Perseverance Found Some Strange Rocks. What Will They Tell Us?

This image shows a jumbled field of light toned rocks with unusual ‘popcorn’-like textures and abundant mineral veins. NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Right Mastcam-Z camera. This image was acquired on June 10, 2024 (Sol 1175) at the local mean solar time of 14:04:57. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA’s Perseverance Rover has left Mount Washburn behind and arrived at its next destination, Bright Angel. It found an unusual type of rock there that scientists are calling ‘popcorn rock.’ The odd rock is more evidence that water was once present in Jezero Crater.

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NASA is Considering Other Ways of Getting its Mars Samples Home

Artist's impression of the NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return mission. Credit: NASA

In 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars. For the next three years, this astrobiology mission collected soil and rock samples from the crater floor for eventual return to Earth. The analysis of these samples is expected to reveal much about Mars’ past and how it transitioned from being a warmer, wetter place to the frigid and desiccated place we know today. Unfortunately, budget cuts have placed the future of the proposed NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in doubt.

As a result, NASA recently announced that it was seeking proposals for more cost-effective and rapid methods of bringing the samples home. This will consist of three studies by NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL). In addition, NASA has selected seven commercial partners for firm-fixed-price contracts for up to $1.5 million to conduct their own 90-day studies. Once complete, NASA will consider which proposals to integrate into the MSR mission architecture.

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Perseverance Wraps Up Over 1,000 Days on Mars. Still Going Strong

Perseverance rover on Mars. Image credit: NASA

I can remember when Perseverance was launched, travelled out into the Solar System and landed on Mars in February 2021.  In all the time since it arrived, having clocked up 1000 days of exploration, it has collected 23 samples from different geological areas within the Jezero Crater. The area was once home to an ancient lake and if there is anywhere on Mars to find evidence of ancient (fossilised) life, it is here. 

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The Ingenuity Team Downloads the Final Data from the Mars Helicopter. The Mission is Over

Ingenuity Site

I really can’t believe that the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars took its maiden voyage in April 2021. On the 16th April 2024, engineers at NASA have received the final batch of data from the craft which marks the final task of the team. Ingenuity’s work is not over though as it will remain on the surface collecting data. For the engineers at NASA, they have their sights set on Dragonfly, a new helicopter destined for Titan.

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Perseverance Finds its Dream Rock

This Martian rock, named Bunsen Peak, contains minerals that formed in the presence of water. On Earth, these water-deposited carbonate minerals are good at preserving ancient organic material. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If there’s a Holy Grail on Mars, it’s probably a specific type of rock: A rock so important that it holds convincing clues to Mars’ ancient habitability.

Perseverance might have just found it.

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Grabbing Samples from the Surface of Mars

ESA's Sample Return Mission arm

As if the Mars Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity Drone were not exciting enough then the next step in this audacious mission takes it to a whole new level. Mars Sample Return Mission is to follow along, collect and return the samples collected by Perseverance back to Earth. However the status of Mars Sample Return is uncertain as engineers are still working on technology to retrieve the samples. The current challenge is the gripper arm that will collect the samples and stow them safely and securely before transportation without damaging them. 

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Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade

NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/Simeon Schmauß

Ingenuity has been the first aerial vehicle on another world. NASA announced the end of the Martian helicopter’s life at the end of its 72nd flight. During the flight there had been a problem on landing and, following the incident a few photos revealed chips in one of the rotor blades but nothing too serious. New images have been revealed that show the craft is missing one of its rotor blades entirely! 

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NASA is Trying to Fix a Problem With one of Perseverance's Instruments

NASA’s Perseverance puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in a set of images captured in June and July 2022 by the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera system. SHERLOC is mounted on the end of the arm. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

There’s a problem with the Perseverance rover. One of its instruments, the laser-shooting SHERLOC, which is mounted on the end of the robotic arm, has a dust cover that is supposed to protect the instrument when it’s not in use. Unfortunately, the cover has been stuck open, and that can allow dust to collect on the sensitive optics. The cover is partially open, so the rover can’t use its laser on rock targets or collect mineral spectroscopy data. NASA engineers are investigating the problem and are hoping to devise a solution.

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Perseverance is Definitely Inside an Ancient Lake on Mars

Aerial view of Jezero Crater on Mars
Jezero Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The search for life on alien worlds has captivated us for hundreds of years. In some respect, the search for life has expanded to the search for water since it is not unreasonable to assume if there is water then there is a good chance there is life too. When NASA selected the landing site for Perseverance, they were looking for such a body of water and settled upon the Jezero Crater. Images from orbiters reveal a crater that looks like it has been filled with water in the past but further investigations were needed to confirm. Now it seems, Perseverance has risen to the challenge. 

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NASA Lost Contact With its Ingenuity Helicopter Briefly, but it's Back

This view of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was generated using data collected by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover on Aug. 2, 2023, the 871st Martian day, or sol, of the mission, one day before the rotorcraft’s 54th flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Imagine remotely flying a drone or small aircraft from a great distance and loosing contact with it during flight. You’d likely assume the worst, that your aircraft was probably laying in a crashed heap in some remote location.

That’s what engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory went through with the beloved Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, millions of miles away. During a recent quick pop-up flight that was supposed to last just 32 seconds, Ingenuity lost communications before it touched back down. The engineers back on Earth had no idea if the little helicopter landed safely or not.

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