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Sunday, June 16, 2024

A Year of Surprises and Discoveries on the Red Planet

After a 290-million-mile, seven-month trip from Earth, NASA’s Perseverance rover was on the verge of colliding with Mars when we last spoke.

During a pass through the Martian atmosphere on Feb. 18, 2011, the spacecraft carrying the rover travelled at a speed of 13,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft had to complete a sequence of manoeuvres to gently land Perseverance on the moon’s surface in within seven minutes, which NASA engineers refer to as “the seven minutes of horror.”

People at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were only spectators on that particular day due of the minutes it took radio transmissions to transverse the solar system. If anything had gone wrong, they would not have had enough time to try to correct it, and the $2.7 billion mission, which was designed to look for evidence that something previously existed on Mars, would have ended up in a freshly carved crater on the surface of the planet.

Perseverance, on the other hand, succeeded flawlessly, bringing home exciting video footage as soon as it touched down. In addition, NASA has added to its collection of robots that are investigating the planet Mars.

Twelve months later, Perseverance is nestled inside a crater with a diameter of 28 miles that is known as Jezero. From the geography, it can be deduced that more than three billion years ago, Jezero was a body of water around the size of Lake Tahoe, with rivers coming in from the west and out to the east, similar to today’s Lake Tahoe.

When Perseverance was established, one of the first things it did was send out Ingenuity, a tiny robotic helicopter that was the first of its kind to take flight from another planet. A mechanism for creating oxygen was also shown by Perseverance, which will be critical when humans ultimately reach Mars in the near future.

As the mission crew prepares to depart for the primary scientific event, which will take place near the west rim of Jezero, they have been analysing the crater floor for some months already.

Assuming there was ever any ancient life on Mars, scientists anticipate to find it in the sedimentary rocks that are most likely to reveal groundbreaking findings, as well as indications of past Martian life — if there was ever any ancient life on Mars.

Such sediments have the ability to absorb and store carbon-based compounds that are linked with life on the Earth’s surface. “That’s a fantastic spot to hunt for organic carbon,” Dr. Williams remarked of the location. “Hopefully, organic carbon that is native to Mars is concentrated in those strata,” says the researcher.

Data demonstrate that what orbital photos suggested was a river delta is really a river delta and that the history of water in this area has been complicated. Several periods of intense flooding occurred at Jezero, as shown by the stones, which were probably definitely transported from the neighbouring hills.

While the scientists and engineers debated whether or not to loop around to the north or south, the team that developed a robotic helicopter dubbed Ingenuity had the opportunity to put their product through its paces and test it.

Perseverance’s equipment for studying the composition of Martian rocks are capable of taking precise measurements on pieces of rock as tiny as a grain of sand. In addition, cameras mounted on the robotic arm are capable of taking close-up photographs.

Huge grains of olivine, an igneous material that may gather at the bottom of a large lava flow, were discovered as a result of these observations. Later on, cracks appeared between the olivine grains, which were filled with carbonates, a mineral that formed as a result of interactions with water and other elements.

A Boyle
A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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