September 23, 2021

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has been hard at work using the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument to help determine the best rocks to sample and look for signs of ancient life. Mounted on the rover's robotic arm, SHERLOC is the only instrument that can directly detect organics, which are building blocks for life. Because it characterizes the chemical composition of rocks, SHERLOC can also help scientists understand whether any of the rocks formed in an ancient habitable environment. SHERLOC features spectrometers, a laser, and cameras, including WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering). WATSON is a color camera that takes close-up images of rock grains and surface textures. This video provides an instrument update by Eva Scheller, one of the science team members from Caltech.

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Marina Jurica: NASA's Perseverance rover recently successfully sealed and stored the first two rock samples from Mars. One of the ways the rover analyzes the rocks it's sampling is with the SHERLOC instrument and its camera WATSON. This detective team studies rock surfaces and building blocks of ancient life. To learn more, we are joined by Eva Scheller, who is part of the instrument science team. Eva, what is SHERLOC and how does it help pick which rocks are with sampling?

Eva Scheller: SHERLOC is a really amazing instrument. It actually stands for the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals. It has two components, one is a very good camera called WATSON, and the other is SHERLOC itself, which is actually an ultraviolet laser that we use to characterize the mineralogical compounds and organics on the Martian surface. And that tells us whether a particular rock is worth sampling or not.

Marina Jurica: So what has SHERLOC told us about the rocks of Jezero Crater so far?

Eva Scheller: SHERLOC has made really amazing discoveries. We now know that these rocks derived from a volcanic environment, and that there was liquid water there in Mars's past, that formed salts that SHERLOC has seen. And that actually has let us know that the samples we've just taken, could have formed in that ancient habitable environment.

Marina Jurica: Now looking to the future, what role will SHERLOC play in the search for ancient life?

Eva Scheller: SHERLOC is a very important instrument for two reasons. The first is that SHERLOC is the only instrument that can directly detect organics, our building blocks for life. And we're always looking for organics in the samples we're taking. The second is that because SHERLOC characterizes the chemical composition of the rock, that helps us understand whether any samples formed in an ancient habitable environment.

Marina Jurica: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Eva. To get the latest updates follow @NASAJPL and @NASAPersevere on social media. And on the mission website,, or you can also find all the raw images being sent back by the rover.



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