Mars rover Perseverance spots Ingenuity helicopter resting on sand dune (photo)

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover captured this photo of the Ingenuity helicopter resting on a sand dune on the Red Planet. The Perservance team posted this photo on Twitter on Jan. 11, 2023.
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover captured this photo of the Ingenuity helicopter resting on a sand dune on the Red Planet. The Perservance team posted this photo on Twitter on Jan. 11, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Perseverance rover just caught another glimpse of its pioneering robotic cousin.

The car-sized Perseverance snapped a photo recently of the Ingenuity helicopter as the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) rotorcraft sat atop a Red Planet sand dune.

"The #MarsHelicopter and I are closer together than we've been in a while, and guess who I spotted resting on a dune between flights. Can you believe Ingenuity is gearing up for Flight #39?" the Perseverance team said via Twitter (opens in new tab) on Wednesday (Jan. 11), in a post that featured a photo of the little chopper.

Related: Soar over Mars rover tracks with Ingenuity helicopter (video)

Zoomed-in view of a photo of NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter taken by the agency's Perseverance rover. The rover team posted this image on Twitter on Jan. 11, 2023.

Zoomed-in view of a photo of NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter taken by the agency's Perseverance rover. The rover team posted this image on Twitter on Jan. 11, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity and Perseverance landed together inside Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021. The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero hosted a big lake and a river delta long ago, and Perseverance is scouring the area for signs of ancient life on Mars.

The six-wheeled robot is also collecting and caching dozens of samples for future return to Earth. For the past few weeks, Perseverance has been caching some of its sample tubes in a "depot" in a patch of Jezero's floor that the mission team calls Three Forks.

Perseverance has so far deposited six of a planned 10 sample tubes (opens in new tab) in the Three Forks depot, which serves as a backup in case the rover isn't healthy enough to haul material to a future NASA lander later this decade. A rocket aboard that lander will launch the samples to Mars orbit, where they'll be picked up by a European spacecraft and hauled back to Earth. The samples could land here as early as 2033.

The depot samples are doubles; Perseverance is keeping a set of material drilled from the same target rocks on its body. If need be, two Ingenuity-like helicopters that will launch with the future lander will fly over to Three Forks and grab the sample tubes there one by one.

Ingenuity is currently serving as a scout for Perseverance, helping the rover team pick the best routes through the rough Jezero landscape and identify promising outcrops for in-depth study.

This work is part of the chopper's extended mission. Not long after landing, Ingenuity aced its primary five-flight campaign, showing that powered flight is possible in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Ingenuity conducted its 39th Martian flight on Wednesday, covering 459 feet (140 meters) of ground over the course of nearly 79 seconds. To date, the chopper has flown a total of 25,690 feet (7,830 m) on Mars and stayed airborne for more than 64 minutes, according to the mission's flight log (opens in new tab).

Perseverance has captured footage of Ingenuity before. The rover snapped photos of the chopper just after it deployed onto Jezero's floor, for example, and also recorded video of Ingenuity's 13th flight, which took place in September 2021.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab)

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) 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.