Science & Technology

Signs of life on Mars? NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover begins hunting!

NASA’s Perseverance Rover robotic arm is an area of ​​Mars called the “Crater Floor Fracture Draft” area in this image captured on July 10, 2021 (the 138th Mars Day or Mars Day of its mission). I reached out to investigate the rocks of.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s latest Mars rover goes into business after testing a series of ferocious instruments with a robotic arm. Investigate rocks and dust for evidence of past life.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Patience Rover has begun exploring the signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. Rover bends a 7-foot (2 meter) mechanical arm to test the on-board sensitive detector and obtain the first scientific measurements. In addition to analyzing rocks using X-rays and UV light, six-wheeled scientists magnify a close-up of a small segment of the rock surface that may provide evidence of past microbial activity.

Watson View Fu

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover used a WATSON camera at the end of Rover’s robotic arm to capture this close-up of a rock target nicknamed “Foux.” This image was taken on July 11, 2021, on the 139th day of Mars (Mars Day). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Called PIXLAbigail Allwood, principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said Rover’s X-ray equipment had unexpectedly strong scientific results while still being tested. I will. A lunchbox-sized device at the end of the arm irradiates a small calibration target on the Perseverance (used to test the device’s settings) with X-rays and the composition of Martian dust adhering to the target. I was able to decide.

“We did the best composition analysis ever before the dust on Mars saw the rocks,” says Allwood.

This is just a little bit of what you would expect to see when PIXL is combined with other Arm equipment to focus on promising geological features weeks or months away.

Scientists say the Jezero Crater was a crater lake billions of years ago and was chosen as the landing site for Perseverance. The crater has been dry for a long time, Rover is now choosing a path across that red broken floor..

“If there was life in the Jezero Crater, there could be evidence of that life,” said Allwood, a key member of Perseverance’s “Weapon Science” team.

PIXL nightlight

One of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, PIXL is equipped with a light diode that circles the opening to take pictures of rock targets in the dark. I will. Using artificial intelligence, PIXL determines how far away from the target to scan based on the image. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

To get a detailed profile of rock texture, contours, and composition, a PIXL map of the chemicals throughout the rock can be combined with the mineral map created by. Sherlock Musical instruments and their partners, Watson. SHERLOC – an abbreviation for scanning habitable environments with Raman and luminescence of organic and chemical substances – uses an ultraviolet laser to identify some of the minerals in rocks, and WATSON is a particle size, perfect circle by scientists. Take a close-up image that can be used to determine the texture. Over time, it helps to determine how the rock was formed.

According to scientists, early Watson close-ups already provided a great deal of data from Martian rocks, including the variety of colors, the size of particles in sediments, and the presence of “cement” between particles. I will. Such details can provide important clues about the history of formation, the flow of water, and the ancient, potentially habitable environment of Mars. And when combined with PIXL’s, it can provide a wider range of environmental and historical snapshots of Jezero Crater.

“What is the crater floor made of? How was the crater floor?” Asks Luther Beegle of JPL, a senior researcher at SHERLOC. “It tells us a lot about the early days of Mars, and potentially how Mars was formed. If you know what the history of Mars is, you can give evidence of life. You can understand the possibility of finding it. “

PIXL's first chemical map

This data shows chemicals detected within a single rock on Mars by PIXL, one of the instruments at the end of a robotic arm onboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. PIXL allows scientists to find out where a particular chemical is in an area as small as a stamp. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Science team

Rover has important autonomy, such as driving itself across the landscape of Mars, but hundreds of scientists on Earth are involved in analyzing the results and planning further research.

“There are about 500 people on the science team,” Beagle said. “The number of participants in a particular action by Rover is on the order of 100. Watch these scientists analyze clues, prioritize each step, and agree to put together pieces of the Jezero science puzzle. Is great. “

It’s important when the Mars 2020 Patience Rover finally collects the first sample to return to Earth. They will be sealed in ultra-clean metal tubes on the surface of Mars, allowing future missions to collect them and send them back to their home planet for further analysis.

Despite decades of research into potential life issues, the Red Planet has stubbornly kept its secrets.

“In my view, Mars 2020 is the best opportunity we have in our lives to tackle that problem,” said Kenneth Williamford, Deputy Project Scientist at Perseverance.

Geological details are important to put the possible signs of life in context and to check scientists’ thoughts on how the second example of the origin of life arises, Allwood says. I did.

Combined with other rover equipment, arm detectors such as SHERLOC and WATSON could lead humanity to discover life beyond Earth for the first time.

Mission details

The main purpose of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, which involves exploring the signs of life of ancient microorganisms. Rover will be the first mission to characterize the planetary geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and collect and cache Martian rocks and regoliths (broken rocks and dust). ..

Subsequent NASA missions will work with the ESA (European Space Agency) to send spacecraft to Mars, collect these sealed samples from the surface, and return them to Earth for further analysis.

The Mars 2020 patience mission is part of NASA’s lunar-to-Mars exploration approach. Artemis A mission to the Moon to help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, managed by California Institute of Technology Caltech for NASA, builds and manages the operation of the Perseverance Rover.

Signs of life on Mars? NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover begins hunting! Signs of life on Mars? NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover begins hunting!

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