NASA's Perseverance rover keeps dropping early Christmas presents on Mars.
On Friday (Dec. 23), NASA announced that Perseverance successfully dropped its second rock sample tube on the Martian surface. And while it's not the first Mars sample Perseverance has dropped for a potential future mission to bring to Earth in 2033, it certainly is the biggest.
"My second sample drop is looking good!" NASA's Perseverance rover team wrote in a Twitter update (opens in new tab) Friday. "This tube holds a piece of sedimentary rock from the edge of the ancient river delta here — the longest rock core I've taken to date."
The longest rock core collected by Perseverance is a sample called "Mageik," which the rover drilled out of the rock "Amalik" this fall from the "Enchanted Lake" region of ancient delta in its Jezero Crater landing site.
"The tube itself is about the size of a marker, and I measured the rock core sample inside at 7.36 cm (about 2.9 inches)," NASA wrote as Perseverance on Twitter (opens in new tab). Perseverance dropped its first sample tube at a nearby spot on Wednesday (Dec. 21).
Perseverance is dropping 10 sealed tubes containing Mars rock samples, which resemble miniature lightsabers from Star Wars, for potential collection by a future Mars Sample Return mission. That mission and an orbiter could launch to Mars by 2028 and return the sample tubes to Earth five years later. If all goes according to plan, Perseverance or two small helicopters will deliver Mars samples to a lander that would then launch them into space so that a waiting orbiter can collect them for the trip back to Earth.
The samples Perseverance is dropping are backups. The rover collected twin samples at each drill site, storing one inside its body while dropping the other in case a backup is needed. Perseverance is expected to deliver the ones it carries to the waiting lander if the nuclear-powered lasts long enough to reach the Mars Sample Return lander at the end of the decade.
NASA's Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021. It's primary mission will last two years, but NASA hopes the rover could live much longer. Its predecessor, the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary on Mars in August.