NASA's Perseverance rover now has seven Mars rock samples in its collection.
The car-sized robot drilled into another Martian rock and socked away the resulting core, mission team members announced via Twitter today (March 8). It's the seventh drilled sample that Perseverance has collected since touching down on the floor of the Red Planet's Jezero Crater in February 2021.
Collecting samples for future return to Earth is one of Perseverance's two main tasks, along with hunting for signs of ancient Mars life. The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past, so it's a great place to do such work, mission team members have said.
Here on Earth, river deltas are good at preserving signs of life as we know it, as well as life's basic building blocks, carbon-containing organic compounds. Perseverance team members are therefore eager to explore remnants of the Jezero delta, and they plan to do so soon.
"I plan to get one more sample here before heading on toward the ancient river delta," the rover team said in today's tweet, assuming the voice of Perseverance (as they tend to do with this account).
Perseverance spent its first (Earth) year on Mars exploring the crater floor to the south and west of its landing site, which was named after sci-fi author Octavia Butler. The rover is now heading back toward the touchdown zone, on its way to an accessible segment of the ancient delta.
The Perseverance team is planning the rover's route with the help of Ingenuity, the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter that landed with Perseverance last year. Ingenuity aced its original mission, a five-flight technology-demonstrating campaign, and is now scouting terrain for the rover on an extended mission. Ingenuity has flown 20 times on Mars to date and is still going strong.
If all goes according to plan, Perseverance will end up collecting and caching several dozen Red Planet samples. This material will be brought to Earth, perhaps as early as 2031, by a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission campaign.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.