Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Perseverance rover begins exploration of ancient river delta on Mars

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The Perseverance rover has begun exploring one of the most exciting areas of Mars: The delta in the Jezero crater. The rover’s Delta Front Campaign began on April 18, searching the site of an ancient river delta where it can learn more about the history of water on Mars and could even find evidence of ancient microbial life if it ever existed there.

“We’ve been eyeing the delta from a distance for more than a year while we explored the crater floor,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist from Caltech, as the rover was approaching the delta. “At the end of our fast traverse, we are finally able to get close to it, obtaining images of ever-greater detail revealing where we can best explore these important rocks.”

Perseverance looks towards the Delta on Sol 419, capturing this image with its Right Navigation Camera. NASA/JPL-Caltech
After driving at top speed to reach the delta from its previous location on the crater floor, the rover can now begin its twin aims of taking science readings of the area and also drilling and collecting samples for retrieval and return to Earth by future missions.

“Perseverance will rove 130 feet (40 meters) up and over the delta, drill cores along the way, and characterize the layered sedimentary rocks that make up the delta,” Denise Buckner, a Student Collaborator on Perseverance at the University of Florida explained. “These sediments were deposited billions of years ago, when water flowed across the surface of Mars and a river drained into the ancient crater below. If Mars did host life during this time, remnants or signatures of those organisms could be preserved in some of these ancient rocks.”

This part of the rover’s mission is set to last around six months, and looking at the sedimentary layers will help researchers to understand the geological history of this particular region. In addition, when the river flowed on the surface of Mars billions of years ago, it carried with it rocks from all over the region, so collecting samples from here is like being able to look at samples from a much wider area.

Perseverance is currently heading through an area called Cannery Passage which runs between the crater floor and the delta, and the team on the ground will be analyzing images and other data to decide which path the rover should take next as it moves up the delta itself.

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