A year into the mission to Mars

in November 3rd, 2021

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It’s been nine months since the latest NASA rover reached Mars — what’s it been up to?! As a refresher, the Perseverance rover is on a mission to discover signs of ancient life and collect rock/dirt samples for possible return to Earth. Using Perseverance’s on-board technology, the NASA team has already analyzed rocks on the crater floor, so far discovering igneous ones.

And that’s quite exciting for scientists. Igneous rocks form when molten rock cools and crystallizes, and are great for getting accurate age dates to build a time scale, telling scientists when the red planet was habitable. Observations also suggest the rocks have had long, sustained interactions with water.

Why do we care about water on Mars? Well, on Earth, anywhere there’s water, there’s life. And finding signs of life on Mars would mean that Mars was not only habitable, but was actually inhabited (even if by very simple lifeforms such as microbes). This would increase the potential for life elsewhere, meaning we’re not alone in the universe. Further, the rich geological record of Mars — kept intact thanks to minimal tectonic plate activity — might even be able to detail how life formed on the planet.

Of course, this and other scientific questions depend on whether the rock samples are successfully returned to Earth. Perseverance’s first attempt at drilling returned an empty sample tube, likely because the rock selected was too weak from prior interaction with water and fell apart. Scientists later targeted — and successfully collected — two samples from rock that was more resistant to weathering. The mission to get these samples to Earth? Mars Sample Return.

🎬 Take Action

Want to help future Mars missions?! Members of the public can help identify scientific features in the images Perseverance is taking to help improve NASA’s artificial intelligence for future missions.

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“I claim this planet in the name of Mars. Isn't that lovely?”

Marvin the Martian

Art Credit: ASCII Art Archive

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