NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover lands today. Here’s what to expect | NOVA

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Tuning in to the landing? Right here’s what to anticipate.

An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover touchdown safely on Mars. A whole bunch of vital occasions should execute completely and precisely on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18, 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In March 2020, at an meeting held on the Lake Braddock Secondary College in Burke, Virginia, Alex Mather’s classmates obtained massive information from NASA.

Mather had submitted a potential title for the Administration’s latest Mars rover, and this submission—amongst 28,000 obtained by NASA from younger area lovers—was  “Perseverance.” The evening earlier than his college meeting, he discovered his submission had been chosen.

It’s a NASA custom to have youngsters select the names of Mars rovers, Washington Submit’s KidsPost reported in March. Children have give you the previous 4: Curiosity, which landed on the pink planet in 2012; Spirit, which landed in 2004; Alternative, which landed three weeks after Spirit; and Sojourner, which landed on the Fourth of July in 1997.

Now, at roughly 3:55 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Feb. 18, Perseverance will try probably the most difficult—and exact—Mars touchdown in NASA historical past. If all goes easily, the rover will research Mars’ habitability in an try to find out if life ever took root on Mars. Perseverance, nicknamed “Percy” (many a scientist and science journalist has talked about having trouble spelling “Perseverance”) will even search for indicators of previous life and conduct experiments that examine the potential for human exploration.

“Perseverance is NASA’s most bold Mars rover mission but,” Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, stated in a Feb. 16 press launch. “…the touchdown staff could have its arms full getting us to Jezero Crater – probably the most difficult Martian terrain ever focused for a touchdown.”

Jezero Crater is a 28-mile-wide hole situated on the western margin of the Isidis Planitia area in Mars’ northern hemisphere. About three billion years in the past, Jezero hosted an almost 820-foot-deep lake, fed by a close-by historic river delta wealthy in mineral sediments. It’s the type of place scientists assume might need supported life. “I feel that needs to be the hands-down most fun factor that this web site has to supply,” Tim Goudge, a planetary scientist and postdoctoral fellow at College of Texas at Austin, advised NOVA in 2018.

Mars orbiters have already spent years amassing info and pictures from 200 miles above Jezero. Pinpointing indicators of historic life would require a better look, nevertheless. That’s the place Perseverance, geared up with devices that may detect natural matter and measure the composition of rocks and soil, is available in. 

However there’s a hitch: The rover and its companion, the first-ever area helicopter, named Ingenuity, had been constructed by people on Earth, and people are notoriously contaminated. “People are the dirtiest factor in that clear room” the place spacecraft meeting occurs, Moogega Cooper, astronomer and lead of planetary safety for the Mars 2020 Mission, advised NOVA producer Terri Randall. “We’ve got all types of microorganisms in our physique and on our pores and skin. And so we’ve got to guarantee that, from head to toe, and together with our eyes” the spacecraft is protected against human contamination, which may falsely signify life on Mars. 

However Cooper had a larger concern, introduced on by the challenges of constructing a rover and conducting a NASA mission throughout a pandemic. “What was most worrying,” she says, “was that off the clock, you may catch COVID. There’s now a vector to wipe out a complete staff that would fully derail the mission and throw us off of our scheduled objective.”

Fortuitously, Perseverance efficiently launched on Jul. 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, it has flown greater than 290 million miles, zooming by way of area at 49,290 mph relative to the solar.

Percy’s 17-minute-long entry, descent, and touchdown will likely be broadcast on NASA tv, starting with the separation of Perseverance and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from the spacecraft’s entry capsule. Subsequent, whereas touring at roughly 12,100 mph, the spacecraft will hit the highest of the Martian ambiance; friction from the ambiance will warmth the underside of the spacecraft to temperatures as excessive as 2,370 F. Moments later, it should deploy its parachute at “supersonic pace,” NASA writes in its Feb. 16 press launch. 

An aeroshell containing NASA’s Perseverance rover guides itself towards the Martian floor because it descends by way of the ambiance on this illustration. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Perseverance rover will use radar to detect how far it’s from the floor of the pink planet and a protected touchdown web site. As soon as the entry capsule totally separates from the rover and its “jetpack,” which is supplied with retrorockets (small auxiliary rockets fired within the course of journey to sluggish a craft down), Perseverance will contact down on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EDT.

First, it’ll pop up its head, take photos, and transmit them again to Earth. Engineers will even test on the rover’s well being throughout its first few days on its new residence planet, NASA writes in its press launch. Then, the harder job of figuring out indicators of life and testing know-how designed to provide oxygen from the Martian ambiance (in hopes that the fuel may very well be used for gasoline—or for people to breathe—on future missions) will start.

If life has existed on Mars earlier than, former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman tells NOVA, it might be an indication that extraterrestrial life is extra plentiful all through our universe than beforehand thought. However there’s additionally an opportunity that scientists don’t discover any signatures of life on the pink planet. “And that’ll simply inform us that our one planet is so distinctive and miraculous,” geologist Tanja Bosak says. 

“Perseverance is enjoying a really vital position in our understanding of our place within the universe,” Mars rover engineer Elio Morillo tells NOVA. “And I feel that is very noble.” 

Tune in or stream “In search of Life on Mars” on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 9/8c on PBS.

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