Success! Mars rover finally collects its first rock core

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The Perseverance rover’s first intact rock core was seen inside its pattern tube, simply earlier than the tube was sealed on 6 September.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a failed attempt last month, NASA’s Perseverance rover has efficiently drilled, extracted and saved a pattern of Martian rock — the first ever Mars pattern destined to be flown again to Earth for research.

“This is a momentous achievement,” stated NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a press release.

When the rover first tried the manoeuvre, on 6 August, the rock it was making an attempt to pattern crumbled into powder earlier than making it right into a pattern tube. The second try, on 1 September at a unique location a number of hundred metres away, went easily; the drill bit pulled a slim cylinder out of a 70-centimetre-long rock named Rochette. Engineers then paused the method in order that they might {photograph} the core in its pattern tube, to make sure it was intact, earlier than sealing the specimen inside days later, on 6 September.

The rover drilling the hole

The rover drilled into Rochette on 1 September.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The core from Rochette now rests in Perseverance’s stomach, hermetically sealed and able to wait a few years till future spacecraft can retrieve it and another cores the rover manages to gather. The aim is to assemble about 35 cores representing the geological historical past of Jezero Crater, Perseverance’s touchdown website — which was house to a river delta billions of years in the past and might contain evidence of ancient Martian life.

How Rochette matches into that historical past isn’t but clear. The rock comes from an space that mission scientists dubbed Citadelle, the French phrase for fortress, as a result of it stands excessive on a ridgeline like a citadel overlooking a valley. Some of the rocks alongside this ridgeline present layers which are geologically intriguing; such layers may have been deposited by wind, water, volcanic eruptions or different processes.

Early investigations by the rover counsel that Rochette is a rock kind often known as basalt, which could have been a part of an historical lava circulation that makes up the ridge the place Perseverance is parked, says Kenneth Farley, a geologist on the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the mission’s venture scientist. Rochette reveals reddish patches and marking, in addition to small cavities crammed with salts, all of which counsel it interacted with water over a while — maybe on the backside of the traditional lake that after stuffed Jezero.

Planetary surprises

Rochette turned out to be a a lot better rock to drill than the one which the rover first tried to pattern — a rock named Roubion that lay elsewhere on the crater ground. Roubion, too, confirmed indicators of interacting with water way back, however in that case the water appears to have bodily weakened the rock as a result of it turned to mud when Perseverance hammered in its drill bit. The rover may attempt drilling into one other rock just like Roubion later in its mission, says Farley, if it might discover one that appears extra sturdy.

If additional research affirm that Rochette is basalt, that might be scientifically thrilling as a result of as soon as it’s returned to Earth, researchers may use the decay of radioactive parts within the rock to exactly date the time of its formation — one thing by no means earlier than doable as a result of no rocks have ever been introduced again from Mars.

Composite image of the rock with the drilled hole

The bore gap was seen on Rochette after drilling.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s earlier Mars rover, Curiosity, which landed in a unique crater in 2012, got here throughout rocks that had been, unexpectedly, too arduous for it to drill — the other of Perseverance’s preliminary downside. And a 2008 Mars lander, Phoenix, had bother amassing grains of filth till mission managers labored out that the filth wanted to be saved out of direct daylight in order that ice between the grains didn’t soften, refreeze and cement them collectively. “Mars is a real planet, with surprises,” says Raymond Arvidson, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis who has labored on a variety of Mars rover missions, though not Perseverance.

Crunch time

Now the stress is on for Perseverance to begin amassing cores extra effectively. It landed in Jezero in February, so it has taken greater than six months to gather its first pattern. It is meant to gather its first suite of cores from the crater inside one Mars yr of touchdown (rather less than two Earth years). And as a result of the rover landed barely over 2 kilometres from its essential sampling goal, Jezero’s historical river delta, it in all probability gained’t even attain that formation till early subsequent yr.

But Arvidson says he’s not involved in regards to the tempo of the mission up to now. The first three months had been used, amongst different issues, to test and fly a miniature helicopter, which has made a dozen flights up to now and helps mission scientists to select fascinating instructions for the rover to journey. The rover itself has pushed 2.17 kilometres, south after which west from its touchdown website, surveying the terrain and doing experiments that don’t contain drilling, corresponding to utilizing ground-penetrating radar to probe beneath the planet’s floor.

Following its profitable pattern assortment, Perseverance will drive northwest a couple of hundred metres right into a area often known as South Seítah, filled with sand dunes, ridges and different rocks and boulders. Mission planners will quickly have a short break, from 2 October to 14 October, when it is not going to be doable to speak with the rover as a result of Mars will transfer behind the Sun relative to Earth.

NASA and the European Space Agency are planning a posh set of future robotic missions that might journey to Jezero, decide up the samples collected by Perseverance and fly them again to Earth for scientists to review. It shall be no less than 2031 by the point the samples arrive on Earth.



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