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The first high-resolution color image sent back to Earth from the Rover Perseverance after landing on February 18, 2021.
The first high-resolution color image sent back to Earth from the Rover Perseverance after landing on February 18, 2021.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists about the rover on Mars: "The planet feels closer than ever"


The noise over the rover Perseverance that landed on the planet Mars on February 18 has been substantial. The US space agency NASA has already released video sequences from the landing and for the first time we have been able to hear sounds from the red planet.
“Perseverance's main task is to get closer to the answer to one of the biggest questions we have, if we are alone in the universe,” says Andreas Johnsson, who researches the geology of Mars.

The six-wheeled rover Perseverance is not the first of its kind on Mars. Previous vessels such as Opportunity and Spirit have found clear evidence that liquid water has long been on the surface. Perseverance’s task now becomes to look for traces of any previous life in the crater Jezero, where it landed.

“It has instruments for finding geological phenomena that may be formed through the impact of life, as well as substances that can be compatible with life if they are found in unusual concentrations and unusual geological contexts. The most important are the instruments for analysis of rock samples to detect possible biosignatures and organic compounds,” says Andreas Johnsson.

Sounds from Mars

Perseverence fotograferad av en av sina kameror den 22 februari.
Perseverance photographed by one of its cameras on February 22.

The rover has a large set of cameras, 19 altogether, which can take three-dimensional pictures, zoom and film. It also has an additional ability in the form of microphones that has allowed humans to hear sounds from Mars for the first time.

“This means that Mars will feel closer than ever before. The sound will also be an important complement to other investigations, among other things; Perseverance will be able to shoot lasers at rocks. The sound puffs when the laser hits a rock can provide information about the rock's properties, like a geologist knocking on a rock with a hammer.” 

Future manned travel

Kanten på kratern Jezerok fotad av Perseverance.
The edge of the crater Jezerok photographed by Perseverance on February 24.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

Another scientist who closely follows the rover's adventure on Mars is astrophysicist Maria Sundin. Although she does not research Mars in particular, she does teach about the planet. She appreciates when teaching is linked to such highly topical research.

“At the time when life originated on Earth, the planets were probably relatively similar to each other, and therefore it is interesting to see if there are any traces of life originating on Mars as well. If humanity will ever live in more places than Earth, Mars and the moon are probably the most likely places. Not least, the pandemic has shown that humanity is vulnerable, and the chances of us becoming long-lived as a species increase if we are in more places”.

A prerequisite for future manned trips to Mars is the ability to produce oxygen for the habitats where humans will live and for the production of rocket fuel. Therefore, the rover also has an instrument with it that will carry out an experiment where carbon dioxide from Mars' atmosphere will be converted to oxygen, something that our plants do for us.

The fate of the rover

Perseverance fotograferad i landningsögoblicket.
Perseverance photographed at the moment of landing on February 18.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On board Perseverence there is also a small helicopter called Ingenuity. It is primarily a way to test whether flights are possible on Mars. In addition, the rover must travel around to different places to collect samples that it encapsulates and leaves on the surface.

“These will be picked up by a future robot mission and sent back to Earth. Even though Perseverance brings with it very sophisticated instruments, we can do so much more in laboratories on earth,” says Andreas Johnsson.

But what happens to the rover when it stops working?

“It will remain on the surface of Mars forever. The mission is at least one Mars year, which is about 687 Earth days, but hopefully it will work much longer than that. Curiosity, which landed in 2012, still works well and they are run by the same system,” says Andreas Johnsson.

But perhaps the craft can eventually be preserved in some way, according to Maria Sundin.

“I have thought a lot about whether we in the future will bring them home again as an exhibition object. Another idea is that Mars can actually be inhabited in the future and that there will be some kind of monument around them where they stand,” she says.

BY: Thomas Melin