Perseverance’s first major successes on Mars — an update from mission


Perseverance landed over a mile (roughly 2 kilometers) away from the cliffs at the front of the delta. We are both on the team in charge of the Mastcam-Z instrument, a set of cameras with zoom lenses that would allow us to see a paper clip from the opposite side of a football field. During the first few weeks of the mission, we used Mastcam–Z to survey the distant rocks. From those panoramic views, we selected specific spots to look at in more detail with the rover’s SuperCam, a telescopic camera.

When the images got back to Earth, we saw tilted layers of sediments in the lower parts of the 260-foot-tall (80 meters) cliffs. Toward the top we spotted boulders, some as large as 5 feet (1.5 meters) across.

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From the structure of these formations, our team has been able to reconstruct a geological story billions of years old, which we published in the journal Science on Oct. 7, 2021.

For a long time – potentially millions of years – a river flowed into a lake that filled Jezero Crater. This river slowly deposited the tilted layers of sediment we see in the cliffs of the delta. Later on, the river became mostly dry except for a few big flooding events. These events had enough energy to carry big rocks down the river channel and deposit them on top of the older sediment; these are the boulders we see atop the cliffs now.

Since then, the climate has been arid and winds have slowly been eroding away the rock.

Confirming that there was a lake in Jezero Crater is the first major science result of the mission. In the coming year, Perseverance will drive up to the top of the delta, studying the rock layers in microscopic detail along the way and collecting many samples. When those samples eventually make their way to Earth, we will learn if they contain signs of microbial life that may once have thrived in this ancient lake on Mars.

This story was originally published with
The Conversation. Read the original here. 

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