Martian rock disappeared after being collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover
1st Martian sample collected by Perseverance seems to have disappeared, and no one understands how this is possible
In recent weeks, after a lot of work, NASA’s Perseverance robot managed to collect the first sample of Martian soil , which should be sent back to Earth
And in fact this is only the 1st among many samples that still have to be gathered.
This happened on August 6, 2021 , when Perseverance drilled through a rock and extracted a sample into the collection tube. Everything seemed to go according to plan, and the mission was considered successful.
The problem is that there appears to be no sample in the collection tube . The material is apparently gone … and now experts are trying to understand how a chunk of rock could have gone missing.
Perseverance is equipped with 43 titanium sampling tubes that can be used to collect rocks and regolith, which is the loose soil on the surface of Mars.
The rover system has a 2 m long robotic arm that extracts the sample and seals it in the containers.
This image taken by the Perseverance rover camera on August 6, 2021 shows the hole made by the rover’s drill in order to collect its first sample on Mars. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech
“The sampling process is autonomous from start to finish . One of the steps that occurs after placement in the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The spacecraft did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube,” Jessica Samuels, manager of the Perseverance surface mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a statement.
The Perseverance team now plans to use the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) imager to examine the excavated site and try to find out what happened.
The main hypothesis considered by experts suggests that the fault is not in the system, but in the rock.
“The initial thought is that the empty tube is more likely the result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during core removal and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System. In the coming days, the team will spend more time analyzing the data and doing additional diagnostics to help understand the root cause of the empty tube,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Even with this apparent flaw, scientists consider that unforeseen events like this are common when we try something as audacious as collecting material from another planet using a fully autonomous robot.
“I am confident that we have the right team working on this and we will persevere towards a solution to ensure future success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA.
The idea is that all the material collected from this and other drillings will give us more details about the Red Planet and, who knows, we may finally be able to answer the question: “Was there ever life on Mars?”.
Images: (NASA-cover) / NASA / Perseverance / JPL-Caltech / disclosure