Over the next several months, Perseverance will be exploring a four sq km patch of the crater floor, from where it will collect soil samples.
The Perseverance rover trundling the surface of Mars began its most critical mission phase — looking for ancient microbial life. This phase of the mission began on June 1, the Joint Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement as the rover left the “Octavia E. Butler” landing site.
During the first few weeks of the science operations phase, the rover will drive up to a low-lying scenic overlook in the Jazero crater, from where it will survey some of the oldest geological features using its auto-navigation and sampling systems. “The goal is to find four spots to collect samples,” JPL said.
Over the next several months, Perseverance will be exploring a four sq km patch of the crater floor, from where it will collect soil samples to be returned to Earth in future missions. “We are putting the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hitting the road,” said Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager.This image looking west toward the Séítah geologic unit on Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight. (Photo: JPL)
Perseverance’s science goal
The SUV-sized rover is the most advanced laboratory on wheels to have landed on Mars in the last decade. The science goal of the mission includes studying the Jezero region in order to understand the geology and past habitability of the environment in the area and to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. During the science phase, the rover will also take measurements and test technologies to support future human and robotic explorations.
In a bid to collect unique samples, the rover will explore two geologic units in which Jezero’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features can be found. According to JPL, the first unit, called “the Crater Floor Fractured Rough,” is the crater-filled floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning ‘amidst the sand’ in the Navajo language), has its fair share of Mars bedrock.
This annotated image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks). (Photo: JPL)
JPL has mapped the route that the rover will take to reach its new destination, along with optional turnoffs and labelled areas of interest and potential obstructions.
The first science campaign will be completed when the rover returns to the landing site with the samples in its casings after travelling nearly 2.5 to 5 kilometres. During the first phase, up to eight of Perseverance’s 43 sample tubes could be filled with Mars rock and regolith, following which the rover will travel toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero’s delta region.
Scientists believe that the delta region is the confluence of an ancient river and a lake and rich in carbonates minerals that can preserve fossilised signs of ancient life on Earth.