This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is doing lots of cool things, but collecting rock samples that could be brought back to Earth is one of the coolest. The rover is now investigating a beguiling formation of layered rocks that might be connected to the red planet’s history of water.
The Perseverance team tweeted two images of Mars rocks on Thursday, saying, “Get a load of these layers! I’m getting out my abrading tool to take a look inside.” The tool is used to chip away the surface of a rock and reveal a small patch of what’s beneath. The rover can blow away the resulting dust and study the spot to help decide if the rock would be good for sampling.
Perseverance is at work in the Jezero Crater, an ancient lakebed. “Layered rocks like this often form in water, and can hold clues about what their environment used to be like,” the team said. “Let’s see if this would be another good place for sampling Mars.”
After an initial sampling attempt crumbled, the rover collected its first rock core earlier this year and safely stashed it away inside a tube. It then repeated the process, giving it two successful samples.
NASA is planning an ambitious sample return mission that would head to Mars, pick up Percy’s samples and then bring them to Earth for study.
A raw image from Wednesday shows the tools and instruments on the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm getting up close and personal with the rock layers. The turret, which NASA likens to a hand, includes a drill that can be used as an abrading tool.
Perseverance is a rolling geologist and it spends a lot of time investigating rocks, but it’s a multi-talented machine. One of its main goals is to seek out signs of ancient microbial life. Jezero Crater with its watery past is a perfect place to do this.
If the layered rock checks out, we could soon be staring into the hole left behind by Percy’s drilling activities.