February 2021 is an exciting month for Mars exploration, with three separate missions arriving at the red planet. In this episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester takes a closer look at one of those missions – NASA’s Perseverance rover. Equipped with sophisticated imaging devices, Perseverance will look for signs of ancient microbial life and will help pave the way for future human missions to our neighbouring planet.
Today, space exploration is an increasingly global pursuit, involving many nations and private companies, with Mars being an enticing destination. On 9 February the Emirates Mars Mission delivered the Hope probe into Martian orbit, which will provide the most complete picture yet of the planet’s atmosphere. That will be followed by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which arrives in orbit on 10 February ahead of landing a rover in May into a massive impact basin.
Completing the Mars trio is NASA’s Perseverance rover, landing on 18 February – the focus of this episode. It’s destination is the Jezero Crater, a 45-kilometer-wide basin in the Martian northern hemisphere, a landform carved by a river roughly 3.5 billion years ago. The mission will collect rock and sediment samples for future return to Earth, search for signs of ancient microbial life, characterise the planet’s geology and climate, and pave the way for human exploration beyond the Moon.
You will hear from Luther Beegle, the principle investigator for the rover’s SHERLOC instrument – a Raman spectroscopy device that can detect organic matter and minerals. You also hear from Kelsey Moore, a geobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose research has informed the mission’s search for traces of ancient life.
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