Life for Perseverance, the brave rover currently roaming the Red Planet some 132 million miles from Earth, is pretty lonely. From the desolate, dusty landscape of Jezero Crater to the gusty Martian winds, life on Mars is not for the faint of heart – or at least, for the extroverts. So, despite being a robot on a scientific research mission, researchers from NASA’s Perseverance mission team were recently surprised to discover that Perseverance had accidentally adopted a pet stone.
It’s unclear whether Perseverance chose the boulder or the boulder chose Perseverance, but scientists say the boulder found a comfortable home on the rover’s left front wheel, at which point it began to settle there. to hang up. According to a NASA press release on the rock, the rock has been there since early February and has traveled more than 5.3 miles around Mars; Perseverance itself has traveled a total of 7.3 miles since landing on Mars in February 2021. Luckily the boulder did no damage to Perseverance, although it certainly lived up to its owner because he persists in hanging on to the rover after so many miles.
Rock stuck in Perseverance rover shoe (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This isn’t the first time a rover has adopted a rock – or rather, a rock has chosen a rover. Nearly 18 years ago, a rock the size of a potato snagged on the right wheel of the Spirit rover, which operated on the surface of Mars from 2004 to 2010. Mission operators said eventually had to dislodge the intruder from a distance. The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, periodically saw rocks lodge in its right front wheel. However, scientists say these types of rover-rock relationships typically only last a few weeks, not months.
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Since landing on Mars in February 2021, Perseverance has racked up an impressive list of firsts. For example, the combined rover mission marked the first time a helicopter flew on another planet. Perseverance has also successfully extracted oxygen from the Red Planet’s carbon dioxide atmosphere, a method that could one day be used to deliver oxygen to astronauts on Mars. And perhaps most importantly, Perseverance has successfully collected and stored soil and rock samples that will eventually become the first Martian rocks to return to Earth for scientific study. And it has now also had a pet rock for the longest period of time of any rover – almost four months and counting. Is there anything persistence can’t do?
In other Perseverance news, an article published in Science Advances details Perseverance’s sightings of hundreds of dust devils and its famous video of gusts of wind kicking up a huge cloud of Martian dust. Scientists say Perseverance’s observations of these weather phenomena, which were made during the first 216 Martian days of its adventure, could help predict dust storms on Mars in the future.
Related: Mars’ weird geology vexes scientists
“Jezero Crater could be one of the most active sources of dust on the planet,” Manuel de la Torre Juarez, assistant principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a press release. “Anything new we learn about dust will be useful for future missions.”
The study authors found that at least four vortices pass through Perseverance on a typical Martian day, making the resilience of Perseverance’s rock friend all the more remarkable and impressive.
Is the end of the rock’s journey in sight? Scientists suspect that the rock could fall during a future ascent from the crater rim due to gravity. And if so, he will land in an area with very different rocks from him. As University of Hawaii at Mānoa collaborating student Eleni Ravanis explained in the rock press release, a future Mars geologist would be puzzled by the rock’s location.
“So: if you’re a Martian geologist from the future reading this, perhaps a Martian graduate student tasked with mapping the historic Jezero Crater site: pay attention,” Ravanis wrote. “If you’ve found a rock that looks out of place, you may be looking at the ancient rock of Perseverance.”
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