Perseverance Rover Fires its Lasers on Mars

Pew, Pew, Pew. NASA's Perseverance Rover does "graffiti" on another world using lasers.

It is important to pay attention to details when it comes to rocks from Mars. To study the rocks collected by the Perseverance rover, NASA plans to bring tiny samples back to Earth.

In order to do that, you need to keep track of where the samples came from in Jezero Crater and their orientation in the host rock. The Jezero crater is located in the Syrtis Major quadrangle on Mars, and it has a diameter of about 45.0 kilometers (28.0 miles). There is a fan-delta deposit rich in clays in the crater, which was once believed to have been flooded by water.

To achieve this, the rover is doing some physical graffiti on Mars. Since the Rover does not carry a pen around, it needs another tool to leave its mark.

Enter: lasers.

Pew Pew Pew

Perseverance zapped three dots shaped like the letter L into a rock in June of 2022 with the laser that is part of the SuperCam instrument.

And while this is certainly not art Martians would appreciate, it was done bearing in mind an imperative scientific reason.

In a mission update on Thursday, SuperCam principal investigator Roger Wiens explained that the L was “the first letter laser-engraved on Mars.”

We may be able to find evidence of past microbial life on Mars by exploring an ancient river delta examined by the rover. Therefore, it is important to collect rock samples there.

  This image was taken by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover using its SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP.
This image was taken by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover using its SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP.

As researchers investigate Mars’ magnetic field and atmosphere, the rocks brought back might also help reconstruct the history of life on Mars.

To understand the original directions of magnetic domains in the samples, scientists study the orientation of rock bits, which is where the laser marking technique comes in.

A rock sample with easily recognizable features makes orientation easy to determine, as Wiens points out.

“However, if the surface is fine-grained, there may be nothing to distinguish its rotational orientation. In that case, we need to make artificial markings on the surface,” he wrote.

Fine-grained rocks provided the perfect laboratory for this experiment in the river delta area.

Choosing a capital L as a directional mark was a simple and efficient decision. “With the dry run successful, we are ready to use the procedure to mark future samples,” wrote Wiens.

While NASA is interested in using the rolling lab’s energies for science rather than silliness, the rover could use its writing skills to etch messages into rocks on Mars.

Maybe in the distant future, when we finally colonize Mars, terraform it, and call it our second home, explorers on the surface will come across messages etched on the Martian landscape when humans on Mars was no more than a dream.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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