It has been less than a month since NASA’s Perseverance has landed on Mars but during this time the rover has been busy testing its instrument, starting moving about, and taking incredible photos. Now, it has also begun its science mission and the first data has been sent back to Earth.
The first results come from its incredible SuperCam, its 5-in-1 instrument key to the search for ancient microbial life that Perseverance will undertake. The 5.6-kilogram (12-pound) camera first measurements included observations in infrared and visible light of rocks illuminated by the Sun. It also included observations with the Raman spectrometer. The rover shot a green laser (you can check how it sounded here) at a rock called Máaz that was 3.1 meters (10 feet) away. This excited the chemical bonds in the mineral and could be detected by the SuperCam instrument.
“This is the first time an instrument has used Raman spectroscopy anywhere other than on Earth! sOlivier Beyssac, CNRS research director at the Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie in Paris, said in a statement. “Raman spectroscopy is going to play a crucial role in characterizing minerals to gain deeper insight into the geological conditions under which they formed and to detect potential organic and mineral molecules that might have been formed by living organisms.”
SuperCam is a joint product of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and a consortium of French research laboratories under the auspices of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and it is now functioning on a different planet.
“It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars,” said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm.”
The SuperCam is not only a laser and a tool for studying rocks at a distance. The instrument is also designed to identify which types of rocks and soil might hold traces of past microbial life, it can study the atmosphere and even estimate if the martian dust might pose a danger to future human astronauts.