Sur Mars, Perseverance atteint la zone de vérité et touche enfin au but

Sur Mars, Perseverance atteint la zone de vérité et touche enfin au but

NASA teams are stamping with impatience as their favorite rover approaches the famous delta, the main objective of the mission where they hope to find traces of past life.

Since landing on Mars, the Perseverance rover has been the main protagonist of a fascinating scientific epic. NASA has communicated assiduously on its adventures and on its collaboration with Ingenuity, the small helicopter which also continues to work wonders. They are now approaching the most important phase of their mission.

For a little over a month, this shock duo has embarked on a long journey with the aim of reaching the rim of the crater of Jezero, an ancient lake where the two machines landed on February 18. There they will find the main target of the mission that took them to Mars, namely an ancient delta where the rover hopes to find biosignatures associated with a past life. This is where researchers believe they have the best chance of finding these famous biosignatures, assuming they exist.

The culmination of a perilous journey

Fortunately, this last part of the journey promises to be less complicated than the previous one. So far, NASA has had to be particularly vigilant; she watched over Perseverance as the apple of her eye to help her find her way through the trappings of the Red Planet.

Fortunately, the rover was able to count on Ingenuity. Still just as valiant, the little helicopter continues to exceed all expectations. He now serves as the rover’s personal scout; it is largely thanks to his reconnaissance flights that his friend was able to avoid sharp rocks, pockets of sand, and other geological pitfalls of Mars to arrive at the gates of the delta.

But despite its prowess, the journey hasn’t been easy for the little drone. NASA has had to be particularly vigilant over the past few weeks, when passing through a very rugged area and with often complicated weather conditions (see our article).

An aerial view of the delta. The blue arrow denotes the locations of Ingenuity and Perseverance. The rover will soon climb the slope in search of biosignatures. ©NASA/JPL

The agency even held its breath when it momentarily lost contact with its protege. But all’s well that ends well despite this fear; this little gem of engineering responded once again and completed this complicated phase brilliantly. Ingenuity isn’t tall, but just like Perseverance, he’s decidedly brave!

The main objective of the mission

The latter arrived today at the foot of the delta, as seen in the image above. It is now on the road to Devil’s Tanyard, the first sampling area in the delta. NASA teams will then carry out a major survey. Using all the instruments of the rover, they will search for potentially interesting sampling sites, in addition to those that have already been defined in advance.

It will then arrive at the top of the slope, in an area soberly called Rocky Top. In the meantime, the craft should collect at least five samples during its ascent. He will take the opportunity to make a slight detour. The objective: to dig into a set of very fine-grained clayey rocks. NASA estimates it to be “good candidates for the preservation of organic molecules and potential ancient microorganisms”.

They will also be interested in the very particular sandstone formations of the delta. These samples are not intended to search for traces of life, at least not directly. Instead, NASA researchers will focus on their structure. They will try to reconstruct the geological and hydrological history of the area; elements intimately linked to the story of a hypothetical Martian life, even if there is obviously no guarantee of finding traces of life as we know it on Earth.

The true adventure begins

This phase will last for many months, and you should therefore not be in a hurry. Even if NASA gets its hands on a defining element, such as a biosignature associated with a possible Martian microorganism, it will certainly take some time to confirm its results. But there is something to be particularly enthusiastic about as an observer.

Because Perseverance has already rewarded us with sensational scientific results when it hadn’t even arrived in the most interesting area yet. Now that he is approaching the end goal of his mission, we can reasonably expect that he has some fascinating new discoveries in store for us on Mars, even if he does not find the slightest trace of extraterrestrial life.

And if he actually ends up flushing it out, it will simply be a fundamentally historical discovery; a step that will open a new chapter in space exploration and bring us even closer to the origins of our own species. Obviously, there is no certainty, and Perseverance could perfectly come back empty-handed. But that heady prospect alone justifies keeping our eyes glued to the rover for the next few months, as a game-changing announcement could drop at any moment.

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