Perseverance is Searching for the Perfect Landing Spot for the Upcoming Sample Return Mission

NASA’s car-sized Perseverance (Percy) Mars rover has been had at work carrying out its science campaign in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet, but it’s equally been busy scouting for sites for NASA’s planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which is a joint mission with the European Space Agency. One of the many tasks for Percy has been to collect sample tubes that MSR will eventually return to Earth for further analysis, having collected its ninth sample on July 6. This most recent sample is especially intriguing as it’s the first taken from the Jezero’s delta itself, which is believed to be one of the most ideal locations to search for past life on the Red Planet.

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Mars Rovers Will Need to Dig Deeper If They Want to Find Evidence of Life

The search for life—even ancient life—on Mars is trickier than we thought. In a recent study published in the journal Astrobiology, researchers have determined that NASA’s Mars Perseverance (Percy) Rover will have to dig two meters (6.6 feet) beneath the Martian surface in order to find traces of ancient life. This is because the surface of Mars is constantly bombarded with extreme levels of solar radiation that scientists hypothesize would quickly degrade small molecules such as amino acids. The reason for this extreme level of radiation is due to the absence of a magnetic field, which scientists believe was stripped away billions of years ago when the planet’s liquid outer core ceased to produce the dynamo that created the field.

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Long-Range Photo of Ingenuity Taken by Perseverance’s SuperCam Instrument

NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/Kevin M. Gill

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is a stunning achievement of engineering, design, and, well, ingenuity. The dual-rotor craft can be seen taking off and landing in this remarkable video, taken by the Mastcam-Z, an imager aboard the Perseverance Mars Rover. Mastcam-Z is a tremendous scientific instrument, but this article’s truly outstanding lead image was taken with Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument.

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This is What Perseverance’s Landing Site Looked Like Billions of Years Ago. See Why it’s Such a Compelling Target?

This illustration shows Jezero Crater — the landing site of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover — as it may have looked billions of years go on Mars, when it was a lake. An inlet and outlet are also visible on either side of the lake. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Today is a milestone in NASA’s Perseverance mission to Mars. At 1:40 pm Pacific time today, the rover will have traveled 235.4 million km (146.3 million miles). That means the spacecraft is halfway to Mars and its rendezvous with Jezero Crater. The spacecraft isn’t traveling in a straight line, and the planets are moving, so it’s not equidistant to both planets.

“Although we’re halfway into the distance we need to travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” Kangas explained. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front.”

But today’s still a good time to take another look at Jezero Crater, and why NASA chose it as the mission’s target.

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Perseverance and the Quest to Find Life on Mars

Perseverance Rover before being sent to Mars

I remember the Summer of 1997 when a shoebox-sized Mars rover literally broke the Internet.

Sojourner – the first rover we sent to another planet – had just landed on Mars in a giant space airbag bouncing along the surface to a safe stop. The Internet was new. And I was a young space enthusiast with a dial-up modem. For the first time, images from a space exploration mission were beamed to an audience that was connected online. Now we use the term “broke the Internet” as a hyperbolic phrase for various Internet phenomena, but interest in the Mars mission in 97 drove so many hits to NASA mirror servers around the world that global web traffic was disrupted. Patiently I watched as, line by line, orange sky to red stone, the first image posted by NASA loaded on my screen…it took about an hour. Each line resolved was like my own exploration of the planet. And finally, the landing site, in “real time”, was revealed to me and the entire world all at once. What would we discover together?

One of the first images of Sojourner from the 97 Mars Pathfinder Landing – NASA/JPL
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Perseverance Rover Rumbles Off the Launchpad to Mars

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is now successfully on its journey to Mars, launching from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:50 am EDT (1150 GMT). Just minutes before the Atlas 5 rocket rumbled off the launchpad, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake rumbled out in California, giving a minor shake to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Control Center for the rover.

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NASA’s Perseverance Rover is Going to Jezero Crater, Which is Looking Better and Better as a Place to Search for Evidence of Past Life on Mars

Jezero Crater on Mars is the landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

In 2018, NASA decided that the landing site for its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover would be the Jezero Crater. At the time, NASA said the Jezero Crater was one of the “oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer.” That assessment hasn’t changed; in fact it’s gotten stronger.

A new research paper says that the Jezero Crater was formed over time periods long enough to promote both habitability, and the preservation of evidence.

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