NASA’s latest Martian rover Perseverance has begun its search for life in full. The rover has been probing rocks and dust to find evidence of ancient microbial life. It is also getting ready to collect its first rock sample that an upcoming mission will then deliver back to Earth.
The sampling will be a prolonged process taking about 11 days as the rover uses all its instruments to identify the best rock and finding similar material nearby. The goal is to have a good sample and a twin that will be studied by the rover. Eventually, NASA will combine data collected by Perseverance with that analyzed on Earth in several years to come.
"When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. "I have every expectation that Perseverance's first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery."
The core sample that will be collected is roughly the size of a piece of chalk. It will be measured, hermetically sealed, and stored. It comes from what might be Jezero’s deepest and most ancient bits of exposed bedrock. A small patch of the crater the industrious rover has been exploring since June 1.
While the hope is to find evidence that Mars once used to have life, Perseverence will study much more than that. It’s going to push the envelope when it comes to understanding the geology of Mars.
"Not every sample Perseverance is collecting will be done in the quest for ancient life, and we don't expect this first sample to provide definitive proof one way or the other," added Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley, of Caltech. "While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region—things we'll desperately need to know if we find life once existed on Mars."
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