A search for signs of ancient life on Mars begins with a rover landing

After a six-month journey, Perseverance, the most sophisticated rover NASA ever sent to Mars, it will land on the red planet. Together with people from all over the world, scientists and students at the University Hawaii at Mānoa eagerly awaiting this milestone, which was scheduled for 18 February 2021 around 10:30 am HST. People can join the watch party to land online.

Since being elected to the NASA instrument teams in 2014, researchers in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (FEAR) worked to develop, experiment and update scientific instruments to discover ideas about life in the past on Mars. There was a lake on the roaring site of the rover, Jezero Crater, which scientists thought was one of the best places to find evidence of ancient life.

Look NASAbest video of the mission overview.

Photo appears NASAPerseverance Rover working on Mars. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Built at NASAJet Propulsion Laboratory, Perseverance loaded with scientific instruments used by the teams to find traces of ancient microbial life, identify the geology and climate of the planet, and collect samples of rock and sediment carefully selected for their return to Earth with a future mission.

“It was a great relief to launch non-stop at the end of July. Then, it was a matter of waiting patiently for the spaceship to get there, ”he said Sarah Fagents, researcher at UH Mānoa’s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) into FEAR and a volcanologist with the Mastcam-Z camera team.

“It was an exciting development of the remote Raman instrument developed within HIGP since 1998 in the successful launch of the Raman spectroscope laboratory as part of the Supercam instrument,” he said. Shiv Sharma, HIGP researcher and co-researcher on the SuperCam instrumentation team.

“In October, Mars was closer to Earth than it will be for another 15 years, so it went big, bright and red in the night sky,” Fagents said. “I would be out in the evening and thinking about the little spaceship that was hurting towards its destination. The last few weeks have been increasingly terrifying when they come ashore. Landing on the surface of another planet is very difficult, and the hopes and dreams of many people riding this are going well! Shiv and I have been working on this mission since 2014, so we have invested heavily in its success. ”

Finding traces for ancient Martian life

Rover Mars
(Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mastcam-Z is the multi-view stereo camera system equipped with a powerful zoom function. At maximum zoom setting, the cameras were able to capture a feature as small as a house fly across a football field – allowing the team to identify rocks, soils and other targets that deserve closer scrutiny. other instruments as they look for signs of ancient Martian life.

Sharma, as a member of the SuperCam instrumentation team, will help discover biosignatures – signs that life existed long ago. The SuperCam is a series of instruments that use remote optical measurement and laser spectroscopy to determine the mining, chemistry, and atomic and molecular fusion of models found on Mars. This will allow the team to track organic fertilizers and biosignatures from a distance on and in rocks, soils and sediment layers on Mars.

Final training and design

Crater Jezero
Jezero Crater as he may have looked on billions of years ago on Mars (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In the past six months, their scientists and graduate students have been extensively trained in science activity, procedures and tools.

“The Mars 2020 team of thousands of people is strong, and all aspects of working on the surface of another planet must work together relentlessly,” Fagents said. “Apart from learning the technical nuts and bolts on how to do surface work, we have been involved in strategic planning on the rover’s path to maximize the scientific benefits of the mission. . ”

A unique view of Mars

rover air mars
(Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

After landing and once instrument checks are completed, the Ingenuity helicopter will release durability and monitor as it travels. This is the first powered flight on another planet.

“After the last seven years of contemplating this moment, I am thrilled to see the first ever images taken on the ground of Jezero Crater,” said Fagents.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s Aim for Research Excellence: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Initiative (PDF), one of four objectives identified in the Strategic Plan 2015-25 (PDF), updated in December 2020.

–By Marcie Grabowski