The U.S. space agency, NASA, said in a news release this week that its Perseverance Mars rover was focusing on its primary mission of looking for signs of ancient life in the dried lakebed surrounding it.
The rover has spent much of the past month serving as a communications base and documenting the historic flights of the Ingenuity helicopter. But it has also been focusing its instruments on the rocks in the Jezero Crater, an area scientists believe was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta.
The area was carefully chosen as the rover’s landing site because of the evidence scientists have seen that water may have at one time flowed into the crater lake from the surrounding area. Scientists say it is conceivable that water carried microbial life along with it.
Perseverance has already used its many cameras to examine rocks, and a laser instrument called SuperCam zapped some of them to detect their chemistry.
The rover’s robotic arm carries several other instruments that will be helpful in revealing what secrets the rocks might hold. When scientists find a particularly interesting item, they can reach out and use the arm’s abrader to grind and flatten its surface, revealing its underlying structure and composition.
The Perseverance team will gather more detailed chemical and mineralogical information using other instruments, such as PIXL, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, and SHERLOC, Scanning for Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.
Over the next two years, scientists hope to examine and collect samples of rocks and soil, which will be returned to Earth by future missions.
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.