NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is heading back to an enchanting outcrop of sedimentary rocks the spacecraft first visited back in April.
The team behind the Perseverance rover has recently been carrying out exploration and sampling at "Wildcat Ridge" within Jezero crater, but are now preparing to return to a spot nicknamed "Enchanted Lake." This outcrop formed into thin layers of Martian rock over time as mud, silt and sand in Jerezo Crater solidified. It is of great interest to the Perseverance team, who assess that the formation could be one of the mission's best opportunities to collect rocks that could contain remnants of any ancient microbial life that might once have existed on the Red Planet.
Perseverance is expected to arrive back at the fan-shaped rocks — informally named after a landmark in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve — in early September. By that time, the rover team hopes to have wrapped up work checking to make sure Perseverance's sampling system is clear of any debris.
Exciting as the potential findings at Enchanted Lake could be, there will be a long wait for definitive results. Any determination of what Perseverance discovers in the rock will have to wait until the samples are delivered to Earth for examination in the early 2030s by the NASA-ESA Mars sample return campaign.
Meanwhile, sampling on Mars has also thrown up an issue recently and the team wants to understand the situation before setting of on its travels to Enchanted Lake.
Perseverance has collected four sets of samples in recent weeks. But the last coring activity on Aug. 3 led led to discovery of debris in the sampling system that mission personnel feared could have interfered with future operations.
"Before beginning the drive, we'll continue efforts to assess the two small, string-like pieces of foreign object debris (FOD) detected on one of the rover's coring bits," Perseverance Deputy Project Manager Steven Lee wrote in a NASA blog post last week.
The Perseverance team has conducted diagnostic activities and commanded the rover to move, rotate or vibrate components to help assess the situation and are confident that sampling can proceed without issue, Lee noted.
Been checking on some small debris in my drill system. I’m designed for a dirty environment, but it doesn't hurt to be careful. Thankfully it looks like I’ll be rolling on soon, headed for this spot my team calls “Enchanted Lake.” Latest blog: https://t.co/XoTOk5YMQY pic.twitter.com/XKu7qnA9UIAugust 19, 2022
The first eight samples collected by Perseverance were taken from rock formed through volcanic activity, while the latest batch were all taken from sedimentary rocks. All being well, the new sedimentary trend will continue with the collection of material from Enchanted Lake.
"Been checking on some small debris in my drill system," NASA personnel wrote on the mission's Twitter account on Friday (Aug. 19). "I'm designed for a dirty environment, but it doesn't hurt to be careful. Thankfully it looks like I'll be rolling on soon."
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.