NASA’s Perseverance Rover deposits its first of 10 samples of Martian rock to be returned to Earth 

NASA‘s Perseverance Rover has finally deposited its first sample of Martian rock to be returned to Earth.

The car-sized robot began its mission to find ancient biomarkers in the clay on the Red Planet on April 22, which could indicate if alien life ever existed there. 

It has been roaming around a delta to look for sampling sites that might contain ancient microbes and organics, before drilling down to extract a specimen.

Most of those it has collected so far remain in its belly, however this one is the first to be dropped at the base of the delta, and may be retrieved in a future mission. 

This titanium tube (pictured) contains a core of igneous rock extracted from a region of Mars’ Jezero Crater called ‘South Séítah’ on January 31

NASA's Perseverance rover (pictured) chooses a sample using its suite of onboard instruments to detect whether organic molecules are present in some rock before coring. Once extracted, the core samples will be returned to Earth where scientists can analyse them in laboratories

NASA’s Perseverance rover (pictured) chooses a sample using its suite of onboard instruments to detect whether organic molecules are present in some rock before coring. Once extracted, the core samples will be returned to Earth where scientists can analyse them in laboratories

MARS: THE BASICS 

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a ‘near-dead’ dusty, cold, desert world with a very thin atmosphere. 

Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was even more active in the past.  

One day on Mars takes a little over 24 hours and a year is 687 Earth days.

Facts and Figures 

Orbital period: 687 days

Surface area: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Sun: 227.9 million km

Gravity: 3.721 m/s²

Radius: 3,389.5 km

Moons: Phobos, Deimos

The titanium tube contains a core of igneous rock extracted from a region of Mars’ Jezero Crater called ‘South Séítah’ on January 31.

The sample has been informally named ‘Malay’, and is a duplicate of one of the 17 samples currently tucked away in Perseverance’s belly.

Malay was dropped at the base of the delta on 21 December, in a location known as ‘Three Forks’ – a reference to the spot where three route options to the delta merge.

This marked the first of ten duplicates which will be deposited here over the next two months, but, ideally, they won’t be needed.

The plan is for Perseverance to deliver its original samples to a robotic lander which will arrive on Mars in the future.

The lander will then use a robotic arm to place the tubes in the containment capsule of a small rocket, which will then be launched out into Mars’ orbit.

There, another spacecraft would come by to pick up the containment capsule and bring it back to Earth, in what’s known as the Mars Sample Return campaign.

However, if Perseverance can’t deliver its original samples to the lander, then two Sample Recovery Helicopters will collect the duplicate samples instead.

The sample (pictured) has been informally named 'Malay', and is a duplicate of one of the 17 samples currently tucked away in Perseverance's belly

The sample (pictured) has been informally named ‘Malay’, and is a duplicate of one of the 17 samples currently tucked away in Perseverance’s belly

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THIS SAMPLE? 

The sample has been informally named ‘Malay’, and is a duplicate of one of the 17 samples currently tucked away in Perseverance’s belly.

Malay was dropped at the base of the delta on 21 December, in a location known as ‘Three Forks’ – a reference to the spot where three route options to the delta merge.

This marked the first of ten duplicates which will be deposited here over the next two months, but, ideally, they won’t be needed.

The plan is for Perseverance to deliver its original samples to a robotic lander which will arrive on Mars in the future.

The lander will then use a robotic arm to place the tubes in the containment capsule of a small rocket, which will then be launched out into Mars’ orbit.

There, another spacecraft would come by to pick up the containment capsule and bring it back to Earth, in what’s known as the Mars Sample Return campaign.

However, if Perseverance can’t deliver its original samples to the lander, then two Sample Recovery Helicopters will collect the duplicate samples instead.

 

After Perseverance arrived at the Three Forks location, it took almost an hour for it to complete the drop off.

That’s because it first had to reach into its belly to pick out the tubs, then view it with its internal CacheCam camera.

Next, it dropped it a distance of approximately three feet (89 cm) onto a the Martian surface.

Finally, the engineers back at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California had to check that the sample hadn’t rolled into the path of Perseverance’s wheels.

They also wanted to make sure that it hadn’t landed on one end and was sticking upright, but if it had the rover would be able to knock it over with its robotic arm.

To make the check, they swung the rover’s WATSON camera – attached to a 7-foot-long (two metre) arm – down to peer beneath it, and confirm a successful drop.

Thus started humanity’s first sample depot on another planet, and it will be built up with another nine samples over the coming weeks.

Rick Welch, Perseverance’s deputy project manager at JPL, said: ‘Seeing our first sample on the ground is a great capstone to our prime mission period, which ends on January 6. 

‘It’s a nice alignment that, just as we’re starting our cache, we’re also closing this first chapter of the mission.’

Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18 last year, after a nearly seven-month journey through space, and made its first test drive just over two weeks later. 

Up until the beginning of ‘#Campaign 2′ – the current search of Jezero Crater for signs of life – the rover spent time testing its instruments and surveying Mars’ geological features.

It collected eight rock-core samples from its first science campaign and completed a record-breaking, 31-Martian-day dash across about 3 miles (5 km) of Mars.

Perseverance arrived at Three Forks, the doorstep of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta, on 13 April.

The delta rises more than more than 130 feet (40 m) above the crater floor, and promises to hold numerous geologic revelations — perhaps even proof that microscopic life existed on Mars billions of years ago. 

This has since served as the staging area for the rover’s second science expedition, the ‘Delta Front Campaign.

The rover has been collecting rocks from the Jezero Crater (pictured) and is leaving some samples at the base of the delta to be retrieved by future missions

The rover has been collecting rocks from the Jezero Crater (pictured) and is leaving some samples at the base of the delta to be retrieved by future missions

An artist's impression shows Jezero Crater as it may have looked as a lake billions of years ago

An artist’s impression shows Jezero Crater as it may have looked as a lake billions of years ago

Scientists know from studying deltas on Earth that fine-grained clay-rich rocks in these environments are good at preserving ancient biomarkers.

Biomarkers, or ‘molecular fossils,’ are complex organic molecules created by life and preserved in rock for up to billions of years.

Perseverance chooses a sample using its suite of onboard instruments to detect whether organic molecules are present before coring with its drill.

Once extracted, the core samples will be returned to Earth where scientists can analyse them in laboratories.

They will identify any organics present and characterise their molecular structures in detail.

Scientists hope that as well as providing answers about potential ancient life on the Red Planet (pictured), the rock samples will also reveal more about Mars' climate and how it has evolved

Scientists hope that as well as providing answers about potential ancient life on the Red Planet (pictured), the rock samples will also reveal more about Mars’ climate and how it has evolved 

These analyses can help determine whether any organic molecules contained in Martian delta rocks are biomarkers or non-biological organics.

US space agency NASA wants these rocks to be brought back to Earth in the 2030s.

Scientists hope that, as well as providing answers about potential ancient life on the Red Planet, they will also reveal more about Mars’ climate and how it has evolved.

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NASA MARS 2020: PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER ARE SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth in the earliest years of the evolution of the solar system.

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover is exploring an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed inside the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system


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