NASA‘s launch of the Perseverance rover went off without a hitch today, lifting off from Florida. The rover is set to arrive at Mars next year, and when it does, it could be the best bet for finding life on the Red Planet.
While this rover will be just one of many on the red planet, it is our best chance of finding life there for the time being.
Perseverance is attached with an instrument called SHERLOC.
NASA said: “The main instrument, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC), will be mounted on the end of one of the Mars rover’s robotic arms.
SHERLOC will emit a quarter-sized ultraviolet laser at the ground. Space scientists will then measure the way the light scatters when it hits the ground to work out what kind of minerals and chemical compounds it is made from.
The technique will also identify the unique spectral “fingerprint” certain alien organic material might give off.
Extraterrestrial life experts hope this can track down potential signs of past alien life.
NASA’s Luther Beegle told the JPL news blog: “Life is clumpy. If we see organics clumping together on one part of a rock, it might be a sign that microbes thrived there in the past.”
Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space sciences at The Open University, is optimistic the rover and its equipment could find life.
She wrote in an article for The Conversation: “While this rover will be just one of many on the red planet, it is our best bet for finding life there for the time being.
“Perseverance carries a full complement of scientific instruments that will measure all the usual things that get measured on Mars: the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks and soil, the amount and type or organic material present at and just below the surface, and so on.
“Perseverance is the first rover to have the capability to drill a core, about ten centimetres long and one centimetre in diameter, and extract it intact from the drill hole.
“Perseverance will take samples from a range of different rock types as it traverses the crater floor.
“The drill cores will be left in a small pile – a cache – for collection, possibly in early 2027, and subsequent transport back to Earth (estimated arrival time is still not known, but maybe around spring 2032).”