First Ever Mars Rock Samples Collected by NASA’s Perseverance Rover

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s rover, the Perseverance, is driving around currently on a dried lakebed on the Martian surface, completing its first, imperative step in a 10 year-long mission to retrieve pieces of Mars and bring them back to Earth. On the 190th day of its mission the rover, also affectionately nicknamed “Percy,” overcame sampling problems it had encountered earlier, snatching a rock core, barely thicker than a pen, from the surface of Mars.

On the 1st of September, NASA made the announcement that data had arrived from the Perseverance indicating it had been successful in obtaining an intact core from a small rock known as “Rochette.” The rover’s team, ever striving to be diligent scientists, wanted to be sure that this was true. To be certain, the rover was required to snap a few photos of the drill device with one of the cameras attached to its apparatus and send in some extra shots of the rock core it had just drilled.

The primary images sent back to the team seemed to have shown that the rock had been successfully sampled. Even after this check, the rover was made to vibrate the drill bit and take a second round of images. This was because the lighting was too dim to confirm exactly the contents of the tube. The team had to be one hundred percent sure.

Despite the back and forth, the mission’s chief engineer Adam Steltzner tweeted excitedly on the 4th of September, “We got it!”

According to Steven Ruff, the rover’s earliest images show a rusty red sediment that could be iron-rich minerals. The Perseverance’s landing site in the Jezero Crater was thought to have once been home to a large body of water and the rover’s two attempts at sampling have already revealed a piece of the geologic history of the Red Planet. “Both of those rock targets that they’ve interrogated look different than really anything that we’ve seen anywhere else on Mars,” Ruff said in an earlier statement.

The rover’s next step in its process is to seal and stamp its sample, so to speak, and get it ready to be sent home. Perseverance has 43 of these sample casings and as such, is capable of collecting many diverse rock samples. Sample diversity is key and will enable the science team to run a comparative analysis of different rocks from across the Jezero crater. This in turn will help the team to learn more about the history of Mars and to potentially discover if life existed on the planet at an earlier time.

NASA announced on Monday that Percy had stored the sample in its specialized storing chamber, locking it away in an airtight titanium tube for protection. This moment was one the team had been waiting for, a final maneuver that would show how the rover’s complex sampling mechanisms function. And as we can see, they performed flawlessly.

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