Approximately 195 million miles away, on the surface of Mars,has been performing some extreme feats of space exploration. The tiny rotorcraft achieved and has been stealing a lot of the Martian spotlight since. But its sister robot, , is also trying to achieve a monumental first: discover signs of life on another planet.
In a NASA blog post Tuesday, the space agency details some of the images snapped by a camera known as Watson, positioned on the rover’s robotic arm. The instrument — and a suite of other cameras — is critical to analysis of the rover’s landing zone in Jezero Crater, which scientists believe was once home to a giant lake.
And where there was water, there may have been life.
One of the key questions NASA hopes to answer is what type of rocks are in Jezero. Sedimentary rock, which is formed on the surface of a planet over time as minerals and even organic matter accumulates, could contain past signs of alien life. Another type of rock, formed deep below a planet’s surface by volcanic activity, may also reside on Jezero’s floor.
Perseverance will be tasked with grinding away pieces of rock with its robotic arm to determine the composition of the rocks in the crater. Another instrument on the arm, Sherloc, will use light to analyze which chemical and minerals are present among Jezero’s pebbles.
“When you look inside a rock, that’s where you see the story,” Ken Farley, Perseverance’s project scientist, said in a statement.
Perseverance’s search for life will also include sampling and storing samples from the surface, which will be left on Mars for a future return mission. Eventually, they could be launched back to Earth, safely cracked open and studied in detail.