Mars is receiving visitors these days. Quite a few of them.
The most prominent visitor is NASA’s Perseverance rover, which made a difficult but smooth precision landing at 3.55 ET this afternoon.
The rover now sits in Jezero Crater, in an area that clearly once had lots of water flowing. The site was selected, in part, because the Perseverance rover’s official mission includes — for the first time since the mid 1970s — an effort to find signs of long ago life.
Perseverance will join the Curiosity rover on Mars, that pioneering machine that has revolutionized our understanding of the planet since it landed in 2012 The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers are similar in design but carry different instruments with different goals.
A key difference: Curiosity was tasked with determining whether Mars had once been habitable and found that it definitely had been, with flowing rivers, large lakes and necessary-for-life organic compounds. Perseverance will take another scientific step forward and search for signs that Mars actually was once inhabited.
Perseverance also joins China’s Tianwen-1 (“heavenly questions”) probe, which went into orbit around Mars last week. It is the first Chinese spacecraft to arrive at Mars, and later this spring or summer the Chinese space agency will attempt to land a rover as well on the planet’s northern plains..
And then there’s the Hope spacecraft which entered into Mars orbit last week as well. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it was placed in a wide orbit so it could study the planet’s weather and climate systems, which means it also can see the full planet in one view.
These spacecraft will join several others on or orbiting Mars, making this by far the busiest time ever for exploration of Mars — a real milestone.
That the Perseverance mission has a formal goal of searching for ancient signs of life is a big deal, and involves a lot of history.… Read more