On day 37 of its Martian mission (known as “sol 37”), the Perseverance rover zapped a curious, holey rock with a laser 10 times.
It wasn’t for sport. The laser is part of the rover’s SuperCam, which looms atop the car-sized robot like a crow’s nest on a ship. From distances of over 20 feet away, a laser strike onto rocks and soil, producing flickers of light. These flickers are excited atoms, and the SuperCam analyzes this light to glean if a rocky target might have preserved past signs of Martian life — like certain organic materials microbes may have once munched on.
A holey, peculiar rock certainly struck the Perseverance science team as a place of interest. What type of rock is it? Why is it so holey?
“We thought we better check it out,” Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who leads the team, told Mashable. “We’re trying to investigate the different types of rocks we see.”
While the helicopter is getting ready, I can’t help checking out nearby rocks. This odd one has my science team trading lots of hypotheses.
It’s about 6 inches (15 cm) long. If you look closely, you might spot the row of laser marks where I zapped it to learn more. pic.twitter.com/sq4ecvqsOu
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 31, 2021
Without zooming in, it’s difficult to spot the laser marks. The line of laser marks can be seen in the red circle below:
The rover has beamed back the results from the laser zapping, and Wiens said the Perseverance team is studying the rock’s composition. Could it be a meteorite from somewhere in the solar system? Is water responsible for eroding the holey rock? Might it be a volcanic rock?
“The team has formulated many different hypotheses about this one — is it something weathered out of the local bedrock?” NASA tweeted. “Is it a piece of Mars plopped into the area from a far-flung impact event? Is it a meteorite? Or something else?”
NASA’s Perseverance team isn’t ready to release their conclusions quite yet, as they’re still discussing the possibilities. But there’s certainly going to be much more rock zapping in the weeks, months, and likely years ahead. Right now, Perseverance is in the middle of its landing spot, the Jezero Crater, a place NASA says was once flooded with water.
Soon, Perseverance will make a slow, careful journey to a large dried-up river delta, where microbial life could have once survived on Mars in wet, clay soils — if life ever existed, anyway.
“We’re about 1.5 miles away from the delta, as the Martian crow flies,” said Wiens.