On February 18, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission arrived on the crimson planet and efficiently landed the Perseverance Rover on the floor. Jim Bell is a professor within the Faculty of Earth and Area Exploration at Arizona State College and has labored on quite a lot of Mars missions. He is the first investigator main a staff in command of one of many digicam techniques on Perseverance. The Dialog spoke with him in late January for its new podcast, The Conversation Weekly. These excerpts from the dialog have been edited for size and readability.
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What’s the aim of this mission?
What we’re searching for is proof of previous life, both direct chemical or natural indicators within the composition and the chemistry of rocks, or textural proof within the rock file. The surroundings of Mars is extraordinarily harsh in contrast to the Earth, so we’re not likely searching for proof of present life. Except one thing really will get up and walks in entrance of the cameras, we’re actually not going to find that.
The place is the Perseverance Rover touchdown to search for historical life?
There was a three- or four-year course of that concerned your entire world neighborhood of Mars and planetary science researchers to determine the place to ship this rover. We selected a crater called Jezero. Jezero has an attractive river delta in it, preserved from an historical river that flowed down into that crater and deposited sediments. This is sort of just like the delta on the finish of the Mississippi River in Louisiana which is depositing sediments very gently into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Earth, this shallow water is a really mild surroundings the place natural molecules and fossils can really be gently buried and preserved in very fine-grained mudstones. If a Martian delta operates the identical method, then it’s a fantastic surroundings for preserving proof of issues that had been flowing in that water that got here from the traditional highlands above the crater.
There’s numerous issues we don’t know, however there was liquid water there. There have been warmth sources—there have been lively volcanoes 2, 3, 4 billion years in the past on Mars—and there are influence craters from asteroids and comets dumping numerous warmth into the bottom in addition to natural molecules. It’s a really quick record of locations within the photo voltaic system that meet these constraints, and Jezero is a type of locations. It’s among the finest locations that we expect to go to do that seek for life.
What scientific instruments is Perseverance carrying?
The Perseverance Rover seems loads like Curiosity on the surface as a result of it’s created from one thing like 90% spare elements from Curiosity—that’s how NASA might afford this mission. Curiosity has a pair of cameras—one wide-angle, one telephoto.
In Perseverance, we’re sending comparable cameras, however with zoom expertise so we are able to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto with each cameras—the “Z” in Mastcam-Z stands for zoom. This enables us to get nice stereo photographs. Identical to our left eye and our proper eye construct a three-dimensional picture in our mind, the zoom cameras on Perseverance are a left eye and a proper eye. With this, we are able to construct a three-dimensional picture again on Earth after we get these photographs.
3D photographs permit us to do an entire vary of issues scientifically. We would like to perceive the topography of Mars in way more element than we’ve been in a position to up to now. We would like to put the items of the delta geology story collectively not simply with two-dimensional, spatial info, however with peak in addition to texture. And we wish to make 3D maps of the touchdown website.
Our engineering and driving colleagues actually need that info too. These 3D photographs will assist them determine the place to drive by serving to to establish obstacles and slopes and trenches and rocks and stuff like that, permitting them to drive the rover a lot deeper into locations than they might have been in a position to in any other case.
And at last, we’re going to make actually cool 3D views of our touchdown website to share with the general public, together with motion pictures and flyovers.
What else is completely different about this mission?
Perseverance is meant to be the primary a part of a robotic sample-return mission from Mars. So as an alternative of simply drilling into the floor just like the Curiosity Rover does, Perseverance will drill and core into the floor and cache those little cores into tubes concerning the dimension of a dry-erase marker. It’ll then put these tubes onto the floor for a future mission later this decade to choose up after which carry again to the Earth.
Perseverance gained’t come again to the Earth, however the plan is to carry the samples that we gather again.
Within the meantime, we’ll be doing all the science that any nice rover mission would do. We’re going to characterize the location, discover the geology, and measure the atmospheric and climate properties.
How will you get these samples again to Earth?
This is the place it will get rather less sure, as a result of these are all concepts and missions within the works. NASA and the European Area Company are collaborating on an idea to construct and launch a lander that can ship a bit fetch rover that goes and will get the little tubes, picks them up, and brings them again to the lander. Ready on the lander could be a small rocket referred to as a Mars Ascent Vehicle, or MAV. As soon as the samples are loaded into the MAV, it launches them into Mars orbit.
You then’ve received this grapefruit- to soccer-ball-sized canister up there, and NASA and the Europeans are collaborating on an orbiter that can seek for that canister, seize it, after which rocket it again to the Earth, the place it will land within the Utah desert. What might probably go incorrect?
If profitable, that’ll be the primary time we’ve achieved that from Mars. The scientific instruments on the rovers are good, however nothing just like the labs again on Earth. Bringing these samples again is going to be completely vital to getting essentially the most out of the samples.
This is an up to date model of an article initially printed on February 4. The editor’s observe was up to date to mirror the profitable touchdown of the Perseverance Rover on Mars.