In a recent breakthrough by NASA, ten sample tubes, each containing a unique piece of Martian geology, have been left on the Red Planet’s surface in anticipation of further investigation here on Earth.
On December 21, 2022, NASA’s Perseverance rover placed the first-ever titanium tube containing an extraterrestrial rock sample on the Red Planet. In less than six weeks, they successfully dropped the 10th and final tube planned for the depot. It was received at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California around 8 PM EST (5 PM PST) Sunday, January 29, by mission controllers.
To ensure future retrieval of Martian samples, NASA and the ESA collaborated to plan an ambitious mission for precise recovery. Through accurate navigation techniques, their Mars Sample Return campaign is set to redefine our understanding of the Red Planet by bringing its secrets back home with us.
“Three Forks” region of Jezero Crater
The rover has been diligently gathering a selection of samples from the most scientifically significant rocks in Jezero Crater.
Every collected pair is stored inside two locations, with one set kept aboard Perseverance and the other at an orderly depot within “Three Forks.” These carefully accumulated specimens will serve as important backups for future sample launches to be part of this pioneering mission.
Scientists aboard the Mars mission believe that by studying igneous and sedimentary rock cores in the Jezero crater, they can gain a fascinating insight into how our planet formed billions of years ago!
In addition to collecting samples from within the crater, a witness tube was left behind – giving them an opportunity to determine whether or not their specimens are tainted with materials originating here on Earth.
Deposited in a zig-zag pattern
The titanium tubes comprising Martian geology were deposited on the Red Planet’s surface in an intricate zig-zag pattern. To ensure that these samples can be safely recovered and studied on Earth, they were constructed around 15 to 50 feet and placed apart from one other.
The team painstakingly created a depot in the shadow of an ancient river delta and formed precise maps to guide them through this trying 7-inch-long adventure. Buried beneath layers of dust, they searched for every tube and glove combination until finally finishing their mission on flat ground near the base.
Rick Welch, Perseverance’s deputy project manager at JPL, stated that the now ten samples have been deposited in Three Forks; NASA Perseverance is now headed up to study the delta.
They are planning to retrace the steps up the ‘Hawksbill Gap‘ as they set off to explore new realms.
As soon as they pass by ‘Rocky Top,’ an exciting adventure awaits beyond – the Delta Top.
Delta Top – new science Innovation on its way
After scaling the rocks of Rocky Top, the rover completed its mission at Delta Front and joyfully embarked on a new journey to explore the wonders of Delta Top. This remarkable transition marks an exciting step for future scientific discovery!
Ken Farley, the Perseverance project scientist at Caltech, said that until recently, they have found that from the base of the delta where Rocky Top is located, the rocks seem to have been deposited in the lake environment.
Furthermore, the rocks above Rocky Top seem like they have been at or at the end of a Martian river flowing into the lake.
The rover is venturing forth on an exciting new science campaign, kicking off with a visit to the fascinating “Curvilinear Unit.”
This Martian sandbar formed ages ago when sediment was deposited in one of Jezero Crater’s river channels as it bent and curved. The science team expects some spectacular findings here, hunting for natural outcroppings made from both sandstone and mudstone – giving us insight into the geology that lies outside these crater walls.
The objective of NASA’s Perseverance Mars mission
The main motive behind the mission on the Red Planet is astrobiology. Simply put, to catch the samples that might constrain signs of ancient microbial life on Mars.
The rover would be the first-ever mission to cache and collect Martian regolith and rock. It is all set to explore whether humans can survive on the Red Planet or if there are any signs of life.
In cooperation with ESA, NSA would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these ten titanium tubes and return them back to Earth for in-depth analysis.