After spending over 700 sols (Martian days) exploring the crater floor and delta front, Perseverance is making tracks up the front of the Jezero fan, climbing across stratigraphic layers, up and out of the ancient Jezero lakebed. This ascent begins the extended portion of the Mars 2020 mission, where Perseverance will continue on to the rim of Jezero Crater and beyond, collecting samples along the way for return to Earth in the 2030’s. Perseverance brought 43 sample tubes to Mars and has filled 22.
The science team is still pouring through data on Melyn, but plans for traversing to the next sample stop are already underway. Several hundred meters and a few sols lie between Perseverance and the upcoming workspace, and the team has selected a few potential targets to aim for upon arrival. A lot of work and observations go into this process; since there are a limited number of tubes in the sample cache, it’s important to use all available tools to choose targets to core that give the best chance for answering questions about Mars’s geologic past and present, potential for habitability, and whether life existed in Jezero. The upcoming stop is in a region known as the capping unit, which was first identified as geologically intriguing through satellite data gathered long before Perseverance’s arrival. Now that the mission is underway, onboard cameras like Mastcam-Z and engineering cameras provide much higher resolution imagery from afar, at ranges up to several hundred meters, which allowed the team to select Castell Henllys as the region of interest within the capping unit. As we approach the workspace, SuperCam and Mastcam-Z scan the rocks from distances up to a few dozen meters, gathering fine-scale visual and chemical data on rock textures, structures, and composition, which gives the science team the information needed to choose which rocks are the best candidates for sampling. Close-up images from the aforementioned cameras and WATSON help the rover planners assess which of the potential targets are accessible and core-able. Finally, Perseverance approaches the target, deploys its arm, and uses an abrasion tool to grind away the top few millimeters of the rock of interest. Arm-mounted SHERLOC and PIXL scan the abraded patch to characterize mineralogy, elemental composition, morphology, and search for signs of organic matter, SuperCam uses a laser to further query mineralogy, and even more images are taken. The science and engineering teams use this data to make a final target selection, and then Perseverance drills! With all of these tasks- and ground to cover- Perseverance will be very busy in the sols ahead, roving on towards Castell Henllys to drill another core that future scientists will one day study here on Earth for decades to come.