NASA's Perseverance rover cameras capture 'mission-critical' views of Mars — and an epic selfie

NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover took this selfie on Sept. 10, 2021, over a rock called "Rochette." (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
NASA's Perseverance Rover has taken a number of photos since its February landing on Mars. These photographs provide a better view of the Red Planet's ancient past.

The six-wheeled robot explorer, which landed on Mars' surface on February 18, 2021 on its sixth wheel, was equipped with 23 cameras. Each camera captures a different perspective.

Vivian Sun, co-lead of Perseverance's first science campaign in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Southern California, stated in a statement that "The imaging cameras were a huge part of everything." They are used every day for science. They are absolutely mission-critical."

Photos: NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover mission to the Red Planet

Perseverance's rover landed inside Mars' Jezero Crater (28-miles wide, 45 kilometers), which is thought to have been a large lake and delta system that existed 3.5 billion years ago. The mission's primary science objective is to find evidence of ancient life on Mars.

SuperCam, the camera used by the rover to search for past lives, uses a laser to target mineral targets and analyzes the mineralogy of the vaporized rocks. According to the statement, the SuperCam also includes the Remote Micro-Imager(RMI), which allows users to zoom in on features as small as a softball up to a mile away.

SuperCam can be found on Perseverance's mast or head near two other cameras called Mastcam-Z. These have a powerful zoom lens that allows them to capture color images as well as stereo images in 3D and high-definition videos. MastcamZ imagers, commonly called the "eyes" of the rover, help scientists find target locations and determine which features to zoom in.

Both of these instruments are often used in conjunction, with the Mastcam-Z offering a wider view and the SuperCam providing a closer look.

Perseverance's SuperCam and Mastcam Z instruments combine to provide a wider view and closer-up of the escarpment known as the "Delta Scarp." (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ASU/MSSS)

A series of images was taken March 17, 2021 to capture a detailed view the "Delta Scarp," an escarpment that forms part of the fan-shaped river Delta.

The image shows the base and plateau, as well as the Mastcam-Z view of the Rover's Mastcam. The top inset view is a mosaic made by Perseverance’s RMI, which was taken approximately 1.4 miles (2.25km) away according to the statement.

This is a huge pile of boulders. This means that there must have been some massive flash flooding that washed boulders along the riverbed into this Delta formation," Roger Wiens (principal investigator for SuperCam) stated in the statement.

These large boulders can be found partway down the delta formation. These boulders would be found at the top of the lakebed if it was full. The lake was not full at the time of the flash flood. It may indicate an unstable climate. Wiens suggested that perhaps we didn't have a very calm, peaceful, and habitable environment for raising microorganisms.

Scientists also believe that Perseverance's images show evidence of igneous rocks formed from magma or lava flowing on the crater floor prior to, during, or after the formation of the lake.

A Navcam is located next to each MastcamZ imager. It allows the rover to drive around Mars independently. The rover's two navigation cameras are used to obtain a 360-degree view at each stop. Below is a view taken by one of the Navcams on July 1, 2021. This was after the rover had traveled 358 feet (109 metres) in its longest autonomous drive.

One of Perseverance’s Navcams captured a view on the rover's tracks in Martian soil after its longest autonomous drive, July 1, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Sun stated in the statement that "the navigation camera data was really useful to have those pictures to do a targeted science following-up with higher-resolution instruments like SuperCam or Mastcam-Z."

Six hazard avoidance cameras (or Hazcams) are also included on the rover. There are four on the front and two at the rear. The Hazcams assist the rover in avoiding difficult terrain such as large rocks and sand dunes. Another key mission of the mission is the guidance provided by the Hazcams at the front.

Perseverance is a strategy to gather and store dozens of samples that will later be sent to Earth. To assist with the selection of these samples, the robot arm wears three cameras: WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), SHERLOC [Scanning Habitable Environments With Raman & Luminescence For Organics & Chemicals] which includes an Autofocus & Contextual Imagers (ACI), the highest-resolution camera, and the PIXL ("Planetary Instrument for X-ray Chemistry) Micro-Context Camera).

WATSON allows for extreme close-ups, allowing you to see the size, shape, and color of the tiny grains found in Martian sediment and rocks. According to the statement, the fine-scale camera can also discern "cement" between grains. This provides new clues to Mars' ancient geological history.

Close-up of the rock target "Foux" taken by Perseverance’s WATSON instrument on July 11, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The rock target "Foux" is depicted in the image. WATSON zoomed into the area and captured a view of the target at 1.4 inches by 1 inches (3.5 by 2.26 centimeters). This was taken on July 11, 2021. According to the statement, engineers can use close-up views like this to position the drill used for extracting rock core samples.

Luther Beegle, principal investigator at JPL and SHERLOC, stated in the statement that "we're getting really cool spectrums of materials formed in watery environments for example, sulfate, or carbonate." "Once the delta is closer, where there should really be good preservation potential for signs and life, we have a good chance of seeing it if it is there."

The rover has been studying Bastide, a thinly-layered outcrop since Sept. 15. As it prepares to witness the Mars solar conjunction, the rover will stop sampling Martian rocks and take a short break.

Bastide rock was a great place to be. I'm back on the road and looking for a parking spot to wait for solar conjunction, which is when the Sun blocks signals from Mars. There are many parking spots to choose from. Location map: 23, 2021 See more

"Wrapped up a week of science at Bastide rock. I've been back on the road and am looking for a good parking spot to wait out the solar conjunction, when the Sun blocks signals from Mars. There are many parking spaces available," NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover page tweeted.

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