Right here’s what the most recent Mars rover has discovered to date

images of Perseverance rover on Mars
Enlarge / Planetary vampire Perseverance takes a selfie with two pattern drill holes.

It’s straightforward to take it without any consideration, however we’re driving round on freakin’ Mars proper now.

We’ve accomplished this a number of instances earlier than, positive, however it stays one in all humankind’s most spectacular technological feats. The newest rover to proceed our presence on the crimson planet is Perseverance, the star of the Mars 2020 mission that launched in July of that 12 months and landed in February of 2021.

It has now been busy roving for over two years. Information of what we’re discovering—past the stream of photos—tends to return in discrete bits that may be exhausting to attach into a much bigger image should you aren’t following closely. Take into account this your wide-angle recap.

Like different rovers, Perseverance is bristling with science devices. It has cameras of a number of varieties used each for basic imagery and spectral evaluation that may establish minerals. That latter operate is supplemented by a further X-ray instrument. Perseverance additionally has a ground-penetrating radar instrument that may reveal layering hidden beneath the floor. Extra invasively, there’s a drill on the top of the rover’s robotic arm. That is used to grind clear (what geologists name “recent”) spots for evaluation, however it may possibly additionally core out small cylindrical rock samples—hopefully to be retrieved and returned to Earth by a future mission.

It isn’t all in regards to the rocks, although. Perseverance has a weather module monitoring atmospheric circumstances and airborne mud. And it has a buddy—the Ingenuity helicopter has wildly exceeded its pilot-testing aim and is still flying in brief hops to maintain up with the rover.

This mission set down in Jezero Crater, which was chosen as a result of rocks resembling a river delta are draped over its rim—indicating that flowing water might need met a lake right here prior to now. It’s the proper surroundings to check the historical past of water on Mars and the potential of life related to it. There’s solely a lot science you are able to do from orbit. To untangle the forensic clues that stay right here, you’ll want to get down on the bottom.

First cease: Crater

The primary years on Mars have been spent investigating the ground of Jezero Crater. The kind of rock that will be discovered right here was really considerably ambiguous from orbit. There was clearly some igneous rock, both from volcanic magma or a molten pool created by the meteorite affect that shaped the crater. However some additionally anticipated to see sedimentary rock representing the underside of a lake that known as the crater dwelling.

It turned out to simply be igneous basalt beneath the blanket of wind-blown mud, and any lake-bottom sediments that existed right here should have lengthy since eroded away. You may suppose that’s disappointing—just like the pharaoh’s tomb was already cleaned out by grave robbers—however that is really one of many higher seems to be we’ve gotten at Mars’ igneous bedrock. Missions have usually focused pockets of notable sedimentary rock, with solely scattered bits of the rather more frequent igneous rock on show.

The Martian meteorites we’ve discovered on Earth—chipped off the crimson planet throughout massive affect occasions—have solely given us literal fragments of the large image. If we efficiently return the eight rock samples collected from the crater ground, this chance to cruise round on intact igneous bedrock might reply numerous questions raised by the meteorites.

On this case, the science team has divided the crater ground rocks they noticed into two main layers. The higher one, known as the Máaz formation, seems to have shaped from lavas. Some parts exhibit a texture just like the wrinkled (or “rope-like”) lavas we see in Hawaii. In different areas, the rock occurs to stay up by the crimson mud as flat polygons resembling pavers in a backyard, or as taller, boulder-sized blocks.

The decrease Séítah formation is distinct in each texture and minerals. It stands out from its environment as a consequence of its skinny layering and visual, intently packed crystals. And whereas the Máaz rocks comprise numerous the mineral feldspar, Séítah’s rocks are dominated by olivine, as an alternative.

This seems to be like what geologists name “cumulate”—the magmatic equal of the gritty dregs in your espresso cup. As a result of completely different minerals crystallize at completely different temperatures (sure, molten rock has a freezing level), minerals like olivine that crystallize early can settle to the underside of a magma physique and accumulate. On Earth, this sample might be seen in magma chambers that cooled underground or in some sufficiently thick lavas.