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NASA Mars Perseverance Rover Drills Rock Sample, but Needs Another Look

The rock appeared proper the place it ought to have been — captured inside the drill little bit of NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance.

After a perplexing failure final month, NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, was in a position to efficiently acquire a pattern of rock on Wednesday. The rover took footage of the rock within the tube and despatched the pictures to Earth in order that mission managers might ensure they’d not come up empty once more. The rock was there.

Adam Steltzner, the chief engineer for the rover, enthused on Twitter on Thursday morning, describing it as “one superbly good cored pattern.”

Holding the tube vertically, Perseverance shook the tube, held vertically with the opening on high, 5 shakes lasting one second every had been to assist the rock core settle farther down into the gathering tube.

In subsequent pictures, the core might now not be seen. Had it disappeared? Was Mars messing with us?

Late within the day on Thursday, NASA mentioned in a information launch that the mission workforce remained assured the rock was nonetheless within the assortment tube, hidden in shadows. It could be stunning if the shaking might have precipitated the rock to leap up and out of the tube. However NASA mentioned the rover would take extra footage when the lighting was higher earlier than sealing the tube and placing it away in its stomach.

“We did what we got here to do,” Jennifer Trosper, the mission supervisor for the mission, mentioned within the information launch. “We’ll work by this small hiccup with the lighting circumstances within the pictures and stay inspired that there’s pattern on this tube.”

One of many key duties for Perseverance is to gather rocks and soil that may ultimately be brought back to Earth by another mission in order that scientists can exhaustively research them utilizing state-of-the-art devices of their laboratories, the best way they’ve with moon rocks from the Apollo and Soviet missions of the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s.

What the scientists and engineers didn’t need was a repeat of Aug. 6, the primary time that Perseverance drilled, collected and sealed a rock pattern. Every thing appeared to go flawlessly — besides the tube was empty.

“It was undoubtedly a little bit of despair,” Kenneth A. Farley, a professor of geochemistry on the California Institute of Expertise and the mission’s mission scientist, mentioned in an interview earlier than the newest drilling try. “Everyone was so able to declare victory. After which any person mentioned, ‘Yeah, right here’s an image, there’s nothing within the tube.’ It was very deflating.”

The rover used its cameras to go searching and see if the rock core had one way or the other dropped to the bottom. However there was no signal of it. The rock pattern had, it appeared, vanished.

The best fear was that Perseverance’s intricate drilling mechanism had suffered a crippling malfunction and that it might not be capable to acquire any samples in any respect. However after reviewing the info, the engineers and scientists concluded it was the rock, not the rover, that was guilty.

“The rock merely wasn’t our sort of rock,” Ms. Trosper wrote in a NASA blog post on Aug. 19. The rover’s techniques had carried out as anticipated — “fairly properly, as a matter of truth,” Ms. Trosper wrote — however the rock was too fragile.

“The act of coring into it resulted within the rock breaking up into powder and small fragments of fabric, which weren’t retained within the tube on account of their measurement,” Ms. Trosper mentioned.

Dr. Farley concedes that there have been warning indicators that the August rock may not have been the most effective one to attempt first. Its brown colour indicated rust, it contained salts, and it was stuffed with holes. That meant it had been sitting in a lake or groundwater for a really very long time. That was probably a incredible scientific discover. The mineralogical adjustments attributable to water might illuminate billions of years in the past when Mars was moist and liveable.

However a rusty, salty rock full of holes is also very crumbly. “We discovered a lesson,” Dr. Farley mentioned.

The Aug. 6 operation was not an entire loss. The tube incorporates sealed, uncontaminated Martian air, one thing the scientists had deliberate to gather at one other time.

For the second drilling try on Wednesday, the rover drove about 400 yards onto a ridge barely increased than the encircling panorama, “and we chosen the toughest trying rock you possibly can discover up there,” Dr. Farley mentioned. This boulder, nicknamed Rochette, survived by the ages and was not eroded away by the winds, sturdy proof that it isn’t crumbly.

The boulder appears like a chunk of a hardened lava, which will be exactly dated. Thus, scientists will be capable to decide how outdated this boulder is, and it helps pin down the ages of decrease, older layers.

“This was a high-value goal,” Dr. Farley mentioned.

Will probably be greater than a decade earlier than Dr. Farley and different scientists can get their fingers on it. Perseverance in some unspecified time in the future will most likely drop the hermetically sealed tubes on the Martian floor, to await pickup by a future rover, nonetheless on the drafting board.

That rover will take the rock samples to a small rocket that may launch the samples on a visit again to Earth, however they won’t arrive till the 2030s.

Perseverance will proceed exploring a 28-mile-wide crater named Jezero, particularly an historical, dried-up river delta alongside the western rim. The rover is accompanied by a small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity that was added to the mission to check the flexibility to fly by the skinny air of Mars.

Whereas NASA had deliberate to depart Ingenuity behind after a sequence of take a look at flights, it proved so profitable that the helicopter continues to observe together with Perseverance, appearing as a scout of the terrain forward. And it’s enhancing the rover’s scientific mission, too.

The scientists had supposed to go to a web site that seemed hanging in pictures taken from orbit. “Then we seemed on the helicopter pictures,” Dr. Farley mentioned, and had been much less impressed.

“We’ll save a bunch of time by not driving over there,” he mentioned.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/02/science/mars-rover-rocks.html | NASA Mars Perseverance Rover Drills Rock Pattern, however Wants One other Look

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