A momentous accomplishment occurred last week when Perseverance completed the Three Forks Sample Depot on the floor of Jezero Crater, the only known sample depot in the universe. I had the opportunity to work Perseverance science operations the day the final sample drop was planned, and it was an unforgettable experience. The excitement when planning the final drop, from those that have been waiting over 10 years for this moment to those who have joined the mission in recent years, put into perspective how crucial this achievement was for the greater planetary science and space exploration community. This was a time for everyone to celebrate every contribution that was made, personally and as a team, over many years, to reach this moment.
While the Mars 2020 team took a sol to celebrate the sample depot, the mission science and planning cannot stop! Focus shifted to the next campaign on the very next day, as Perseverance began the trek towards and up the delta front to traverse across the delta top.
From analog studies on Earth, scientists know that the tops of deltas in terrestrial environments contain remnant river networks, called distributary channels. Aptly named, these channels bring sediment from beyond the crater walls and distribute it across the delta. When the channels lose their energy and can’t carry the sediment anymore, it is deposited across the delta top in numerous types of depositional environments. The team has been working hard to use orbital data to identify these depositional environments and chart a path for Perseverance that will investigate high priority targets. Through these investigations, scientists hope to gain insight into fluvial processes that transported the sediments as well as the composition of the sediments themselves.
The excitement of the delta top lies in the unknown – we have not been able to take direct images of the top of the delta with Perseverance, and we have relied on orbital imagery to chart a path and observe the surface. As the traverse begins, the team will be eagerly waiting to see what the delta top looks like from the eyes of Perseverance and what data is contained within the rocks and sediments.