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NASA’s Perseverance rover gets up close and personal with Martian surface

Since arriving on Mars in February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been getting familiar with its surroundings in Jezero Crater.

It’s also been busy documenting the adventures of the Ingenuity helicopter, which recently became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

This week, however, it’s been turning its attention to its own mission goals, which include searching for signs of ancient life on the faraway planet.

Perseverance, NASA’s most advanced Mars rover to date, is laden with a suite of cameras, each one comprising different technologies.

One of them, WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering), is located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm and recently sent back an incredibly detailed set of images that give us the rover’s best close-up yet of the Martian surface.

Testing out my tools as I move into more science. Used my robotic arm to get right up close to this rock after zapping it with my laser. Can you tell I’m really into rocks?

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) May 13, 2021

But it’s not just WATSON that’s been hard at work. To survey the Martian terrain in search of potentially interesting research spots, Perseverance is using a pair of zoomable Mastcam-Z cameras at the head of the rover.

When Mastcam-Z helps scientists to locate a rock of interest, they can direct Perseverance to use an abrader to grind and flatten its surface to show its internal structure and composition. The scientists are then able to use the rover’s PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) and SHERLOC (Scanning for Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) devices to collect more detailed chemical and mineralogical information about the rock.

A laser instrument called SuperCam is also zapping some of the rocks to detect their chemistry as researchers seek to unlock some of the secrets of the distant planet.

Part of the work also includes using Perseverance’s tools to help scientists build a timeline showing when a lake formed inside Jezero Crater, when it dried up, and when sediment started to pile up in the delta that formed in the crater. “Understanding this timeline should help date rock samples — to be collected later in the mission — that might preserve a record of ancient microbes,” NASA said.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is also part of the space agency’s moon-to-Mars initiative, which includes Artemis missions to the lunar surface that should pave the way for crewed expeditions to the red planet.

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Trevor Mogg
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