As the Perseverance rover drilled into a rock on Wednesday to collect a sample from Jezero Crater on Mars, Justin Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, felt both nervous and excited. Simon has been chosen to be the sample shepherd, leading this effort thousands of miles from home. But the pressure is on. He said that the samples would not only help us understand the geology and minerals of the crater but could also be used to determine the past of water in the area.
First, however, the rover needed to capture some rock using a container of test tubes. An initial attempt in early August had come up empty. The first rock was called “Roubion” and it simply fell to pieces as the drill bore into it. None of the bits made it in the container.
Simon now can exhale a sigh relief. Perseverance’s second attempt with a different rock appears to have succeeded in extracting a Martian core that is slightly thicker than a pencil.
We got the image of a stunning-looking core and a remarkable-looking cylinder that was broken apart cleanly. “It looks very geologically interesting. This is something scientists of tomorrow will love working on,” Ken Farley (Caltech geochemist, project scientist for the Perseverance mission), which is being led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
The analysis of this new sample will take some time because NASA scientists are unable to capture clear photos due to poor lighting. This makes it difficult to understand the images. Perseverance performed a “percuss to insinuate” procedure, shaking the sample to ensure it wasn’t overfilled. This would cause the system to jam when stored. One image showed an empty tube. They are pretty certain they have the sample. However, they will try to take more photos in brighter light the next few days.
Perseverance’s initial drill attempt to pulverize the sample was not a failure. It yielded evidence that the rock had been weathered and worn down by the river which flowed into the lake crater millions of years ago. It was possible this lake could have been a temporary event. Farley stated this in an interview with the BBC earlier this week.
Since that rock was too powdery, the scientists then piloted the rover to a new area, looking for a different kind of rock to sample, using the Ingenuity copter to scout ahead. The researchers persevered and found an older, more boulder-like rock on the west side of a ridgeline. It was less likely that it would fall apart when the rover used its tools to explore the area. It looks like something that you would throw if it fell on the ground. Farley described it as a healthy, good-looking rock.
Perseverance takes photos of candidate rocks before each sample attempt. Last weekend, it also performed an abrasion test to see if Rochette was durable enough to sample. A rotary percussive drilling tool (with additional bits) is included on the rover. This drill spins and then hammers into rock. The tool is used to remove dust from the outer layer and chips through it. Farley said that the abrasion proved to be extremely successful and they decided to grab a sample. Perseverance extended the robot arm 7 feet long, started up the drill and extracted a core sample. It then rotated its “hand”, so the tube could be inspected.
Images from the rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument–a pair of zoomable cameras that shoot images of the landscape from atop the rover–showed that rock indeed made it into the tube this time. MastcamZ then took another set of photos after the “percuss to insinuate” maneuver. The first image showed no debris in the tube’s mouth, which was desirable since it must be closed tightly and kept away. Another image showed darkened tubes, worrying the researchers. This could be because the move may have shaken out the rock inside the tube and left it empty. They could be simply dealing with poor lighting or shadow interference. Farley likens Farley’s angle to seeing down on a pipe during a sunny day. He says that despite the inconclusive photo, everyone seems to be confident it is there.
The researchers might have concluded that the rock had been properly collected and asked Perseverance for Perseverance seal the tube. To be certain, the researchers decided to continue taking images in different lighting conditions and make a decision about whether to go ahead with Saturday’s expedition. They could bore again in the unlikely event that the rover had accidentally broken the whole tube. This way, they don’t store an empty tube after all the work.
Perseverance will confirm the rock sample and then store it in its stomach so that it can continue to explore. Perseverance plans to collect dozens more rock samples throughout Jezero Crater in the coming years. They will then store them to be picked up on a return mission. They will expand scientists’ understanding of this neighboring world’s past, when it was likely less arid and more friendly to life.
Simon said, “It is exciting to discover an ancient habitable planet.” Scientists believe Jezero Crater, which looks like a remnant of a river Delta, was submerged in water 4 billion years ago. Deltas on Earth provide water, but also nutrients-rich silt and are the home of many species. Although Jezero’s delta may have been home to Martian microbes in the past, the planet has lost much of its water and atmosphere over the years and it is now experiencing drastic climate changes. It had been deserted and barren by 8 billion years ago.
Every rock that we get from Mars has its own story. Kirsten Siebach (a Rice University planetary geologist in Houston), said earlier in this week that there are many stories from the layers of the crater’s floor. Not only does the crater contain evidence of an ancient lake but also lava flows. She said that many rocks in the crater appear to be volcanic based on their minerals, but scientists still haven’t found any clear evidence of a fissure, volcano, or other mechanism by which lava might have burst or exploded billions of year ago.
These are the layers of history Siebach hopes Perseverance can probe with its new rock samples. Other useful tools are mounted to the rover’s arms, such as the SHERLOC, WATSON, and PIXL cameras that use X-ray fluorescence for chemical element detection.
“Perseverance means looking for biomarkers that indicate habitable environments. Ryan Anderson, an American Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Centre physical scientist, said this earlier in the week. Fine-grain sediments can trap organic molecules which bonds with clay molecules. These might be signs of an ancient and life-friendly universe, as well as a rock’s history.
NASA scientists plan to use most of the 43 samples tubes onboard the rover. The rover’s 43 sample tubes will allow scientists to explore other terrain and leave the rock collection at the crater. Considering that the rocks strewn around the ground have already gone undisturbed for eons, NASA doesn’t expect little green men to steal the bounty, or for it to be covered by a sandstorm, like the fictional one that stranded Matt Damon.
We all want the samples to represent as many environments and places as possible. As a species that is space-exploring, this represents a significant leap. Pamela Conrad from the Carnegie Institution of Science, Washington DC, stated that there are no other Mars samples. Occasional meteorites that strike the Red Planet’s surface occasionally fling pieces into space. Some of these eventually find their way to Earth. However, unlike Perseverance’s rocks samples, these pieces of Martian terrain are contaminated by space radiation and impacts, which makes it difficult for scientists to understand the history of this planet.
Perseverance, however, is currently awaiting NASA scientists’ instructions. Farley states that the robot arm of the rover is in an image of the Statue of Liberty with its tube pointed up. The robot will remain in this position until NASA has made sure that it has received its first sample. After that, the untiring rover can move on.
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Publited Fri, 3 Sep 2021 at 02:05:05 +0000