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Perseverance will explore history of ancient lake

Science

Last week, NASA's $2.7 billion Perseverance rover made a picture-perfect landing on the floor of Mars's Jezero crater, which scientists believe was filled to the brim with water 3.8 billion years ago. Two kilometers away looms the rover's primary target: a fossilized river delta, created as muddy water spilled into the crater—ideal for preserving signs of life. But before Perseverance starts the long climb up into the delta, to drill samples that will eventually be returned to Earth, it will examine the rocks beneath its six aluminum wheels. The rover landed near outcrops of rock layers that may have originally been laid down before and after the lake and the delta. The NASA team will probe them for clues to the nature and timing of the brief period when water flowed—and life might have flourished. Even the first images returned to Earth, grainy and taken from the underneath the rover, left the team elated, says Katie Stack Morgan, the mission's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “We have enough for the scientists to really sink their teeth into.” The rover's arrival at Mars was filled with nail-biting drama, even as the precise, autonomous descent unfolded like clockwork. After the spacecraft plunged by parachute through the thin air, a rocket-propelled hovercraft took over, seeking a boulder-free spot before lowering the rover from nylon cords. The final moments, captured in breathtaking detail by cameras below the hovercraft, show the rover landing in a cloud of dust. “We did have a pretty clean run,” says Allen Chen, head of the rover's landing team at JPL, in a dry understatement. “It did what it had to do.” The touchdown marks NASA's ninth successful landing on the martian surface out of 10 tries. ![Figure][1] GRAPHIC: C. BICKEL/ SCIENCE After 3 days, the rover had executed 5000 commands and scientific instruments were certifying their health, says Jessica Samuels, an engineer and mission manager at JPL. “Everything is coming back exactly how we want it to.” The rover raised its camera mast 2 meters above the surface to capture a panorama of its surroundings. After several days updating software, the team plans to wiggle the rover's wheels and conduct a short test drive. The rover will also extend its five-jointed, 2-meter-long robotic arm, which carries the rover's coring drill and several more cameras, and put it through some calisthenics. A second robotic arm, designed to manipulate a cache of dust and rock samples inside the rover, will be run through its paces. Stored in 43 ultraclean tubes, those samples represent the start of a multibillion-dollar, multinational effort to collect martian rocks and return them for analysis on Earth; two follow-up missions to retrieve the samples are planned for later this decade ( Science , 22 November 2019, p. [932][2]). Within its first 2 years, the rover is expected to fill nearly half the tubes on its trek of more than 10 kilometers to the crater's rim. The rest will be filled in an extended mission, as the rover trundles beyond the crater to ancient highlands thought to have once held geothermal springs. Perseverance's primary mission is to search for evidence of past life, captured in the delta mudstones and other rocks likely to preserve organic molecules—or even fossilized life. But interpreting this evidence will also require a better understanding of Mars's climatic past, from clues that can be collected right away by the rover. The first opportunity to drill a sample could come within a few months, on the flat, pebble-strewn terrain where Perseverance landed. Some scientists believe these rocks are from an ancient lava flow that erupted long after the lake disappeared, arguing that they look the way Hawaiian flows might if bombarded by meteorites and whipped by winds for several billion years. But when Perseverance's predecessor, the Curiosity rover, explored similar rocks in Gale crater and its ancient lake, most of what scientists had thought were lava fields turned out to be sedimentary rocks: ground up volcanic bits ferried by water and deposited in layers, presumably in the vanished lake. The early pictures from Perseverance are difficult to interpret: Rocks riddled with holes could be pumice, porous from gas escaping from cooling lava, or they could be sedimentary rocks, perforated over time by water. Bigger boulders in the distance look like ancient volcanic rocks: dark and coated by a light-colored dust. Fortunately, Perseverance's scientific instruments are designed to pin down the rocks' origin. Cameras on the mast could spy distinctive angular striped layers, called cross-bedding, that only form when deposited as sediments. A camera mounted on the end of the rover's robotic arm for microscopic views could capture the grain of minerals: Sedimentary rocks, for example, are typically rounded by their watery travels. Two other instruments on the arm will fire x-rays and ultraviolet laser light at rock samples, provoking reactions that could reveal chemical fingerprints of volcanic or sedimentary rocks. It's a crucial distinction. If the rocks are volcanic—either lava deposits or, more likely, ash from a distant eruption—they'll contain trace radioactive elements that decay at a certain rate, so when samples are returned to Earth, lab scientists could date the eruption and put a bound on the age of the lake. Any date will also help pin down the highly uncertain overall martian timeline, currently dated by counting the number of craters on a given terrain. (Older surfaces are pocked with more craters.) Sampling such a volcanic rock would “provide a critical anchor to the timing of events we are looking at,” says Ken Farley, the mission's project scientist and a geologist at the California Institute of Technology. The rover's initial path is likely to cross another intriguing target just 250 meters away on the crater floor: outcrops that, from orbit, appear rich in both olivine, a volcanic mineral, and carbonates, which can form when olivine is exposed to water and carbon dioxide. If this layer is volcanic ash from an eruption that preceded the Jezero lake, radioactive dates from it and the potential volcanic layer deposited on the lakebed should bracket the lake's existence in time. Moreover, isotopes of oxygen in the carbonates could reveal the temperature of the water that formed the mineral; balmy water would suggest Mars was once warm and wet for millions of years at a time, whereas water near freezing would argue for sporadic bursts of warmth. The carbonate might even contain gas bubbles—samples of the ancient martian atmosphere, which could allow scientists to see whether it held methane or other greenhouse gases that would have warmed early Mars. “That obviously would be game changing,” says Timothy Goudge, a planetary scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, who led the team that made the case for Jezero as a landing site. There will be no drilling at the landing site itself. But there will be flying. After the monthlong commissioning phase is over, the team will find a nearby, flat spot to loose the 1.8-kilogram Ingenuity helicopter, which survived the landing attached to the rover's belly. With a fuselage the size of a tissue box, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, a bid to fly a rotor-powered vehicle on another planet for the first time. After being dropped to the surface, the helicopter will furiously spin its rotors to ascend 3 meters in the air for 20 seconds. Four additional, higher flights could follow, over a total of 30 days, says MiMi Aung, Ingenuity's project manager at JPL. On later flights the helicopter could collect reconnaissance images for terrain off the rover's main path. “It will be truly a Wright brothers moment,” Aung says, “but on another planet.” [1]: pending:yes [2]: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/366/6468/932


