After less than six weeks, Perseverance completes the first sample deposit on Mars. The confirmation that the NASA rover successfully dropped the tenth and final tube was received on Sunday, January 29th. Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed the success in a statement, after careful analysis of the rover’s work.
This important milestone involved precise planning and navigation. The tubes left on the Martian surface will need to be safely retrieved in the Mars Sample Return program, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission aims to bring the samples back to Earth for further study.
Three Forks deposit
During its scientific campaigns, the rover collected a double sample of rocks that the team deemed scientifically significant. One sample from each pair taken is on the Martian soil in the Three Forks region of the Jezero crater. These samples will serve as a backup set while the other half is inside Perseverance. The rover itself will be responsible for transporting the samples to a Lander as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. The rover’s WATSON camera captured the cover image of the tenth and final tube deployed on January 28th, 2023, the 690th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.
Scientists believe that the igneous and sedimentary rock cores provide an excellent cross-section of the geological processes that took place at Jezero shortly after the formation of the crater almost 4 billion years ago. The rover also deposited an atmospheric sample named the sample tube. This will be used to determine if the collected samples could be contaminated by materials that traveled with the rover from Earth.
The titanium tubes were deposited on the surface in an intricate zigzag pattern. Each sample, spaced 5 to 15 meters apart, was precisely mapped millimeter by millimeter to ensure their retrieval even if covered in dust. The deposit is located on flat terrain near the base of the ancient fan-shaped delta that formed long ago when a river flowed into a lake.
Perseverance’s future campaigns
“Perseverance completes the Three Forks sample deposit and is now at the head of the delta” said Rick Welch, Perseverance deputy project manager at JPL. “We’ll make our way up through the Hawksbill Gap path we’ve explored before. Once we get past the geological unit the science team calls Rocky Top, we’ll be in new territory and start exploring Delta Top”.
Passing the Rocky Top outcrop marks the end of the Delta Front campaign for the rover and the beginning of the Delta Top campaign because of the geological transition that occurs at that level. “We’ve found that from the base of the delta up to the level where Rocky Top is, the rocks appear to have been deposited in a lacustrine environment” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist at Caltech. “And those just above Rocky Top appear to have been created inside or at the end of a Martian river that flowed into the lake. As we move up the delta in a river environment, we expect to be moving onto rocks made up of larger grains, from sand to large boulders. Those materials probably originated in rocks outside of Jezero, eroded and then carried into the crater”.
One of the first stops the rover will make during the new scientific campaign is at a location the science team calls the curvilinear unit. The unit consists of sediments that were deposited in a bend in one of Jezero’s river channels. The science team believes this area will be an excellent place to look for sandstone and mudstone outcrops. Both are useful for studying geological processes beyond the walls of Jezero Crater.