NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance will begin collecting rock samples from the bed of an ancient lake within two weeks, the heart of its mission to the Red Planet, announced Wednesday (July 21st). the US space agency.
“When Neil Armstrong took the first samples from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would redefine what Mankind knew about the Moon”, explained Thomas Zurbuchen, administrator for science at NASA. “I do not expect less for Mars with the first samples of Perseverance in the crater of Jezero, and the following ones”, he added.
The module, which is the size of a large SUV, landed on February 18 in the crater of Jezero, which scientists believe housed, 3.5 billion years ago, a deep lake, with the mission of looking for traces of ancient life. It has since traveled a kilometer south of its landing site. “We now see a much older environment, billions of years ago”, explained during a press briefing the scientific manager of the project, Ken Farley.
Return of samples to Earth around 2030
NASA believes the crater was home to a lake that filled and then emptied many times and could have created the conditions for life. The analysis of these samples must reveal the chemical and mineral composition of the rocks to know if they are volcanic or sedimentary. The rover will also try to find possible signs of ancient germs.
To do this, Perseverance will first deploy its two-meter articulated arm and then use an abrasive tool to clean the surface of the rocks that will be analyzed by the instruments installed on its turret, in particular an ultra-sophisticated camera called SuperCam, equipped with a laser.
Mr. Farley is particularly interested in a small hill which could have been formed by mud and which would be “A very good place” to find physical traces, even if the robot should take several months to reach it. Each rock affected by Perseverance will have a ” twin “ equivalent that will be sealed and stored in the robot.
NASA is planning a return mission with the European Space Agency to collect and bring the samples back to Earth, around the 2030s.