A bonus ‘hitchhiker’ will return from Mars in Perseverance’s sample tube

The Perseverance rover has been working on the surface of Mars for the past three years, collecting rock samples that will eventually be brought back to Earth if all goes according to plan. But the rover has also picked up hitchhikers in the form of traces of the Martian atmosphere, which have been tucked away in the “headspace” of the sample tube.

This is very exciting for atmospheric scientists, who until now have only studied the Martian air from a distance, whether from an orbiter photographing the planet’s features from above or a rover giving readouts to experts on Earth. If this all works out, it will be an incredible bonus for these scientists to analyze Martian rocks in Earth-based laboratories.

But forget rock samples, the materials that planetary scientists hope will explain the evolution of Mars, and which astronomers hope will hold signs of ancient life on the fourth planet from the sun.

“People think of the Moon as airless, but it has a very thin atmosphere that interacts with lunar surface rocks over time,” Just Simon, a geochemist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a report. NASA Releases“This includes noble gases seeping from the Moon’s interior and collecting on the lunar surface.”

The team will apply information gained from a 2021 study of the moon’s very thin atmosphere, which was based on samples brought back by the Apollo 17 mission. The team placed the gas in a cold trap; by lowering the temperature in a sealed container, the team was able to capture some of the gas in the sample at the bottom of the trap. The same rules will apply to any interrogation of the Martian atmosphere, including rock cores placed in the headspace of a sample tube.

The Martian wind will give researchers a chance to understand how Martian dust gets filtered through the planet’s wind, sometimes forming Martian dust giants — one of which Passed right above Perseverance in 2022. The air samples could also reveal how much water vapor is just above the planet’s surface. This in turn could reveal aspects of Mars’ water cycle — a system that persists through regular cycles of Martian snowmelt and thaw, although no liquid water exists on the planet’s surface.

Recently, the Martian atmosphere has been a great site for exploration. for about three yearsThe daring Ingenuity helicopter took off into the skies of Mars, The first vehicle to achieve powered, controlled flight On another planet.

But one big problem is keeping NASA scientists from exploring and collecting samples of the Martian surface and sky: cost. Mars Sample Return Mission It’s a costly undertaking — initially slated to cost $7 billion, and now estimated at about $11 billion — that has caused delays in the mission’s timeline. In April, NASA asked the industry Coming up with ideas to make the mission possible. To this point, Perseverance has collected more than two dozen rock samples, selected for their potential to reveal the planet’s geochemistry, geological history and other aspects of its makeup and evolution.

At this point, using instruments to capture, retrieve, and understand the texture of another planet’s sky seems like an easy task. The hard part is actually funding such an endeavor.

More, This albatross-like plane could one day fly over Mars


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