DSC Weekly Digest 22 Feb 2021

#artificialintelligence

We here at Data Science Central (DSC) rely upon you, our readers, for our content, which means typically that we have very little control over what stories actually come in. Surprisingly, perhaps, we do periodically get posts that all seem to cluster in a theme. This actually shouldn't be all that unusual - with an audience of forward-looking thinkers and writers all looking for the next big thing (NBT), it should be no surprise that the next big thing tends to come clustered. One big thing that showed up this week was Robotic Process Automation, also known in TLA (three-letter acronym) circles as RPA. The name is a little misleading: The robotic in this case refers to software agents that can be trained, via machine learning algorithms, to do specific tasks repetitively.


Mars rover Perseverance's high-tech mission to the red planet – TechCrunch

#artificialintelligence

Update: Perseverance is safe on the surface of Mars! The headline has been updated to reflect the news. There will be one more robot on Mars tomorrow afternoon. The Perseverance rover will touch down just before 1:00 PM Pacific, beginning a major new expedition to the planet and kicking off a number of experiments -- from a search for traces of life to the long-awaited Martian helicopter. Here's what you can expect from Perseverance tomorrow and over the next few years.


Perseverance's Eyes See a Different Mars

WIRED

The seven minutes of terror are over. The parachute deployed; the skycrane rockets fired. Perseverance, a rover built by humans to do science 128 million miles away, is wheels-down on Mars. Percy has now opened its many eyes and taken a look around. The rover is studded with a couple dozen cameras--25, if you count the two on the drone helicopter. Most of them help the vehicle drive safely.


