This and other strange rocks on Mars have shocked scientists from the Perseverance rover

These amazing photos will certainly not be the last the Perseverance rover will take on Mars.

NASA's Perseverance rover has landed in rich scientific hunting ground, if your first good look is any guide.


The car-sized Perseverance landed on the floor of Jezero Crater on February 18, kicking off an ambitious surface mission that will search for signs of ancient life on Mars and collect samples for its future return to Earth. among other tasks.


Perseverance is not yet ready to dive into that scientific work; the mission team is still conducting health and condition checks on its various instruments and subsystems. But the six-wheeled robot recently used its Mastcam-Z camera suite to capture a high-definition 360-degree panorama of its surroundings, and that first achievement has the mission team intrigued.


For example, the zoomable panorama revealed a dark stone that the team has dubbed "Harbor Seal Rock," said Mastcam-Z principal investigator Jim Bell of the Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration. , during a webcast discussion about the photo on Thursday. (February 25).


The Martian wind likely carved Harbor Seal Rock in its curious shape over the eons, Bell said.


This rock called "Harbor Seal Rock" carved by the wind, seen in the first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, shows how much detail the camera system captures. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / ASU


He also pointed to patches showing evidence of much faster-acting erosion, points where thrusters on the descent stage of Perseverance's "sky crane" blew away the red dust blanket of Mars on February 18, exposing the surfaces of small rocks.


One of those patches is home to a group of light-colored, highly pitted stones that have caught the attention of mission scientists.


Bell said:

"Are these volcanic rocks? Are these rocks carbonate? Are they something else? Do they have coatings? We don't know, we don't have any chemical or mineral data on them yet, but, wow, they're certainly interesting, and part of the story about what's going on here will be told when we get more detailed information on these rocks and some of the other materials in this area".


This is one of the key jobs by Mastcam-Z and Perseverance's other cameras, Bell said, to detect interesting features that Perseverance can study in more detail with its spectrometers and other scientific instruments.


The recently released photo is just the beginning, of course. For starters, it's the lower resolution panorama that the Mastcam-Z team will build. Bell said similar shots that are three times sharper will be assembled after Perseverance switches to its optimized surface software, a four-day process that is already underway.


And we haven't had the slightest taste of Perseverance's scientific discoveries yet. That work will take a while to get started, because the mission team's first big task after putting the rover into operation is to conduct test flights of the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity (1.8 kilograms), which traveled to the Red Planet in the belly of Perseverance.


Ingenuity's groundbreaking departures, the first helicopter flights in a world beyond Earth, will likely take place this spring, with science and sampling expected to begin in earnest in the summer, mission team members said.


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