A variety of Perseverance’s cameras assist in the selection of those samples, including WATSON (the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering).
Located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, WATSON provides extreme closeups of rock and sediment, zeroing in on the variety, size, shape, and color of tiny grains – as well as the “cement” between them – in those materials. Such information can lend insight into Mars’ history as well as the geological context of potential samples.
WATSON also helps engineers position the rover’s drill for extracting rock core samples and produces images of where the sample came from.
The imager partners with SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which includes an Autofocus and Contextual Imager (ACI), the rover’s highest-resolution camera. SHERLOC uses an ultraviolet laser to identify certain minerals in rock and sediment, while PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), also on the robotic arm, uses X-rays to determine the chemical composition. These cameras, working in concert with WATSON, have helped capture geologic data – including signs of that igneous rock on the crater floor – with a precision that has surprised scientists.
“We’re getting really cool spectra of materials formed in aqueous [watery] environments – for example sulfate and carbonate,” said Luther Beegle, SHERLOC’s principal investigator at JPL.
Engineers also use WATSON to check on the rover’s systems and undercarriage – and to take Perseverance selfies (here’s how).
Beegle says not just the strong performance of the imaging instruments, but their ability to endure the harsh environment on the Martian surface, gives him confidence in Perseverance’s chances for major discoveries.
“Once we get over closer to the delta, where there should be really good preservation potential for signs of life, we’ve got a really good chance of seeing something if it’s there,” he said.
More About the Mission
A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
For more about Perseverance: