Will Perseverance solve the greatest Martian mystery?
The preparations for Perseverance’s scientific missions have begun. While our attention was preoccupied with Ingenuity’s historical flights in the rough Martian atmosphere, the rover found its way to the planned research location about a kilometer south of the landing site. It is almost time to begin its search for signs of ancient life on Mars.
Perseverance’s scientific work to date
Since landing, Perseverance has tested the operation of its scientific instruments, including its sampling system. The MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment) instrument, designed to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, was tested. MOXIE obtains oxygen from carbon dioxide through electrolysis.
During the first session, the device released 5.4 grams of oxygen per hour of operation, which is enough for a person to breathe for ten minutes. NASA engineers believe that oxygen production can be increased to 10 grams per hour. In case of further success, a larger installation with a capacity of up to two kilograms of oxygen per hour can be delivered to Mars, which will provide breathing for the participants of the Martian expedition.
NASA also shared new data showing the results of the analysis of a single rock on Mars with the PIXL instrument. It studies the chemicals within unimaginably small areas and it managed to find an incredible number in a single rock.
But this was about all the science Perseverance has done in the months since February. For most of the time, it simply accompanied the flights of an unmanned helicopter Ingenuity. It is finally preparing for the first scientific mission: collecting Martian rock samples in special containers.
Time to search for signs of ancient life on Mars
Perseverance has now reached the first core drilling site a kilometer south of its landing site. NASA’s team has a name for the stones that the rover will study and collect – paver stones, the flat, white, dusty rocks that form most of the bottom of the Jezero crater. This area is considered the oldest in the crater. It is not yet clear whether these paver stones formed as lacustrine sediments or were formed by volcanic currents.
NASA’s team of scientists believes that the crater was once the site of an ancient lake that repeatedly filled and deepened, creating conditions potentially necessary for life. Perseverance is equipped with the necessary tools to find the hints of ancient life on Mars.
Perseverance should begin collecting within two weeks. First, it needs to find the most suitable stones which will be accomplished through visual images of the environment and the results of the geological analysis.
In total, 38 cores of the Martian rock should be obtained during the operation of the rover. Some of them will be explored on site, and about thirty, packed in ultra-pure metal tubes, will remain on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander will be launched towards Mars in 2026. It will land, place these samples in a special Mars Ascent Vehicle, and it will deliver them to Mars orbit, where the Earth Return Orbiter, developed by the European Space Agency, will be waiting for them, which will be entrusted with the mission of delivering samples to Earth. All in all, the answer to the mystery ofw the existence of ancient life on Mars might take another decade but sooner or later, we will know the truth!
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• Margetta, R. (2021, July 21). NASA Perseverance Mars Rover to Acquire First Sample. NASA.
• NASA. (n.d.). Signs of Life on Mars? NASA’s Perseverance Rover Begins the Hunt.
• Phys.org. (2021, July 20). Signs of life on Mars? Perseverance rover begins the hunt.
• Voosen, P., Ibrahim, M., & Fritts, R. (2021, July 21). NASA’s Perseverance rover to drill first samples of martian rock. Science.