NASA’s Perseverance rover has officially begun its search for ancient life on Mars, and the US space agency will share initial findings on Wednesday.
According to an NASA statement, the $2.7 billion rover uses its seven-foot mechanical arm to analyze Mars rocks with X-rays and ultraviolet light.
This allows the rover to “zoom in on close-ups” of small pieces of rock that may show signs of past microbial activity.
Known as PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), the on-arm X-ray instrument “provided unexpectedly strong scientific results” while it was still being tested, a period lasting 90 sols (Martian days), according to Abigail Allwood, Pixl principal investigator. at NASA JPL.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has begun its search for ancient life on Mars. A press conference will be held Wednesday at 1:00 PM EST to discuss the results
PIXL, one of seven instruments aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, is equipped with light-emitting diodes that circle the opening to take pictures of rock targets in the dark
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“We’ve had our best ever compositional analysis of Martian dust before it even looked at rock,” Allwood said.
Along with PIXL, all the tools on Perseverance’s arm are designed to look at the rocks in the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater, which many scientists believe was home to a lake billions of years ago.
PIXL ‘delivered unexpectedly strong…results’ while it was still in testing, NASA said in a statement
“If there was life in Jezero Crater, evidence of that life could be there,” Allwood added.
NASA will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday to discuss initial results, the US agency said in a statement separate statement.
One of the other tools on Perseverance’s robotic arm, known as SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), uses an ultraviolet laser to identify the minerals in the rock.
Its partner, the aptly named WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) camera, takes close-up photos (including an image of a rock known as ‘Foux’ on July 11) that allow scientists to get grainy details, such as grain size, texture and how round the rocks are.
These details can all help determine when the rock formed and provide additional context about the crater itself.
What is the crater floor made of? What were the conditions like on the crater floor?’ asked Luther Beegle of JPL, SHERLOC’s principal investigator.
“That tells us a lot about the early days of Mars, and possibly how Mars came to be. If we have an idea of what Mars’ history is like, we can understand the potential for finding evidence of life.”
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this close-up of a rock nicknamed ‘Foux’ with its WATSON camera on July 11.
Perseverance’s shift to science missions began on June 1 when it moved away from its landing zone, known as the Octavia E. Butler landing site, in the 28-mile-wide crater, where it landed on February 18.
As part of its scientific mission, expected to last “hundreds of sols,” or Martian days, it will study two unique geological regions in the 2.5-mile-wide area of Jezero’s floor: the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough” and “Séítah.”
The Perseverance rover will explore two regions in Mars’ Jezero crater: the ‘Crater Floor Fractured Rough’ and ‘Séítah’ (pictured)
This image of Jezero Crater shows the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow dashes) and the second and second (light yellow dashes)
In addition to looking for signs of ancient microscopic life, the rover will study the crater’s geology and look for signs of past habitability.
It will also collect rock and sediment samples, which the US space agency said it will discuss Wednesday how it plans to return these samples to Earth for further research.
In March, scientists suggested that a significant amount of water on Mars, perhaps as much as 99 percent, could be hiding in the Earth’s crust.
Once the first science mission is completed, Perseverance returns to its landing site and travels over 3 miles.
From there it heads north to the Jezero Delta region, an area with an abundance of organic minerals that may show fossilized signs of ancient life.
In June, Perseverance celebrated its 100th Mars Day and celebrated its greatest achievements, including creating oxygen “from scratch” and recording Ingenuity’s flights.
NASA MARS 2020: THE MISSION WILL SEE THE PERVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER SEARCH FOR LIFE
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will look for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth.
Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover, you’ll explore an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600-meter-deep lake.
The region is believed to have harbored microbial life about 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago, and the rover will examine soil samples to look for evidence of life.
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) looks for signs of ancient life on Mars to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet
The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spacecraft was launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside — and successfully landed on February 18, 2021.
Perseverance landed in the crater and will 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 conjunction with the European Space Agency.
This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system