It’s the end of an era, at least for the Perseverance rover on Mars, who has lost a long-time friend.
For 427 sols or days on Mars, Perseverance has been carrying around a rock in one of its wheels. We’ve been following the saga of this pet rock, which for over a year has stuck with Perseverance over the hills and sands of the Martian landscape.
However, according to Dr. Gwénaël Caravaca, who works with the rover’s SuperCam instrument, the team found out overnight in the latest Hazcam image that the rock has been lost.
On Thursday, March 30th, NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled and stored the first rock core sample of its newest science campaign. This is the sixteenth sample the rover has taken as part of the ambitious Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, a collaborative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to retrieve Perseverance’s samples and bring them back to Earth. Once they arrive (expected to happen by 2033), scientists will analyze them using state-of-the-art machinery too heavy and cumbersome to send to Mars as part of a robotic mission.
NASA’s Perseverance rover mission provided a bluish pre-sunrise gift above Jezero Crater on March 18, 2022, aka Sol 738, or the 738th Martian day of the mission, with “sol” being the official timekeeping method for Mars missions since one Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than one Earth day. And, on this particular sol, the car-sized explorer used one of its navigation cameras (Navcam) to snap images of high-altitude clouds drifting in the Martian sky, which it shared on its officially Twitter page on March 23, 2023.
There’s a reason Jezero Crater was chosen as the landing site for the Perseverance Rover: it is considered one of the likeliest places to find any evidence if Mars was ever habitable for long periods of time. In this great new flyby video from ESA, you can get a birds-eye look at Perseverance’s home.
Created from data ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the video takes you on an aerial tour of the crater. From this perspective, you can see the water features in this ancient impact crater and understand why this was considered one of the best places to explore Mars.
The planet Mars is arguably the most extensively studied planetary body in the entire Solar System, which began with telescopic observations by Galileo Galilei in 1609, with such telescopic observations later being taken to the extreme by Percival Lowell in the late 19th century when he reported seeing what he believed were artificial canals made by an advanced intelligent race of Martians. But it wasn’t until the first close up image of Mars taken by NASA’s Mariner 4 in 1965 that we saw the Red Planet for what it really was: a cold and dead world with no water and no signs of life, whatsoever.
On Mars, NASA’s Perseverancerover is busy collecting rock samples that will be retrieved and brought back to Earth by the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. This will be the first sample-return mission from Mars, allowing scientists to analyze Martian rocks directly using instruments and equipment too large and cumbersome to send to Mars. To this end, scientists want to ensure that Perseverance collects samples that satisfy two major science goals – searching for signs of life (“biosignatures”) and geologic dating.
To ensure they select the right samples, scientists must understand how rock samples formed and how they might have been altered over time. According to a new NASA study, Martian rocks may have been “shocked” by meteorite impacts during its early history (the Late Heavy Bombardment period). The role these shocks played in shaping Martian rocks could provide fresh insights into the planet’s geological history, which could prove invaluable in the search for evidence of past life on Mars.
Dust storms are a serious hazard on Mars. While smaller storms and dust devils happen regularly, larger ones happen every year (during summer in the southern hemisphere) and can cover continent-sized areas for weeks. Once every three Martian years (about five and a half Earth years), the storms can become large enough to encompass the entire planet and last up to two months. These storms play a major role in the dynamic processes that shape the surface of Mars and are sometimes visible from Earth (like the 2018 storm that ended the Opportunity rover’s mission).
When Martian storms become particularly strong, the friction between dust grains causes them to become electrified, transferring positive and negative charges through static electricity. According to research led by planetary scientist Alian Wang at Washington University in St. Louis, this electrical force could be the major driving force of the Martian chlorine cycle. Based on their analysis, Wang and her colleagues believe this process could account for the abundant perchlorates and other chemicals that robotic missions have detected in Martian soil.
Hard to believe, but the Perseverance Rover has begun its third year exploring Mars. On Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance rover survived the harrowing landing at Jezero Crater, and almost immediately, began an expedition to collect a geologically diverse set of rock samples, ones that could help answer the question if Mars once had ancient microbial life.
JPL and NASA put together a wonderful two-year animation of images from the rover’s Front Left Hazard Avoidance Camera to celebrate Percy’s landing anniversary.
Exploring Mars is hazardous work. Robotic missions that are sent there have to contend with extreme temperatures, dust storms, intermittent sunlight, and rough terrain. In recent years, two robotic missions were lost due to dust alone, and all that roving around has done a number on the Curiosity rover’s treads. It’s understandable why mission teams are pleasantly surprised when their missions make it through a rough patch. This was the case with the Ingenuity team when they discovered that the rotorcraft, which has been exploring Mars alongside Perseverance, survived the night and is back in working order.
Testing how robotic helicopters fair in the Martian environment is one of the objectives of Ingenuity, which is the first mission of its kind on Mars. On May 3rd, 2022, the mission team learned that Ingenuity had lost power after trying to keep itself warm during the cold Martian night. Luckily, there was enough sunlight the following morning for the little rotorcraft to power up its batteries again and resume normal operations. This was a welcome relief, given that the Opportunity rover and InSight lander were both lost to the extreme cold and dust that characterize a Martian winter.