The first helicopter on Mars phones home and confirms it is operating as expected

Daily Mail - Science & tech

The helicopter sent to Mars by NASA to explore the Red Planet from the sky has'phoned home' and is working great, according to the space agency. Named Ingenuity, it rode to Mars strapped to the belly of the car-sized Perseverance rover that will trundle along the Jezero crater in search of ancient alien life. NASA mission control in Southern California received the first status report from Ingenuity late on Friday via the space-based Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Ingenuity will remain attached the belly of Perseverance for between 30 and 60 days before it detaches and makes its maiden flight - assuming it survives the brutal average -90C overnight temperatures found on the Red Planet. NASA shared an exciting image shot by the sky crane that shows Perseverance, nicknamed Perky, slung beneath and attached to mechanical bridals – moments before making landfall. The downlink confirmed that the helicopter, and an electrical box on the rover that routes and stores communications with Earth, were both performing as expected.


NASA releases new images of Perseverance, surface of Mars

FOX News

Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what's clicking on Foxnews.com. NASA's Perseverance team has already begun its work from Mars' surface and released incredible images on Friday taken from the rover. In a news conference, experts said they could only hope the photographs from their mission might be able to contribute to already iconic images from years of space exploration. "And, I'm happy to say that I'm hopeful that we can contribute with this," NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars 2020 Chief Engineer Adam Steltzner stated. In the first image revealed, Perseverance is shown approaching its landing site in Mars' Jezero Crater and hanging just 6.5 feet over the ground.


NASA shares photos from Perseverance's descent to Mars

Engadget

The image you see above was taken just moments before NASA's Perseverance rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars, and it's just the first of many high-resolution photos to come. NASA pulled the image from a video of the rover's descent that is in the process of being transmitted to Earth. "This shot from a camera on my'jetpack' captures me in midair, just before my wheels touched down," the rover's official Twitter account said. NASA's Curiosity rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught Perseverance's trip to the surface as well. Every picture tells a story.


Perseverance rover is in 'great shape', says NASA after $2.2billion rover LANDS successfully

Daily Mail - Science & tech

NASA says its Perseverance rover is in'great shape' after successfully landing on the surface of Mars last night after a 239 million-mile journey. The landmark landing shortly before 4pm ET (9pm GMT) was watched live by millions as NASA live streamed the process to millions of eager viewers. The $2.2billion car-sized rover guided itself to a patch of smooth terrain in Jezero, a 28-mile wide and 820ft-deep crater which was home to a Martian lake 3.5 billion years ago. Perseverance, nicknamed Percy, survived the dreaded'seven minutes of terror' which saw it endure temperatures in excess of 2,000 F as it entered the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000mph. Perseverance beamed back its first image of the crater moments after NASA established radio contact with the rover, leading to raucous applause and joyous scenes at NASA's Californian mission control. Flight controller Swati Mohan announced to relieved colleagues: 'Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life.' 'The good news is the spacecraft, I think, is in great shape,' said Matt Wallace, Deputy Project Manager of Mars 2020. Perseverance will spend the next two Earth years scouring for signs of life in the crater and will perform a host of experiments.


NASA's astrobiology rover Perseverance makes historic Mars landing

The Japan Times

Los Angeles – NASA's science rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another planet, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday and landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, its first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. Mission managers at the U.S. space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause, cheers and fist-bumps as radio beacons signaled that the six-wheeled rover had survived its perilous descent and arrived within its target zone inside Jezero Crater, site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed. "Touchdown confirmed," Swati Mohan, the lead guidance and operations specialist announced from the control room. The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293 million miles (472 million km) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km per hour) to begin its descent to the planet's surface. Moments after touchdown, Perseverance beamed back its first black-and-white images from the Martian surface, one of them showing the rover's shadow cast on the desolate, rocky landing site.


NASA Lands Perseverance Rover Safely on Mars

WSJ.com: WSJD - Technology

Now the search for life on Mars begins in earnest. After a seven-month, 292-million-mile journey, NASA's fastest and best-equipped rover ever--Perseverance--touched down safely Thursday on the red planet, NASA officials said. The $2.7 billion rover landed in an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater at about 3:55 p.m. EST on Thursday, the jubilant officials said. The two-year Perseverance mission is the latest and most ambitious effort by NASA to find evidence of past life on Mars. The 1-ton, SUV-size rover will spend the next two years prospecting for evidence of ancient microbes.