We see inside the tube that contains the first cored sample of Martian rock, seen in the center. The dark ring is the outer wall of the tube. After the photo was taken, the tube was sealed with a metal cap. Contribution / NASA, JPL-Caltech
The rover used the drill at the end of its robotic arm to pit two suitcase-sized samples of La Rochette on September 1 and again on September 7. But the agency had to wait for better lighting to get a clear photo of the samples before announcing that she had the merchandise. They are now secure inside hermetically sealed titanium tubes, each about the thickness of a pencil.
Sample tube number 266, seen here before launch, was used to collect the first Martian rock sample by the Perseverance rover. Each sample tube weighs less than 2 ounces (57 grams) and is approximately 6 inches long. A white outer coating protects against heating by the sun, which could potentially affect the chemistry of the sample. Contribution / NASA, JPL-Caltech
This sample and up to 36 other samples from various locations along the rover’s crossing will eventually be cached in several safe locations on the surface. NASA and the European Space Agency are working together to plan a landing mission in Jezero Crater, recover the tubes, and bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis at the end of 2030 or 2031. Although 312 Martian meteorites have been found on Earth to date, these samples would be the first set of scientifically identified and selected material returned to our planet from another.
Perseverance’s robotic arm and drill are in the foreground in this image taken by one of the rover’s navigation cameras on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Contribution / NASA, JPL-Caltech
Rochette appears to be a type of volcanic rock called basalt which may have originated from an ancient lava flow. It sits atop “Artuby”, a ridge line over half a mile (900 meters) long near the deepest and oldest layers of exposed bedrock.
“It appears that our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable supported environment,” said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It’s a big deal that the water was there for a long time.”
This image shows the location of the rover and the Mars helicopter in the Jezero crater. The delta formed when a river flowed into the crater in ancient times. Contribution / NASA, JPL-Caltech
A preliminary analysis of the first two rock cores reveals the presence of salt that may have formed when groundwater – probably from a long-ago lake that once filled the crater – seeped into the material. The salts may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water and even vestiges of primitive life similar to what salts do on Earth. They’re also good for preserving food, though we’re unlikely to find a Martian scrapped cheese sandwich anytime soon.
We already know that water covered Jezero Crater in the distant past, which is one of the reasons it was chosen as the landing site for the mission. We don’t know for sure how long. Did a sudden flood fill the crater and then dry it up? Or has the water lingered for millennia, if not millions of years? From a first glance, the samples appear to be strongly weathered by water, which would indicate a lot of time spent “in the pool”.
The question is crucial because the longer the water, the more chance life has to develop and settle. A key objective of the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will also characterize the past geology and climate of the planet. Anything we learn remotely will help inform a human mission to the Red Planet that could take place in the 2030s, though Elon Musk and his company believe they can. bring in a crew by 2026.
This image looking west towards the Séítah region on Mars was taken from a height of 33 feet (10 meters) by the Ingenuity helicopter on its sixth flight. Contribution / NASA, JPL-Caltech
Since arriving on February 18, Perseverance has covered approximately 2.2 kilometers. His next sampling site will likely be just 200 meters (656 feet) in “South Séítah,” a series of ridges covered with sand dunes, boulders, and rock shards that look like broken plates. This site offers older rocks that will help extend the geological chronology of the planet.
However, coring of the samples will have to wait until later in October, as Mars will soon pass almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective. In other words, it will be in conjunction with the sun, which happens on October 8th. Meanwhile, solar activity from rashes and other sources could potentially disrupt commands NASA could send to the rover. To prevent corrupted information from causing a problem, the agency will suspend communications from October 2 to 14.
In the coming months, the rover will resume its science mission and fill up to eight sample tubes before returning to the original landing site. From there it will turn northwest and begin a second science campaign focused on the fan-shaped delta of the crater. Here, a long time ago, a river cut a channel through the Jezero Wall and flowed into “Jezero Lake”. The area may harbor clays which may preserve fossilized signs of microbial life. More excitement and discovery awaits you.
“Astro” Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more of his work on duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.