NASA’s most advanced robotic geologist to date has collected its first samples of fractured rock and dust from the surface of the Red Planet.
The Rover Perseverance He dug up two of what scientists call regolith samples as he continues his mission to investigate geological processes and search for anecdotal evidence that life once existed. Mars. The NASA-managed rover captured regolith samples on Dec. 2 and Tuesday (Dec. 6), adding them to its collection of 15 rock cores released from the planet’s Jezero crater (plus one sample from the atmosphere) since The spacecraft landed in February 2021.
The two new specimens differ from the rock group in Perserverance, which were excavated from the rock; The regolith samples come from a mound of windblown sand and dirt that resembles a sand dune here a landalbeit smaller.
Related: 12 stunning photos from Perseverance’s first year on Mars
Although the majority of the samples Perseverance collects during its mission will be rocky cores that could contain telltale signs of life, scientists have determined that regolith samples like this one could be key to understanding the geological processes that shaped Mars.
In addition, regolith samples can help scientists plan future space missions and mitigate challenges that astronauts may eventually face on Mars.
This is because regolith can affect a variety of equipment, from solar panels that collect energy to space suits worn by astronauts. Not only can fine rock powder and dust jam sensitive parts and even slow rovers on the surface, but large pieces of sharp rock inside the regolith can endanger astronauts by tearing holes in their surface. space suits.
“If we’re going to have a permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how dust and regolith interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” said Erin Gibbons, a doctoral student at McGill University in Canada and a member of the Perseverance team. statement. “Some of these dust grains can be as fine as cigarette smoke, and they can get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus. We want a fuller picture of what materials might be harmful to our explorers, whether they be humans or robots.”
However, it is also possible that Martian regolith is in fact an important resource for manned space missions to Mars targeting long stays and sustainability in space, as fine materials could be packed against habitats to help protect humans from the harsh solar radiation pouring back to Mars. on Mars, which is not protected by a The magnetic field is like the Earth’s.
Before anyone gets too excited about this approach, scientists need to know if the Martian regolith contains perchlorate, a toxic chemical that can pose a health hazard to astronauts if ingested or inhaled in large amounts.
Hence the interest in regolith and efforts to include the material in the collection, builds perseverance for regolith. Mars sample return mission It is being developed by NASA and the European Space Agency to bring the probe array to Earth. Here, scientists can study regolith in greater detail in laboratories with equipment more sensitive and powerful than chemical analysis tools that robots can carry to the Red Planet.
Perseverance collected regolith samples using a drill bit placed at the end of its robotic arm, as is the case for rock cores, but with a different drill bit than the one it used on previous samples.
A rigolith looks like a drill with small holes running through one end that enable the drill to collect loose material.
This drill bit was designed and tested using Martian regolith simulations developed by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. This fake Mars material consists of volcanic rock pulverized into various particle sizes, ranging from large coarse pebbles to fine dust, and is inspired by images of actual Martian regolith and data collected by previous Mars missions.
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