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NASA's Perseverance Rover Hasn’t Just Collected Rocks on Mars: Its Tubes Contain Another Valuable Sample

  • The Perseverance rover has already deposited 24 sample tubes in Martian soil for a future return mission.

  • What is still unknown is how NASA will collect these tubes after it canceled the Mars Sample Return mission.

NASA hasn't just collected rocks on Mars: Perseverance tubes contain another valuable sample
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Although it lacks the assistance of the Ingenuity helicopter’s as well as a clear plan to return its sample tubes to Earth, NASA’s Perseverance rover continues to collect samples of Martian soil. And recently, something else.

Not just rocks. Perseverance has collected 24 types of stones in its time exploring Mars. Still, the sample tubes it’s leaving in the soil for a future return mission contain more than just those tiny geologic fragments: they also contain Martian air.

While the rock cores in the tubes could provide information about the history of Mars and the existence or non-existence of past life, the air that remains sealed with the stones could provide new crucial data about the red planet’s atmosphere.

The missing atmosphere. Martian air is so scarce that the atmospheric pressure on the planet’s surface is 1% of its terrestrial equivalent. Its composition is also quite different.

The Martian atmosphere is about 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, and 0.13% oxygen, while our breathable atmosphere is 0.04% carbon dioxide, 78% nitrogen, and 21% oxygen.

However, both atmospheres weren’t always so different. Astronomers believe that Mars lost much of its atmosphere over billions of years due to the disappearance of its magnetic field and solar wind erosion once the atmosphere was exposed.

Perseverance’s lonely work. Since landing at the Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, the Perseverance rover has deposited 24 tubes of rock, dust, and air samples into the Martian soil using its robotic arm and interchangeable drill bit.

Experts chose the mission site because they believe it previously contained a lake and river delta. However, Perseverance hasn’t found any direct evidence of past microbial life during its explorations.

Mars Sample Return. NASA had planned a complex sample return mission with the European Space Agency to collect more than 30 tubes that Perseverance would eventually deposit on the Martian surface, but ended up canceling it due to budget problems.

Now, NASA has selected 10 private companies as candidates to redesign the mission. China is currently leading the race to return samples to Mars with its Tianwen-3 mission.

Images | NASA/JPL

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