Searching for Buried Treasure on Mars With RIMFAX
Perseverance Rover: RIMFAX is a white bow-tie shaped instrument located on the underside of the rover at the rear end. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

What do the Perseverance rover and Superman have in common? They both can “see” through solid rock! Superman has X-ray vision whereas Perseverance has RIMFAX, a ground penetrating radar or GPR, located on the lower rear of the rover. RIMFAX uses radio waves to image the subsurface rock layers as the rover drives along. It is the first instrument of its kind sent by NASA to Mars and can “see” down to 10 meters (33 feet) depth. As the rover drives along, RIMFAX sends out a radio signal into the surface. When the radio waves encounter a new rock layer, some waves bounce back up toward RIMFAX. RIMFAX detects these return signals and stacks them up, building an image of the subsurface rock layers. The speed the waves travel through rock depends on the rock’s properties, summarized by a quantity called permittivity. Different rock types have known permittivity values; therefore, scientists can constrain the rock type of each layer. The tilt of the layers also indicates the conditions they were deposited in.

Illustration of Perseverance's Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment using radar waves to probe the ground
RIMFAX at Work on NASA's Perseverance (Illustration): Artist concept showing how the RIMFAX instrument operates on Mars, sending radio waves into the surface that reflect off rock layers in the subsurface to "see" underground. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/FFI. Download image ›

Figuring out the order different layers of rocks were deposited in allows scientists to tease out the climate history of the area and could tell us if liquid water once existed there and for how long. The first results returned by RIMFAX from the crater floor show that GPR works great on Mars, even compared to most places on Earth! This is because it's so cold on Mars that there's no liquid water below the surface, which limits the penetration of radar waves on Earth. The results showed that the rock layers have a high permittivity value, corresponding to igneous rocks, whereas the tilt of the rock layers indicate they could have been deposited by a long period of volcanic activity or when the crater was covered with liquid water. Determining which of these processes formed the subsurface layers can be aided by collecting more data as Perserverance drives along, and by observations from the other instruments on the rover. Since leaving the crater floor, RIMFAX has also detected sedimentary rocks as well as igneous. This information will provide useful context for scientists back on Earth when they analyze the rover’s samples.

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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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