Psst the Mars Perseverance Rover will search for life!

Mars Perseverance Rover

You could say that all the past rovers that NASA sent to Mars have been leading up the Mars Perseverance rover mission. The rover may look similar to the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars, but there are differences. And it’s those differences that have scientists really excited that they might now be able to find signs of ancient life on the Red planet.

What others Mars Rovers have found

According to NASA each successive rover has made discoveries which have influenced in part the design of next-generation rovers.

“NASA’s first rover on Mars was modest: Sojourner, the size of a microwave oven, demonstrated in 1997 that a robot could rove on the Red Planet. NASA’s next Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were each the size of a golf cart. After landing in 2004, they discovered evidence that the planet once hosted running water before becoming a frozen desert. The car-sized Curiosity rover landed in 2012. Curiosity discovered that its landing site, Gale Crater, hosted a lake billions of years ago and an environment that could have supported microbial life. Perseverance aims to take the next step, seeking, as a primary goal, to answer one of the key questions of astrobiology: Are there potential signs of past microbial life, or biosignatures on Mars?”

“This demanding science goal requires a new suite of cutting-edge instruments to tackle the question from many angles. The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument, which can detect organic matter, and the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), which measures the composition of rocks and soil, will allow Perseverance to map organic matter, chemical composition and texture together at a higher level of detail than any Mars rover has done before. These instruments — two of the seven total onboard — will play a particularly important role in Perseverance’s search for potential signs of life.”

Mars Perseverance Rover differences compared with the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Mars Perseverance Rover differences compared with the Mars Curiosity Rover. Credit: NASA JPL.

NASA says the Mars Perseverance rover looks almost identical to the Mars Curiosity rover but that there are a number of differences. The one clear difference? The “aft cross-beam, which looks a bit like a shopping cart handle.”

Other differences include:

  • Sample Caching System (inside): Collects rock cores drilled by robotic arm
  • Turret: Holds heavier science tools
  • Cameras: 23 cameras, most in color
  • Wheels: New dimensions & tread design
  • AFT Cross-Beam: Stabilizes the rover during launch

Mars 2020 Deputy Project Scientist at NASA-JPL Katie Stack Morgan talks about searching for life in rocks

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Landing in Jezero Crater’s ancient lakeshore

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars. The color added to this image helps the crater rim stand out clearly, and makes it easier to spot the shoreline of a lake that dried up billions of years ago
Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars. The color added to this image helps the crater rim stand out clearly, and makes it easier to spot the shoreline of a lake that dried up billions of years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/ESA.

Jezero Crater on Mars is a 45 kilometre wide (28 miles) crater on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. The crater was a possible oasis in its distant past.

NASA says that “between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediments packed with carbonite minerals and clay. The Perseverance science team believes this ancient river delta could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life.”

This map shows regions in and around Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The green circle represents the rover’s landing ellipse.

Jezero held a lake and river delta billions of years ago; scientists want to capture samples of rock in these regions that may contain evidence of ancient microscopic life, which will be returned to Earth by a future mission for extensive study. Each of these regions represents a distinct area that may hold different kinds of evidence. The outermost region, called Midway/Northeast Syrtis, could be considered for exploration after the rover’s primary mission.

The map was created in a tool called Campaign Analysis Mapping and Planning (CAMP), developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Southern California, which manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Data for the map was provided by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), one of the cameras aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, also managed by JPL. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/University of Arizona

A Mars helicopter? Yes!

Ingenuity is the name of the first aircraft to ever attempt controlled flight on another planet. Think about that for a second. It will attempt its first flight test in spring 2021.

The Mars Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch on July 30, 2020. You can watch the launch live on SpaceQ. It’s scheduled to arrive and land on Mars on February. 18, 2021.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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