Like perseverance rover drilled into a rock on Wednesday to collect a sample from Jezero crater on Mars, Justin Simon, a planetologist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, felt both nervous and excited. He has the honor of serving as an “example of a shepherd,” leading the effort millions of miles away, but the pressure is on. “These samples will not only allow us to understand the geology of the crater but also the minerals probably linked to the history of the water there,” he said yesterday.
But first, the rover had to capture a piece of rock in a container the size of a test tube. A first attempt in early August had go up empty. This first rock, nicknamed “Roubion”, simply collapsed to dust when the drill drilled it, and none of these pieces were introduced into the container.
Simon can now breathe a sigh of relief. The second try of Perseverance, with a different rock, seems to have succeeded in extracting a Martian core slightly thicker than a pencil.
“We had this image of a spectacular looking core, a fantastic looking cylinder, broken cleanly. It sounds geologically very interesting, something that scientists of the future will enjoy working on, ”says Ken Farley, Caltech geochemist and scientist for the Perseverance Mission Project, led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
But analyzing the new sample will take some time, as NASA scientists were unable to obtain clear photographs due to low-light conditions, making the images difficult to interpret. To add more drama for the scientists, when Perseverance performed a “percussion to ingest” procedure – shaking the sample to ensure the tube was not overfilled, which would have the effect of blocking the system when ‘it is stored – an image appeared to show an empty sample tube. (They’re pretty sure they got the sample, but they’ll try to take more images in better light over the next few days.)
Perseverance’s first attempt at drilling, which essentially pulverized the sample, was not a complete failure, as it provided evidence to suggest that the rock had been weathered, worn away by a river flowing into the lake’s crater. billions of years ago. “It was always possible that this lake was a transient event, like maybe a comet, rich in water, hit Mars and create lakes, then it evaporated or froze in a few decades. But that wouldn’t produce the alteration that we see, ”Farley said in an interview earlier this week.
As this rock was too powdery, the scientists then piloted the rover to a new area, looking for another type of rock to sample, using the Ingenuity helicopter to illuminate ahead. Perseverance shifted slightly to the west, where on a ridge line the researchers found a larger, boulder-like boulder, which they nicknamed “Rochette” and which seemed less likely to disintegrate when the rover was deploying its tools on it. “It looks like a rock that, if you could throw it, would crash into the ground. A good, healthy rock, ”said Farley.
Before each sampling attempt, Persévérance performs a reconnaissance by taking a bunch of photos of a candidate rock. Last weekend he also performed an abrasion test to see if Rochette was durable enough to sample. The rover is equipped with a rotary hammer drill (with additional bits) that turns and hammers rock. This tool helps remove dust and chips through the weathered outer layer. The abrasion was a spectacular success, according to Farley, so the scientists decided to take a sample. Perseverance extended its 7-foot-long robotic arm, turned on the drill, and carefully extracted a core. Then he rotated the “hand” of the arm so that the sample tube could be inspected.