After a pretty eventful start to life on Mars that has included capturing the first ever audio recordings on the planet, producing the first ever oxygen on another world and supporting the Ingenuity helicopter throughout its history-making flights, NASA’s Perseverance rover is ready to get down to business. The robot has now departed its landing site for the Jezero Crater to begin its primary science mission, where it will comb an old lakebed in a search for signs of ancient microbial life.
Perseverance left its Octavia E. Butler landing site on June 1 and started heading south toward the Jezero Crater, where its first stop will be a low-lying scenic lookout. From here, mission scientists will survey the crater’s oldest geological features, and switch on the last remaining navigation and sampling systems.
“We are putting the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hitting the road,” says Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “Over the next several months, Perseverance will be exploring a 1.5-square-mile (4-sq-km) patch of crater floor. It is from this location that the first samples from another planet will be collected for return to Earth by a future mission.”
To best understand the geology and past habitability of the Jezero Crater, Perseverance will explore two sections of it that contain its deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock, along with other interesting geological features. Called the Crater Floor Fractured Rough (CF-Fr) and Séítah, Perseverance will comb these units for four locations with the most scientific potential for sample collection.
“Starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Seitah geologic units allows us to start our exploration of Jezero at the very beginning,” says JPL’s Kevin Hand. “This area was under at least 100 meters (328 ft) of water 3.8 billion years ago. We don’t know what stories the rocks and layered outcrops will tell us, but we’re excited to get started.”
Once this first science campaign is complete, Perseverance will return to the landing site with as many as eight of its 43 sampling tubes filled with Martian rock and dust. It will then set off toward Three Forks, the starting point for its second science campaign. This leg of the journey will see Perseverance explore the Jezero Crater’s delta region, which is expected to be particularly rich in carbonates, which are minerals that can preserve fossilized evidence of ancient life.
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