Wed. Aug 5th, 2020

Nasa launches Perseverance rover to search Mars for signs of life

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Nasa is sending another rover to Mars to search for signs of alien life on the barren Red Planet.

Perseverance isn’t the only passenger to Mars. The car-sized rover is being joined by Ingenuity – a remote helicopter-like drone that will attempt to fly on Mars.

If successful, it will be the first ever controlled, powered flight on another planet.

The two vehicles were mounted on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket which has successfully taken off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The rover will take about seven months to travel to the Red Planet and, in February, will land in Mars’ Jezero Crater to search for signs of life and explore the planet’s geology.

Satellite images suggest Jezero used to be a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago, when Mars was warmer and wetter.

The crater houses rocks that contain clays and carbonates, which scientists believe may have the potential to preserve organic molecules that could provide evidence of past life.

Along with several sophisticated instruments that will gather information about Mars’ geology, atmosphere, environmental conditions and signs of life, the rover is also carrying Ingenuity.

If the 1.8kg helicopter is successful, it could lead to more flying probes on other planets.

Perseverance will also trial technologies to help astronauts make future expeditions to Mars.

This includes testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, and identifying other resources such as subsurface water.

Meanwhile, scientists in the UK will help Perseverance select the Martian samples to be brought back to Earth.

Researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will identify samples of Mars that could contain evidence of past life and study the mineralogy and geochemistry of the different rocks found in the crater.

Perseverance will carry instruments geared to search for the carbon building blocks of life and other microbes and to reconstruct the geological history of the Red Planet.

The instruments will analyse samples from the surface, with selected samples collected by drilling down to 2.8in (7cm) and then sealed in special tubes and stored on the rover.

When the rover reaches a suitable location, it will drop the tubes on the surface of Mars to be collected by a future retrieval mission, which is currently being developed. The Sample Fetch rover, being developed by Airbus, will collect the samples and take them to the Nasa Mars Ascent vehicle.

Nasa and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists are planning how the samples will be curated on their return.

Professor Mark Sephton, from Imperial, said: ‘I hope that the samples we select and return will help current and future generations of scientists answer the question of whether there was ever life on the Red Planet.

‘With one carefully chosen sample from Mars, we could discover that the history of life on the Earth is not unique in the Universe.’

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