Perseverance is Turning Into That Friend That’s Always Picking Up Rocks
On Thursday, March 30th, NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled and stored the first rock core sample of its newest science campaign. This is the sixteenth sample the rover has taken as part of the ambitious Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, a collaborative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to retrieve Perseverance’s samples and bring them back to Earth. Once they arrive (expected to happen by 2033), scientists will analyze them using state-of-the-art machinery too heavy and cumbersome to send to Mars as part of a robotic mission.
Collecting samples as part of the first sample-return mission from Mars is one of the main objectives of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) program. It is hoped that these samples will provide new insight into the planet’s environment and the water cycle that shaped the surface and interior of Mars. Of particular interest is how Mars evolved from a warmer, wetter environment – as it was during the Noachian Era (ca. 4.1 – 3.7 billion years ago) – to the cold and dedicated place we see today. It is theorized that life could have emerged during this period. If true, then the analysis of these core samples could provide the first evidence that life once existed on Mars (and might still be there today).
Perseverance has also collected three witness tubes, similar to sample tubes but designed to capture molecular and particulate contaminants. These tubes are opened close to sample collection sites to “witness” the ambient environment, helping scientists to characterize the location where samples are obtained. Earlier this year, the rover deposited ten tubes as a backup cache on the Martian surface for retrieval by the MSR campaign. For this latest campaign, the rover is exploring a new formation at the top of the delta formation in the Jezero Crater.
Scientists have named this formation “Berea,” which they believe formed from rock sediment carried by a stream that once flowed into the crater. This stream was responsible for forming the fan-delta, which means that the material in this formation could have come from far beyond the Jezero Crater. This is one of the reasons why the science team considers it to be so promising. But as Katie Stack Morgan, the deputy project scientist for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), related in a NASA press release, there is another reason why the spot is attractive.
“The second reason is that the rock is rich in carbonate,” she said. “Carbonate rocks on Earth can be good at preserving fossilized lifeforms. If biosignatures were present in this part of Jezero Crater, it could be a rock like this one that could very well hold their secrets.”
Carbonates are a type of sedimentary rock that forms from chemical interactions between minerals and water. The presence of these and other minerals that form in the presence of water is why the Jezero Crater and the Gale Crater (where Curiosity is currently exploring) were selected as landing sites. Essentially, these mineral deposits could provide scientists with a record of what the climate once looked like, allowing them to create a more complete geological record of Mars. Said Ken Farley, the W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry at Caltech and Perseverance’s project scientist:
“The Berea core highlights the beauty of rover missions. Perseverance’s mobility has allowed us to collect igneous samples from the relatively flat crater floor during the first campaign, and then travel to the base of the crater’s delta, where we found fine-grained sedimentary rocks deposited in a dried lakebed. Now we are sampling from a geologic location where we find coarse-grained sedimentary rocks deposited in a river. With this diversity of environments to observe and collect from, we are confident that these samples will allow us to better understand what occurred here at Jezero Crater billions of years ago.”
Now that the Berea sample has been cored and placed into the rover’s internal cache, Perseverance will move to its next drill site along the delta fan – a place the science team has named “Castell Henllys.” In addition to the 16 samples it has collected, Perseverance has also collected rock samples with its wheels. In February of 2022, the science team noticed that the rover’s left front wheel had picked up a “pet rock” and managed to hold onto it for months! The entire sample cache will be retrieved starting in 2030 with the arrival of the NASA MSR elements.
This includes the Sample Retrieval Lander, which Perseverance will deliver all the samples contained in its cache. A pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters (the same design as Ingenuity) will gather the samples the rover left on the surface. Once loaded aboard the Lander, the samples will be sent into orbit via the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and then collected by the ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO). This spacecraft will return the sample cache to Earth (by 2033 at the earliest) for analysis. The results will lead to all kinds of scientific breakthroughs and even demonstrate that life did exist on Mars billions of years ago.
Fingers crossed, the data could also help resolve where Mars’ water (and any remaining life forms) can be found today!
How to watch the Axiom-2 mission depart from the ISS on Tuesday – Digital Trends
This Tuesday, the crew of the second-ever all-private mission to the International Space Station will be returning to Earth. The Axiom 2 or Ax-2 mission launched last week and saw private astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi traveling to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Now, the crew of four will be traveling back to Earth in the same Crew Dragon, and NASA will be livestreaming the departure of the spacecraft from the station. A separate stream will also be available showing the Crew Dragon splashing down off the coast of Florida. We’ve got the details on how to watch both below.
