NASA is sending a piece of rock from the Red Planet on board the Mars 2020 rover mission. The Martian meteorite may be used as a calibrating target in one of the rover units that will be mounted on the rover’s robotic arm.
The rover is geared up with a laser which could illuminate objects as thin as a human hair and that requires precise calibration. To achieve that, the lasers have a selection of target materials that can help adjust the settings of the instruments. A fraction of a Martian rock will now be part of the targeting pallet.
“We’re studying matters on such a high-quality scale that small misadjustment, caused by variations in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” Luther Beegle, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “Through analyzing how the tool sees a fixed object, we can understand how it will see a chunk of the Martian surface.”
Beegle is the main investigator of one of the Mars 2020 devices, which has the phenomenal backronym of SHERLOC – Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals. The device will use ultraviolet light to shine over the Martian meteorite samples and if certain carbon compounds are found, the samples will shine. SHERLOC may even picture the rocks it examines to help planetary scientists understand where the interesting chemicals came from.
“This kind of technology requires texture and organic chemicals – two things that our target rock will offer,” added Rohit Bhartia of JPL, SHERLOC’s deputy principal investigator.
The usage of a Martian rock wasn’t a fantastic decision. These objects are rare with only about 2 hundred recognized. The group of scientists needed a robust meteorite that could survive launch and landing. They located excellent one in the collection of London’s Natural History Museum, using a piece from SaU008, which was discovered in Oman in 1999
“Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world for study,” Caroline Smith, principal curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum, said. “This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science.”
This will be the first Martian rock to be taken back to the surface, however it’s not the first one to be Mars-adjacent. NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a spacecraft that started orbiting the Red Planet in 1997, had a fragment of the Zagami rock inside.