Skip to main content

Perseverance rover collects its first sample of Martian dirt

NASA’s Perseverance rover, currently exploring Mars’s Jezero Crater, has collected its first sample of dirt from the Martian surface. The rover has been collecting rock samples up until this point, but this month it has added scooping of the soil from the planet’s surface, called regolith, to its collection. The plan is for a future mission to collect these samples and bring them back to Earth for study.

Studying this dusty matter is particularly important for designing tools and equipment for future Mars exploration. “Everything we learn about the size, shape, and chemistry of regolith grains helps us design and test better tools for future missions,” said Iona Tirona of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement.

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover snagged two samples of regolith.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover snagged two samples of regolith – broken rock and dust – on December 2 and 6, 2022. This set of images, taken by the rover’s left navigation camera, shows Perseverance’s robotic arm over the two holes left after the samples were collected. NASA/JPL-Caltech

One of the difficulties in designing tools for Mars is the high level of dust on the planet. Mars experiences large dust storms, and this dust can get inside equipment that wears components down and gums parts up. To understand how to filter out the dust, designers need to know more about the composition of this dust, which they can learn about by studying the regolith.

“If we have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how the dust and regolith will interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” explained Perseverance team member Erin Gibbons. The dust can be dangerous for humans as well. “Some of those dust grains could be as fine as cigarette smoke, and could get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus. We want a fuller picture of which materials would be harmful to our explorers, whether they’re human or robotic.”

Another reason to study regolith is for scientific interest, as it seems to be made up of a wide variety of different particles. Analyzing the different types and quantities of these particles can help tell the history of Mars and how rocks have been broken down over time. “There are so many different materials mixed into Martian regolith,” said Libby Hausrath, one of Perseverance’s sample return scientists. “Each sample represents an integrated history of the planet’s surface.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Perseverance joins the 1,000-sols club on Mars, gets congratulated by Curiosity
NASA's Perserverance Mars rover.

NASA's Perseverance rover has reached 1,000 Mars sols after arriving on the faraway planet in February 2021.

The rover, NASA’s most advanced to date, announced the achievement in a post on social media on Tuesday, adding: “My work is far from done.”

Read more
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft sends back its first image of a star field
This illustration, updated as of June 2020, depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.

NASA has shared the first images taken by its Psyche mission, which launched in October to study a strange metal asteroid located in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft, which is still on its long journey, is expected to make its arrival at the asteroid in 2029 and is currently between the orbits of Earth and Mars. But it is already testing out its instruments by taking a test image using its two cameras and sending it back to Earth, in a process called first light.

The image captured by Psyche's cameras shows a field of stars in the constellation Pisces. It is a mosaic made from the total of 68 images taken by the two cameras, with its first camera Imager A taking images for the left side and its second camera imager B taking images for the right side.

Read more
NASA laser communications test riding with Psyche sends back its first data
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is shown in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2022. DSOC’s gold-capped flight laser transceiver can be seen, near center, attached to the spacecraft.

An experimental test of laser communications riding along with the Psyche mission has sent back its first data, in a demonstration of the use of laser communications for deep space missions. The Deep Space Optical Communications, or DSOC experiment, is attached to the Psyche spacecraft, which is currently heading toward an asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter following its launch last month.

Communications for NASA deep space missions are handled by the Deep Space Network, a network of antennae at three sites around the world that primarily use radio. But laser communications could offer 10 to 100 times as much bandwidth, so NASA wants to experiment with using this technology in situations like transferring science data.

Read more