up lake bed that scientists believe could be home to such evidence.
Recent tasks undertaken by Perseverance have included drilling and collecting rock samples for return to Earth where scientists will be able to carry out more advanced analysis using specialist equipment.
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