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Rovers of 2021 – MARS

2021 is the biggest year ever in the scientific community because two world nations sent a prime mission to Mars, namely NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and CNSA’s Tianwen-1, an orbiter, and the Zhurong rover, and this obviously shows that how world nations are interested in our neighboring red planet – Mars.

In its past geological history, Mars was a watery planet with oceans, rivers, lakebeds, and gullies, finding a streambed in Gale Crater by NASA’s curiosity rover and Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) are the evidence for it.

But at present, Mars is an arid planet with water-rich clay minerals, polar ice-caps, some ice patches and, glaciers in the higher latitudes. Evidence of water in its past geological history and with present-day water-ice make Mars a potentially habitable planet in search of life, and also if suitable for future human colonization.

At present, “Is there is life on Mars?” is the biggest question around the science community that needs to be answered, but to date, there is no evidence for life on Mars. Sojourner (1997), Opportunity (2004), Spirit (2004), Curiosity (2012) are the four successfully operated rovers on Mars ever and, now Perseverance (2021) and, Zhurong (2021) rovers are too added to that list.

The main objectives of both missions are to search for ancient life and to understand the origin and evolution of Mars.

Columbia HillsGusev Crater, Jezero Crater, NE Syrtis, are the three final landing sites for the Perseverance rover but, in the end, Jezero Crater had the Opportunity of landing the Percy (nickname of Perseverance rover), because of its signs of past water conditions and also scientists believed that Jezero crater was once a home for river delta, and on February 18, 2021 Perseverance rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars.

For Zhurong rover, Chryse Planitia and an area located partly in Isidis Planitia and partly in Utopia Planitia was selected as a landing site finalist, but with current orbit designs and evidence for water-ice related landforms such as domes, rampart crater, mound were found on Utopia Planitia, makes it has a final landing site for Zhurong rover, which was successfully landed on the southern Utopia planitia on May 15, 2021.

Scientific Objectives and Primary Instruments Of The Rovers:

In search of life and also to study the evolution of Mars, both the rovers will look for the different objectives in their respective landing site. Let’s see the Perseverance rover and its main objectives to investigate,

Mars 2020 Perseverance rover

Image-1: Artist illustration of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. (Image Credit : NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Characterize the Geology and Climate of Mars

Studying rocks and minerals in the Jezero crater, which will reveal the geological process and understanding the climate and environment around the area of the landing site. Onboard instruments such as the Radar Imager for Mars Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) will be examining the underground geological features of Mars and helps in detecting the presence of water, ice, and salty brines beneath the crust and, the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) helps in measuring the weather, radiations, and water vapor levels in the atmosphere.

Look for biosignature materials

Determining the habitability of the Jezero crater by the search of biosignature materials and by looking at the evidence of past microbial life. Onboard instruments like the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and SuperCam will be determining the chemical compositions of rocks, soils, and minerals and also helps in the detection of signs for past life.

Preparation for Future Humans

Testing and demonstrating In-situ resource utilizing technologies for future human settlements. For example, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), which makes oxygen by breaking the carbon-di-oxide (CO2) in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen (O2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Sample Caching System

Caching the promising samples from the landing site for future returns and, recently, Perseverance rover collected its first sample from the rock nicknamed “Rochette.” Scientist named the first sample “Montdenier” and the second sample from the same rock as, “Montagnac” and after collecting, they founded that it has a basaltic composition.

Tianwen-1

Image-2: Zhurong rover with the landing platform Tianwen-1. (Image Credit: CNSA)

The main objectives of Zhurong rover to investigate are,

Mapping of surface morphology and studying geology – Using the onboard camera, Navigation and Terrain Camera (NaTeCam) will be obtaining High-resolution images and 3D panoramic images, which will be helpful in constructing the topographic maps, surface features, and investigating the geological structures.

Examining the subsurface structure and possible water-ice in the landing site – With the onboard radar, the Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (RoPeR) will investigate the soil and water-ice distribution on the Martian surface and also obtain a subsurface structure.

Analyzing the surface elements, minerals, and rocks around the Utopia Planitia – With the rover’s Multispectral Camera (MSCam) and the Mars surface Composition Detector (MarSCoDe), will be detecting the elemental composition of rocks, minerals, and secondary minerals in the landing site.

Measuring the magnetic field, atmospheric properties, and surface environments – Onboard instruments such as Mars Rover Magnetometer (RoMAG) will be studying the Martian surface magnetic field and, the Mars Climate Station (MCS) will measure the atmospheric pressure, temperature, wind field, and also the Martian sound with the attached microphone.

The expected lifetime for both the rovers, Perseverance and Zhurong is 1 Mars year (~687 Earth year) and 90 SOLs, respectively.

Understanding our neighboring planets and other celestial bodies especially Mars, will give us clues into the origin and evolutionary history of our solar system and also on how the planet has gone through its evolutionary phase in its past geological history.

Investigating the geologies, environments, changing climates, composition, and characteristics of the Martian surface will give us an understanding and a solution to the problems faced in planetary exploration.

References:

Beğen  20
Ramakrishnan GK
Yazar

Mars on Earth Project-MoEP (India) Volunteer and Author. Muthurangam Government Arts College, Vellore - Physics

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