Nasa shares first recording of Perseverance firing its laser on Mars

‘We are looking for a time when water was abundant on the red planet’

Namita Singh
Thursday 11 March 2021 09:08
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Nasa reveals stunning video of Perseverance Mars landing

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Nasa on Wednesday shared the first recording of the Perseverance rover firing off its high powered laser on Mars by deploying its rock-zapping SuperCam instrument.

With its two microphones, Perseverance is an upgraded version of its predecessor, Curiosity. While Curiosity studies samples collected on-site, Perseverance will collect rock core samples and save them for a possible future study by scientists.

The sounds of 30 impacts are heard, some slightly louder than others, said Nasa in its press release. SuperCam, equipped with a microphone, is using the laser to interrogate the composition of rock on the red planet. The variations in the zapping sound picked up the equipment would help the scientists in understanding the physical structure of the rocks and is a key component in probing the signs of ancient life.

“Variation in the intensity of the zapping sounds will provide information on the physical structure of the targets, such as its relative hardness or the presence of weathering coatings,” said Nasa.

“If we tap on a surface that is hard, we will not hear the same sound as when we fire on a surface that is soft,” explained Naomi Murdoch, from the National Higher French Institute of Aeronautics and Space, in Toulouse. “Take for example chalk and marble. These two materials have an identical chemical composition (calcium carbonate), but very different physical properties.”

Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars on 18 February, is tasked with hunting for signs of ancient life within the Jezero crater and collect dozens of samples for a future return to Earth.

“We are looking for a time when water was abundant on the red planet. And when life may have developed there,” explained SuperCam principal investigator Roger Wiens, from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “It (SuperCam) will help find the most relevant sample for collection and it is going to document comprehensively their geological setting.”

In the media briefing, Mr Wiens said that the SuperCam fired the laser on a target named Maaz, which means Mars in the Navajo language spoken by the native Americans. The target was fired at from a distance of 10 ft, generating a cloud of vaporised rock which are then examined using the camera and Raman spectrometer. This helps in understanding the chemical composition of the material.

“This is the first time an instrument has used Raman spectroscopy anywhere other than on Earth!” said Olivier Beyssac, CNRS research director at the Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie in Paris.

“Raman spectroscopy is going to play a crucial role in characterising minerals to gain deeper insight into the geological conditions under which they formed and to detect potential organic and mineral molecules that might have been formed by living organisms.”

SuperCam’s chemical analysis revealed that the target Maaz is basaltic in composition, shared Mr Weins. Basalt is an igneous rock formed by the rapid cooling of the lava and is rich in magnesium and iron.

“Basalt refers to igneous rock type that is common on earth, in the mid-ocean or the ocean region,” said Mr Weins. “Basalt is also common on Mars.”

But the scientists do not know at the moment if the rock is igneous, meaning formed from the cooling and solidification of volcanic lava, said Mr Weins. He further added that they cannot say with certainty if the target was a sedimentary rock, which is made up of igneous grains that were washed down from the lake.

Apart from identifying evidence of life, the rover is also tasked with testing oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere to prepare for future crewed missions.

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