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NASA Perseverance Rover Flexes Robotic Arm for Science

While NASA's Ingenuity helicopter seems to be in the spotlight these days, it's important to remember that Perseverance isn't there only to take pictures and document its little buddy's historic flights. The rover has also been hard at work with focusing its science instruments on exploring an ancient crater that once held a lake on Mars.
Perseverance's Mastcam-Z Views Santa Cruz on Mars 1 photo
On the end of Perseverance's robotic arm is a color camera attached called WATSON, with which the rover has taken detailed pictures of the rocks that lay on the floor of the Jezero Crater. With the Mastcam-Z imager on top of its "head," which consists of two zoomable cameras, it was able to survey the terrain.

A laser instrument called SuperCam has also been used to zap some of the rocks to study their chemistry. These instruments enable scientists to learn more about Jezero Crater and focus on specific areas that they want to investigate further.

Researchers are trying to piece together a timeline of when an ancient lake formed in the crater dried up, and when sediment started to pile up. It is essential for scientists to understand this timeline because it would help them date rock samples that might contain ancient microbes.

Every type of rock is different. For example, the sedimentary rocks formed in the presence of water sand, silt, and clay would better preserve signs of past life (biosignatures). On the other hand, rocks formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava have a more precise geological clock that allows scientists to establish an accurate timeline of how a region was born.

To gather the data past millennia's worth of dust, Perseverance would flex its robotic arms to grind and flatten a rock's surface, revealing its internal structure. The rover will then use instruments located on its arm called Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and Scanning for Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) – that's a bit of a mouthful.

Together, these tools use cameras, spectrometers, and a laser to look for signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet. Perseverance's primary mission is to study the planet's geology and climate, including searching for signs of ancient microbial life. Its work and the data gathered will pave the way for future human exploration on Mars.

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