The first major successes of Perseverance on Mars – an update from the mission scientists
Perseverance landed more than a mile (approximately 2 kilometers) from the cliffs at the front of the delta. We are both part of the team in charge of Mastcam-Z instrument, a set of cameras with zoom lenses that would allow us to see a paperclip across a football field. During the first few weeks of the mission, we used Mastcam-Z to examine distant rocks. From these panoramic views, we have selected specific places to look at in more detail with the rover. SuperCam, a telescopic camera.
When the images returned to Earth, we saw sloping layers of sediment in the lower parts of the 260-foot-high (80-meter) cliffs. Towards the top we spotted some rocks, some up to 1.5 meters in diameter.
From the structure of these formations, our team was able to reconstruct a geological history dating back several billion years, which we published in the journal Science on October 7, 2021.
For a long time – potentially millions of years – a river flowed into a lake that filled the Jezero crater. This river has slowly deposited the tilted layers of sediment that we see in the cliffs of the delta. The river later became mostly dry except for a few large floods. These events had enough energy to transport large rocks through the river channel and deposit them on the older sediments; these are the rocks that we see on top of the cliffs now.
Since then, the climate has been arid and the winds are slowly eroding the rock.
Confirming that there was a lake in the Jezero crater is the mission’s first major scientific result. In the coming year, Perseverance will travel to the top of the delta, studying the rock layers in detail along the way and collecting numerous samples. When those samples eventually arrive on Earth, we’ll know if they contain any signs of microbial life that might once have thrived in this ancient lake on Mars.
This story was originally published with The conversation. Read the original here.