How to watch the mission departure
Coverage of the departure of the Crew Dragon from the ISS will begin at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 30. NASA will show a short introduction before the closing of the hatch of the station’s Harmony module at 9:10 a.m. ET (6:10 a.m. PT). There will then be a short break in coverage, which will resume at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT) to show the undocking of the Dragon at 11:05 a.m. ET (8:05 a.m. PT), with coverage ending 30 minutes after undocking.
You can watch the livestream of the hatch closing and the undocking on NASA’s YouTube channel, or by using the video embedded near the top of this page.
The crew will then travel back to Earth throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, May 31. When the Crew Dragon is approaching Earth for splashdown, you’ll be able to tune into a livestream from Axiom Space. That will be available on Axiom’s website, but the company has not yet confirmed the exact time that coverage is expected to begin on Wednesday. You can find the latest updates on Axiom Twitter.
What to expect from the mission departure
The Ax-2 crew will have spent 10 days in space before heading home, and they will be bringing around 300 pounds of cargo back with them. The mission is notable for including the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as famous American astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more days in space than any other American or any other woman.
Axiom Space launched its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with a third mission planned for November this year and a fourth planned for 2024.
NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Captures ''Heart-Shaped'' Glacier On Pluto's Surface – NDTV
Space agency NASA routinely captures stunning images of our universe, leaving space lovers mesmerized. On Sunday, NASA shared a stunning image on Instagram taken by its New Horizons spacecraft showing a heart-shaped glacier on Pluto’s surface. The heart-shaped region is known unofficially as Tombaugh Regio and is made of nitrogen and methane.
The image was captioned as ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our New Horizons spacecraft captured this heart-shaped glacier. It lies on Pluto’s surface, which also features mountains, cliffs, valleys, craters, and plains, thought to be made of methane and nitrogen ice ”
See the image here:
It described the image as ”Pluto’s surface is marked with cracks and craters in shades of brown. The partially visible heart appears in the lower right of the small world, which is surrounded by black space.”
New Horizons launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, flying within 7,800 miles of its surface, and becoming the first probe to fly by Pluto and its moons. The far-traveling spacecraft also visited a distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in January 2019.
Instagram users loved the picture and shared a variety of comments. One user wrote, ”Wouahh what a great capture, thanks to New Horizon spacecraft.” Another commented, ”For me, Pluto will always be a planet.”
A third said, ”Why is Pluto, not a plane? it literally has a heart!” A fourth added, ”Being afar doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”
Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, however, it was demoted in 2006 and reclassified as a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet.
Pluto is slightly over 1,400 miles (2250 km) wide or about half the breadth of the United States or two-thirds the width of the Moon. With its average temperature of -387F (-232C) – Pluto’s surface is coated in ice made of water, methane, and nitrogen and is believed to have a rocky core and possibly a deep ocean.
This Week @NASA: Private Astronaut Mission, Autonomous Snake-Like Robot Explorer, TROPICS Launch – SciTechDaily
The second all-private astronaut mission to the space station …
Completing the set of tiny severe weather trackers …
And a robotic explorer – with a twist …
A few of the stories to tell you about – This Week at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA!
Second Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station
On May 21, a <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Axiom Mission 2, the second all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.
The four-person crew, commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, is scheduled to spend several days conducting research, outreach, and commercial activities on the space station.
Final Pair of Storm-Observing CubeSats Launched
The final two CubeSats for NASA’s TROPICS mission launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on May 26. The small satellites will join two other identical spacecraft that launched to orbit earlier this month.
All four will fly, as a constellation, in a unique low Earth orbit that will allow them to observe tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, more often than what is possible with
current weather satellites.
Autonomous Snake-Like Robotic Explorer
A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS, short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. The self-propelled, autonomous robot is
being developed to go where other robots can’t go.
Although it was inspired by a desire to look for signs of life in the sub-surface ocean on <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, EELS is not currently part of any NASA mission.
Artemis Rocket Engine Test Series Continues
On May 23, NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a hot fire test of an RS-25 rocket engine. It was the eighth hot fire of the current 12-test series to certify production of new RS-25s.
Four of the engines will help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon.
That’s what’s up this week @NASA.
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