Drilling into Mars with Lasers
Mars Perseverance Sol 376 - Left Mastcam-Z Camera: MastCam-Z image of a rock informally names Sid. The purple patch we ‘drilled’ into lies in the lower left-hand corner.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Download image ›

Perseverance is adding a pop of color to Mars’ regular repertoire: purple.

The color palette of Mars’ surface is one of muted hues. Burnt orange tones reflect the iron-bearing minerals that have rusted under an oxidizing atmosphere while soft greys characterize the un-rusted parent rock.

However, over the past year we have seen prominent patches of purple peppered atop the rocks. The patches range from thin veneers to thick splotches and generally have a smooth, dull texture. Other Mars rovers, like Curiosity and Opportunity, have also observed purple-colored rocks, but not with this kind of splotchy texture and certainly not at such an abundance. We are keen to understand what these enigmatic rock coatings reveal about the history of Jezero. Did they form when ancient waters reacted with the rocks? Or did they form through millions of years of dust accumulation and cementation on an already arid world? We need more details about their make-up to be sure.

This was precisely the focus of a specialized experiment that I helped draft on Friday, March 11 (sol 377). My role on the mission is to help operate the SuperCam instrument, which can use a laser beam to “zap” rocks and determine their chemistry. The zapping process is very intense. Upon impact, the laser heats the rock to ~18,000°F (10,000°C), vaporizing a small amount of material and converting it into a plasma. When the laser stops firing, the plasma cools and emits radiation at wavelengths that correspond to the chemical constituents of the vaporized material. We record this radiation and use it to interpret what the rocks are made of. An added benefit of this technique is that we can use the vaporization to effectively drill into a target: by repeatedly firing the laser on the same location, we vaporize increasingly more material and penetrate deeper, allowing us to study the interior.

To learn about the purple patches on Jezero’s rocks, we aimed the laser at a small patch and commanded it to fire 150 times (5x more than our typical operation!). The goal is to vaporize through the purple material and into the rock below, thereby revealing how the chemistry changes between the two layers.

Analyses like these are extremely small – our ‘drill’ hole will be less than 1 mm deep – but could reveal clues about the environmental evolution in Jezero crater as a whole. Understanding how and when these purple coatings formed will help unravel how Jezero transitioned from a lake to a dustbowl.  

About This Blog

These blog updates are provided by self-selected Mars 2020 mission team members who love to share what Perseverance is doing with the public.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these blogs are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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  • Mariah Baker
    Planetary Scientist, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
    Washington, DC
  • Matthew Brand
    SuperCam/ChemCam Engineer, Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos National Laboratory
  • Sawyer Brooks
    Docking Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Adrian Brown
    Deputy Program Scientist, NASA HQ
    Washington, DC
  • Denise Buckner
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Fred Calef III
    Mapping Specialist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Stephanie Connell
    SuperCam, PhD Student, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN
  • Alyssa Deardorff
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Kenneth Farley
    Project Scientist, Caltech
    Pasadena, CA
  • Phylindia Gant
    Mars 2020 Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Brad Garczynski
    Student Collaborator, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN
  • Erin Gibbons
    Student Collaborator, McGill University
    Montreal, Canada
  • Michael Hecht
    Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) Principal Investigator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Westford, MA
  • Louise Jandura
    Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Elisha Jhoti
    Ph.D. Student, University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Bavani Kathir
    Student Collaborator on Mastcam-Z, Western Washington University
  • Lydia Kivrak
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Athanasios Klidaras
    Ph.D. Student, Purdue University
  • Rachel Kronyak
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Steven Lee
    Perseverance Deputy Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • An Li
    Student Collaborator on PIXL, University of Washington
  • Justin Maki
    Imaging Scientist and Mastcam-Z Deputy Principal Investigator, NASA/JPL
  • Forrest Meyen
    MOXIE Science Team Member, Lunar Outpost
  • Sarah Milkovich
    Assistant Science Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Eleanor Moreland
    Ph.D. Student, Rice University
    Houston, Texas
  • Asier Munguira
    Ph.D. Student, University of the Basque Country
  • Matt Muszynski
    Vehicle Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Claire Newman
    Atmospheric Scientist, Aeolis Research
    Altadena, CA
  • Avi Okon
    Sampling Operations Deputy Lead, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Pegah Pashai
    Vehicle Systems Engineer Lead, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • David Pedersen
    Co-Investigator, PIXL Instrument, Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
    Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Eleni Ravanis
    Student Collaborator, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
    Honolulu, HI
  • Thirupathi Srinivasan
    Robotic Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
  • Kathryn Stack
    Deputy Project Scientist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Vivian Sun
    Science Operations Systems Engineer, Staff Scientist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Iona (Brockie) Tirona
    Sampling Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Jennifer Trosper
    Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Vandi Verma
    Chief Engineer for Robotic Operations, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Rick Welch
    Deputy Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Roger Wiens
    Principal Investigator, SuperCam / Co-Investigator, SHERLOC instrument, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN

Tools on the Perseverance Rover+

The Perseverance rover has tools to study the history of its landing site, seek signs of ancient life, collect rock and soil samples, and help prepare for human exploration of Mars. The rover carries:


Where is the Rover?

Image of a rover pin-point at Perseverance's location on Mars, Jezero Crater

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