NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on the surface of Mars this week. What should we expect from it?
After a 300-million-mile journey and a stressful plunge to the Martian surface, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on the red planet, just before 4 p.m. eastern time.
“Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars,” said Swati Mohan, an engineer on the Perseverance team.
After landing, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California were awaiting the next transmissions from Perseverance. As data gradually poured in, the Perseverance team was relieved to see the rover’s health reports. Thankfully, everything appeared to be working as expected.
The mission carries more cameras with it than any other interplanetary mission in history – 19 of them.
Engineers attached four other cameras to the parts of the spacecraft involved in entry, descent, and landing. This means engineers will be able to put together a high-definition view of the landing process.
NASA’s rover took the first image just seconds after landing.
A day after landing, NASA released another image. It shows its Perseverance Mars rover dangling about 6.5 feet (2 meters) above the red dirt during its touchdown inside Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. The stunning photo was taken by a camera on Perseverance’s “sky crane” descent stage, which had nearly finished lowering the SUV-sized robot to the surface on cables at the time.
Unlike with past rovers, the majority of Perseverance’s cameras capture images in color.
But what’s next?
In the following weeks, Perseverance will test its robotic arm and take its first, short drive. It will be at least one or two months until Perseverance will find a flat spot to drop off Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to the rover’s belly, and even longer before it finally hits the road, beginning its science mission and searching for its first sample of Martian rock and sediment.
Engineers will spend about 30 days testing out the helicopter — the first-ever experiment in controlled, powered flight on another planet.
After Perseverance drops the helicopter on the surface, it will roll back away and take images of these historic flights. Ingenuity also carries two cameras and will be able to share its aerial views.
Then, the rover will spend at least the next two years traversing the landscape in search of potential fossil-bearing rocks, which it will collect and store in sterilized tubes.
During its first billion years or so, Mars was warmer and wetter than the barren planet we see today.
A primary objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology research. The rover will seek signs of ancient life on Mars. It will be the first of NASA’s five rovers to sniff around for traces of long-dead Martians.
To find such clues, Perseverance will collect rock samples. Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for detailed analysis.
It will take years, if not decades, for scientists to determine whether life ever existed here.
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Before starting its mission, Perseverance will provide scientists with images so that they can plot out a path for the rover to use as it navigates intriguing features of the Jezero crater.
Jezero, the place where Perseverance landed, is a basin where scientists suggest an ancient river flowed into a lake and deposited sediments in a fan shape known as a delta. Scientists suggest this region has preserved signs of any life that gained a foothold billions of years ago.
Perseverance landed about 1.2 miles away from the river delta feature within Jezero Crater, which hosted a lake 3.9 billion years ago. The rover will spend the next two years investigating the crater and delta in the search for evidence of ancient life that may have existed when Mars was a more hospitable place.
Scientists said, the rover will explore nearby rocks on the crater floor to determine if they are volcanic basalt or sedimentary rocks and investigate the presence of a mineral called olivine.
Here’s another image sent by the rover!
What you see here is one of the Perseverance rover’s wheels seen in color on Mars. You can also see rocks around it with holes in them. These holes could suggest either gas that escaped the rocks if they were formed from lava, or fluids that dissolved part of the rock if they’re sedimentary.
But we have to wait some more years before we know something. NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a joint mission that would return these rocks in 2031, but it is not fully funded. Perseverance’s mission alone costs nearly $3 billion.