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Perseverance Mars rover shares detailed panorama of sample depot

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been busy creating what the space agency recently said was “humanity’s first sample depot on another planet.”

The depot, which is essentially a flat patch of land, contains 10 titanium tubes holding samples of martian rock and dust collected by NASA’s rover in the two years since it landed on the red planet.

NASA is planning to bring samples of martian material to Earth for detailed analysis in the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission that’s expected to take place in the 2030s.

On Tuesday, NASA shared a panorama showing the sample tubes laid out on the ground. The panorama was created by stitching together 368 images captured by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z camera, and you can zoom in to view any part of the picture in astonishing detail.

It also posted a regular image (below) that clearly labels all of the deposited sample tubes.

Tubes containing samples of Martian rock and soil.
Perseverance’s Portrait of the Sample Depot: An annotated version of the portrait captured by NASA’s Perseverance shows the location of the 10 sample tubes in the depot. The “Amalik” sample closest to the rover was about 10 feet (3 meters) away; the “Mageik” and “Malay” samples farthest away were approximately 197 feet (60 meters) from the rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Another image, created using images from Perseverance’s Watson camera, also features all of the sample tubes.

Tubes containing samples of martian rock and soil.
WATSON’s Photomontage of Mars Sample Depot: This photo montage shows each of the sample tubes shortly after they were deposited onto the surface by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, as viewed by the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the end of the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

NASA points out that the depot is actually a backup system that will only be used if another set of samples held by Perseverance fails to be successfully transferred to the collection vehicle — the Sample Retrieval Lander — during the MSR mission.

“While the martian surface is now cold, dry, and generally inhospitable to life, ancient Mars was likely similar to Earth and could have supported microbial life — if any ever formed on the red planet,” NASA said.

It’s therefore hoped that scientific analysis of the samples collected by Perseverance could unlock many of the secrets that Mars still holds, including a definitive answer on whether any form of life existed there.

Perseverance is working alongside the Ingenuity helicopter and both vehicles are also gathering data to aid the first human mission to Mars, a historic event that could take place sometime in the 2030s.

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Trevor Mogg
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