Perseverance begins searching for signs of life on Mars

Shane McGlaun - Jul 21, 2021, 6:08am CDT
Perseverance begins searching for signs of life on Mars

NASA has announced that the Perseverance rover has completed testing the instruments on its robotic arm and is ready to get down to business. That business will see Perseverance testing rocks and dust for evidence of past life on the surface of the Red Planet. The rover has a seven-foot-long mechanical arm that has several instruments attached to the end.

The instruments can analyze rocks using x-rays and ultraviolet light. The rover will zoom in for close-ups on tiny segments of rock surfaces that could hold evidence of past microbial life. Perseverance’s X-ray instrument is called PIXL, standing for Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry. NASA says the instrument delivered “unexpectedly strong” science results during its testing. The instrument fired its X-rays at a small calibration target used to test instrument settings aboard the rover and determined the composition of Martian dust cleaning to that target.

NASA scientist Abigail Allwood said that before Perseverance even looked at a rock, researchers on the project got their best-ever composition analysis of Martian dust. The instrument will get detailed profiles of rock textures, contours, and compositions by mapping the chemicals throughout the rock. Those maps of chemicals can be combined with data produced by instruments called SHERLOC and WATSON.

SHERLOC stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals. It uses an ultraviolet laser to identify some minerals in the rock. WATSON can take close-up images scientists can use to determine grain size, roundness, and texture to help determine how the rock formed. Processing images taken by WATSON have already yielded significant data for scientists, including a variety of colors, sizes of greens in the sediment, and the presence of “cement” between the grains. These instruments could help scientists to discover the first life beyond Earth.


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