NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars back in early 2021, and from the beginning, it had the mission of studying the rock record of our neighboring planet. The rover has now successfully gathered the first two regolith samples from Mars after searching in a pile of sand blown by the wind, which is why astronomers are confident that they can understand the planet in a better way to prepare future space missions to it, according to SciTechDaily.
The regolith consists of broken rock and dust, and the samples were collected on December 2. You might have already guessed what the reason for further analysis of the Martian samples could be. No, astronomers still haven’t lost hope that they could find traces of life on the Red Planet at some point.
Any signs of ancient microbial life?
While little green men existing on Mars still sounds like just another scenario for sci-fi movies, microbes dwelling on our neighboring planet at some point in the cosmic object’s history sounds a lot more plausible. That’s why astronomers are now eager to analyze as much as possible the samples collected by the Perseverance rover. They are optimistic that further analysis might indicate the existence of microbial life that was once present on Mars. Furthermore, scientists also aim to get a better understanding of the processes that have led to the shape that the surface of Mars currently has.
Iona Tirona, a scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA and who is also the leader of the Perseverance mission, explained about the importance of regolith, as SciTechDaily quotes:
Everything we learn about the size, shape, and chemistry of regolith grains helps us design and test better tools for future missions,
The more data we have, the more realistic our simulants can be.
Of course, scientists still hope that in the near future, astronauts will physically land on the Red Planet and try to build a settlement there. It’s a lot harder than it might seem, which is why scientists need to learn as much as possible about our neighboring planet.
A more permanent presence on Mars?
Erin Gibbons, who’s a team member of Perseverance, also takes into account very seriously the idea of humans living on Mars at some point. He explained, as digitaltrends quotes:
If we have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how the dust and regolith will interact with our spacecraft and habitats,
Some of those dust grains could be as fine as cigarette smoke, and could get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus. We want a fuller picture of which materials would be harmful to our explorers, whether they’re human or robotic.
The upcoming Mars Sample Return campaign that’s just a few weeks away implies that one of the two samples is being deposited on the surface of the Red Planet.
Through the launch of the Perseverance rover, astronomers initially wanted to uncover more regarding geological processes that led to the creation and modification of the Martian crust.
The Perseverance rover, along with the robotic and coaxial helicopter known as Ingenuity, is part of the Mars Exploration Program of NASA. An Atlas V launch vehicle carried Mars 2020 into space starting on July 2020. The touchdown took place in the Jezero Martian crater roughly half a year later, in February 2021.
As of December 9, 2022, both the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter have been on the Red Planet for 641 sols.
While nobody has landed on Mars yet, common sense tells us that it should happen in the near future, considering that astronomers theoretically know how to do it.