The U.S. space agency released on Friday images of the first-ever borehole into the surface of Mars made by NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Unfortunately, during the first attempt the drill, mounted on a robotic arm, failed to recover any rock samples, as a somehow disgruntled rover “tweeted” on “his” social media channel:
The car-sized rover landed six months ago inside Jezero Crater, an ancient impact crater located just above the Martian equator in the planet’s eastern hemisphere.
This site was chosen as the presence of a large canyon and a fan-shaped river delta suggest that the crater about 3.5 billion years ago hosted a lake. This hypothesis is further supported by the sediments found inside the crater. Thanks to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the chemical composition of the ground can be mapped from orbit. Based on the analyzed spectral data, Jezero Crater contains high concentrations of calcium, aluminum, and magnesium, indicating the presence of sediments with clays and carbonates. On Earth, such minerals form by chemical alteration of older rocks by water. Water, being one of the necessary ingredients for life, is a promising sign that the rover may discover fossilized microbes in the sediments.
The drill hole is just the first step of a sampling and preliminary study process that is expected to take about 11 days. Perseverance will collect rock samples, analyze their chemical properties, seal them into containers and leave them behind to be picked up at a later time. NASA plans to bring around 30 samples back to Earth in the 2030s, to be analyzed by instruments that are much more sophisticated than those that can be brought to Mars at present.