Perseverance’s Landing … Seen From Orbit!

The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has done it again.

The imaging team was able to capture the Perseverance rover as it descended through the Martian atmosphere, hanging under its parachute.

Stunning.

Closeup view of the Mars 2020 descent stage streaking through Mars’ atmosphere on February 18, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

If you feel you’ve seen something like this before, you have. HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) also captured both the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the Phoenix lander in 2008, descending down to Mars. But that doesn’t lessen the accomplishment of capturing a tiny spacecraft steaking through the atmosphere. Consider these stats:  

  • MRO was approximately 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Perseverance at the time the image was taken.
  • MRO was traveling at about 3 kilometers per second (6,750 mph).
  • Perseverance was likely traveling about 140 meters per second.

“The extreme distance and high speeds of the two spacecraft were challenging conditions that required precise timing, and for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to both pitch upward and roll hard to the left so that Perseverance was viewable by HiRISE at just the right moment,” wrote HiRISE team member Shane Byrne on the HiRISE website.

Also visible in the big image is the ancient river delta, which is the target of the Perseverance mission, inside Jezero Crater.

But the HiRISE team wasn’t done.

The day after Perseverance landed, they took images of the landing site.

The first HiRISE image of the Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars, as well as many parts of the descent system that got it safely there. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Visible is Perseverance itself, the parachute, the parachute and back shell, the remains of the descent stage/skycrane (which likely broke apart at the crash landing) and the heat shield. (See the full resolution version here.)

For scale, most HiRISE images are about 5 km across, and 10 to 13 km long. Each inset square in the image above is about 200 meters (650 feet) across.

The rover sits at the center of a blast pattern created by the hovering skycrane.  The skycrane flew off to crash as at a safe distance creating a V-shaped debris pattern that points back toward the rover it came from.

If you haven’t seen the incredible video of the Entry, Descent and Landing do it now! You’ll see all of these parts of the descent stage do their jobs.

Earlier in the landing sequence, Perseverance jettisoned its heatshield and parachute which crashed in the separate locations, but HiRISE found them as well:

The Mars 2020 parachute, discarded on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
The crashed heat shield of the Mars 2020 descent stage. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

While these objects are highly visible now on the surface of Mars, the HiRISE teams says each item will suffer the fate of anything on Mars: they will become dustier with time and slowly fade into the background. As always, HiRISE will continue to image the Perseverance landing site to track the progress of the rover and changes in the other pieces of hardware that accompanied it.

You can see more images of our spacecraft and other objects on the surface of Mars, as seen by the incredible HiRISE camera.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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