September 23, 2023

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Here’s what the newest Mars rover has learned so far

Here’s what the newest Mars rover has learned so far

Zoom in / The Perseverance planetary vampire takes a selfie using two model drill holes.

It’s easy to take it for granted, but we’re wandering around on the alien planet Mars right now.

We’ve done it many times before, sure, but it remains one of humanity’s most impressive technological achievements. The newest rover to continue our presence on the red planet is Perseverance, the planet’s star Mars 2020 The mission, which launched in July of that year and landed in February 2021.

He has now been busy touring for over two years. News What we discover — beyond the stream the pictures– It tends to come in separate parts that may be more difficult to communicate if not Follow closely. Consider this wide-angle recap.

Like other rovers, Perseverance is packed with scientific instruments. It contains cameras of multiple types used in general imaging and spectroscopy that can identify metals. This last function is supplemented by an additional X-ray tool. Perseverance also has a ground-penetrating radar instrument that can reveal layers hidden beneath the surface. More invasively, there is a drill at the end of the vehicle’s robotic arm. This is used to grind up clean spots (what geologists call “fresh”) for analysis, but it can also extract small cylindrical samples Rock samples– Hopefully it will be recovered and returned to Earth on a future mission.

But it’s not just about the rocks. She has perseverance weather A unit that tracks weather conditions and airborne dust. And she has a friend – Creative helicopter It has significantly exceeded its beta testing target and it is Still flying In short hops to keep up with the rover.

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This mission was conducted in Jezero Crater, which was chosen because its rim is capped by river delta-like rocks, suggesting that flowing water may have met a lake here in the past. It is the ideal environment to study the history of water on Mars and the possibility of life associated with it. There’s only so much science you can do from orbit. To untangle the forensic evidence that remains here, you have to get down to the ground.

First stop: the hole

The first years on Mars were spent exploring the floor of Jezero Crater. The type of rocks that could be found here was somewhat mysterious from orbit. There was clearly some igneous rock, either from volcanic magma or from a molten pool created by the meteorite impact that formed the crater. But some also expected to see sedimentary rocks marking the bottom of a lake that the crater calls home.

It turned out to be just igneous basalt under a blanket of wind-blown dust, and any sediments at the bottom of the lake that were here must have been eroded away long ago. You might think this is disappointing — like the pharaoh’s tomb has already been cleaned out by grave robbers — but this is actually one of the best looks we’ve ever gotten of the volcanic bedrock of Mars. Expeditions have often targeted pockets of prominent sedimentary rocks, with only scattered fragments of the more common igneous rocks exposed.

The Martian meteorites we find on Earth, which broke off from the Red Planet during large impact events, only give us literal pieces of the big picture. If we succeed in bringing back the eight rock samples collected from the crater floor, this opportunity to walk around an intact igneous rock base could answer many of the questions raised by the meteorites.

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In this case, The scientific team was divided The crater floor rocks they observed are divided into two main layers. The upper part, called the Maz Formation, appears to have been formed from lava. Some parts show a texture like the wrinkly (or “rope-like”) lava we see in Hawaii. In other areas, rocks emerge through the red dust in flat polygons resembling garden floors, or in longer, boulder-sized blocks.

The lower Séítah Formation is distinct in texture and mineralogy. It stands out from its surroundings due to its thin layers and visible, closely aligned crystals. While the Maz rocks contain a lot of feldspar, the Seta rocks are dominated by olivine instead.

This is what geologists call it.Accumulate“—the molten equivalent of the sandy sediment in your coffee cup. Because different minerals crystallize at different temperatures (yes, molten rock has a freezing point), minerals like olivine that crystallize early can settle to the bottom of a magma body and accumulate. On Earth, it can be seen This pattern is in magma chambers that have cooled underground or in some sufficiently thick lava.