Images: NASA Perseverance samples aid search for ancient life on Mars
NASA's Perseverance rover has spent just under two years collecting samples and beaming images of the red planet back to Earth.
During that time, Perseverance placed several Mars rock sample tubes on the Martian surface as backup samples in case anything happened to the rover's main sample cache.
The highly-ambitious Mars Sample Return mission aims to develop the technology to collect and transport the samples back to Earth by the early 2030s.
Now, the rover has beamed back images of its path in recent months, including the positions of its 10 backup samples.
NASA shares Perseverance panorama
NASA has shared a panorama of Perseverance's travel path — including the deposited samples — made up of 368 images. The images were captured on January 31, 2023, three days after the rover completed its sample depot.
As NASA points out in a recent blog post, eight tubes are filled with Martian rock and regolith. At the same time, one is an atmospheric sample, and the other is a "witness" tube — the latter will help NASA to determine whether Earth contaminants were carried aboard Perseverance.
The sample depot is spread out across Three Forks. NASA officials sent Perseverance to that location — with help from the groundbreaking aerial scout helicopter Ingenuity — as it features an ancient river delta that fed into the Jezero Crater, which was once a massive lake.
NASA and ESA's Mars Sample return mission
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is searching for signs of ancient microbial life on the red planet. Officials have so far confirmed the rover detected organic matter on the planet. However, they emphasize the fact that these are not ancient life forms. Instead, they constitute the building blocks of life and suggest that simple life forms may have evolved on Mars billions of years ago.
The key to uncovering Mars' mysteries lies in the Mars Sample Return campaign. The mission, run by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), will develop multiple autonomous spacecraft technologies as part of what NASA calls "one of the most ambitious endeavors in spaceflight history."
Both space agencies aim to send their in-development spacecraft to Mars by 2033 at the earliest. In the meantime, Perseverance's samples will lie in wait. The secrets they reveal could completely alter our perception of humanity's place in the cosmos.
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