The Perseverance rover will fly towards Mars on Thursday, but there will also be something on board that is not a scientific instrument. The Martian meteorite, which until now was in the collection of the London Museum of Natural History, will fly to the surface of Mars. So you could say that a piece of Martian rock is coming home.
The thoroughly studied properties of the stone will be used on Mars to calibrate the instruments with which the rover is equipped, thanks to which engineers will have greater confidence in the correctness of the results obtained with their help.
This will be especially important if Perseverance comes across any traces of present or past life on Mars, the search for which is one of the mission’s most important goals.
This little rock has an amazing history. Formed some 450 million years ago, it was ejected from Mars as a result of an asteroid or comet impact some 600-700 thousand years ago to reach the Earth’s surface some 1000 years ago. Now, however, he is coming back home – says prof. Caroline Smith, collections director for the Earth Sciences department at the Natural History Museum and a member of the Perseverance science team.
The name of the interplanetary traveler is Sayh al Uhaymir 008
The meteorite Sayh al Uhaymir 008 or for short (for friends?) SaU 008 was discovered in the Oman desert in 1999. It is an ordinary basalt rock, very similar to the igneous rocks found all over the world. There are many minerals inside: pyroxenes, olivines and feldspars. It is this well-researched chemical composition, along with the detailed mapped textures that make it extremely useful for the rover already in place.
The rock has been placed, along with nine other material samples, on the front of the rover where it will be scanned from time to time by the Sherloc instrument.
This is elementary, my dear Watson
The Sherloc is an instrument that includes two cameras and two laser spectroscopes, which together will study the geology at the landing site of the rover, i.e. in the 40 km wide Jezero Crater.
Satellite images indicate that there was a lake in the crater in the distant past, and scientists believe it is one of the best places on Mars to search for traces of past life, if any at all existed on Mars.
Sherloc himself will explore the local rocks and earth looking for traces of ancient biological processes.
We intend to use the meteorite as a calibration tool for the first 2-3 months on Mars and then put it aside for six months when we are sure that the instrument is very stable. However, if we discover objects on the surface of Mars that we cannot explain, we can always go back to the meteorite to check the calibration of the instruments. Of course, it would be best if we could spot some potential bio-signatures. We will probably never be 100% sure with such measurements, hence the plans for the next mission, the task of which will be to bring more interesting samples to Earth, says Dr. Luther Beegle, principal researcher responsible for the Sherloc instrument.
These are the most interesting rocks that the rover will pack into small containers, which will then be left in place, where they will be waiting for the next mission to pick them up from the surface and deliver them to Earth. According to prof. Smith, such samples may reach Earth in about 10-15 years.
Only on Earth will researchers have a chance to finally confirm whether the imported samples actually contain traces of past life. For this you need all the analytical tools available in the best laboratories, and not just a set of several instruments that will fit on board the rover. Perseverance, along with a Martian meteorite, will take off towards the Red Planet at the top of the Atlas rocket at 1:50 PM Polish time on Thursday.
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The meteorite came to Earth thousands of years ago. Now he would return home to Mars