NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is digging into the red planet’s surface in search of evidence of flowing water in the planet’s past — and signs of ancient life on Mars, if it ever existed.
persistence currently exploring an ancient river delta inside Jezero Crater and recently collected its ninth Martian rock sample not far from there originally landed in February 2021, members of the mission team announced.
“Rock sample #9 is in the bag! (Well, inside the tube, anyway.) My team has waited for years to get close to this river delta and see what it might reveal about past life on Mars,” the Rover’s Twitter account specified (opens in new tab) Friday (July 8th).
Related: Tour Mars’ Jezero Crater With This Beautiful Perseverance Rover Mosaic (Video)
Perseverance has been exploring the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater for over a year looking for signs it may have been there life on mars sometime in the planet’s ancient past. Scientists believe the crater was once home to a lake and river delta, making it the perfect place to hunt for signs of ancient life water on mars. If life ever existed on Mars, the rocks in this river delta area could contain evidence of “molecular fossils” — organic molecules created by ancient living organisms.
“The Delta is calling and we must go!” wrote Brad Garczynski, a student assistant at Purdue University, about the NASA official endurance blog (opens in new tab) on March 4 as the rover headed for the delta. “If microbial life existed here in the past, this is one of the best places to look for it, as finely stratified mud may have buried and preserved a record of that microbial activity.”
To help Perseverance find these ancient biomarkers and places where they might be hiding, the car-sized rover is equipped with 23 different cameras and a great variety of instruments, including an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a ground-penetrating radar system, and the SuperCam instrument, which shatters rocks with lasers and then studies the composition of the resulting chemical vapor. A drill is installed at the end of the rover robotic armwhich can move with five degrees of freedom.
Perseverance also carries two onboard microphones for the rover to record with Sounds of Mars.
Aside from the many rock samples collected by the rover, Perseverance has broken new ground with the mission ingenuity, a small robotic helicopter that assists the rover by exploring new locations and interesting objects. ingenuity carried out 29 successful flight missions to date, the longest of which lasted 169.5 seconds.
If all goes according to plan, a joint NASA-European Space Agency sample return mission will tow the samples from Perseverance back to Earth, perhaps as early as 2033.