By Justin Milton
Mars 2020’s Perseverance Rover has successfully landed on Mars on February 18th. During the Rover’s descent, it took unprecedented video and audio, providing a front-row seat of what it is like to land on Mars (Video Link Here).
The Rover has also taken a high-definition panorama of it’s landing site (Video Link Here, use arrows to move around the image). This has provided NASA with more information about Jezero Crater and how treacherous Perseverance’s landing was.
Perseverance is equipped with a wide range of instruments and other things, like the small helicopter Ingenuity and MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), a device to attempt to convert carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere to oxygen. The Rover is powered by a MMRTG (Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator), which uses the heat radiating from 10.6 pounds of plutonium dioxide to generate electricity that provides a steady source of power.
NASA’s main reason for sending Perseverance to Mars is to search for signs of past life over at least the primary mission span of one Martian year (687 days). Jezero Crater is believed to have been the site of an ancient lake around 4 billion years ago. Overtime, it dried up and disappeared as Mars steadily lost its atmosphere to space. It is widely believed that the lake was long-lived, and that there may have been enough time (at least several million years) for microbial life to form in the lake.
With the rover’s sample collector, Perseverance will be able to collect samples from rocks that may contain signatures of ancient life. A future mission is planned to collect these samples and bring them back to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The other reason to send Perseverance to Mars is to prepare for future human exploration. If MOXIE is successful, it will show that oxygen can be generated for humans to breathe, which may help lead to a future human settlement and civilization on Mars. Ingenuity can prove that flying across Mars is possible, and the built-in weather station will provide valuable data on the conditions explorers will face.
All of the knowledge that this mission may provide could change the world as we know it. (At least past) extraterrestrials may not be science fiction anymore, and Mars along with astrobiology may be a much bigger topic of discussion. Only time will tell.