NASA can't find the Mars rock sample that the Perseverance rover drilled — it mysteriously disappeared

Science

Business Insider 09 August, 2021 - 08:01pm 40 views

NASA's Perseverance mission has been one of triumphs, but now the rover is facing a mystery worthy of an interplanetary Sherlock Holmes. A rock sample has gone missing.

The rover successfully made its first drill hole in a rock on Mars with the intention of collecting a small sample and stashing it into a tube. The tubes are meant to be picked up and returned to Earth by a future mission. On Friday, NASA said data indicates "no rock was collected during the initial sampling activity."

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The sampling seemed to go as expected, but the autonomous process includes a probe check of the tube to measure how much rock is in it. "The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube," said Perseverance surface mission manager Jessica Samuels.

The rover's Twitter account noted this sampling enigma is "something we've never seen in testing on Earth."

The rover team suspects Perseverance did everything right, but that the rock itself didn't behave as expected. NASA is continuing to analyze data and images to try to solve the mystery.

Perseverance landed in the Jezero Crater in February and its first sample was expected to be met with celebration rather than head-scratching. The crater was once home to a lake, making it a prime spot for the rover to seek out signs of ancient microbial life.

The sample attempt might not have worked out, but the wheeled explorer is equipped with 43 tubes, so the team will try again. Mars is full of surprises and the rover was bound to encounter a few hiccups as it travels across the red planet.

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Perseverance Mars rover's first rock sample goes missing

BBC News 10 August, 2021 - 02:50am

The robot's mechanisms seemed to work perfectly but when a metal tube expected to hold the sample was examined, it was found to be empty.

The mission team think the particular properties of the target rock may have been to blame.

More images and telemetry pulled down from Mars should solve the puzzle.

"The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the sampling and caching system," said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

"Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analysing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube."

Perseverance has a drilling and coring system on the end of its 2m-long robotic arm.

This is capable of cutting and retrieving finger-sized samples of rock. These are then passed to a processing unit inside the rover's belly that packages and seals them in titanium cylinders.

But before sealing, a camera and probe are used to assess the amount of material recovered, and when this was done for Friday's coring attempt it became obvious the sample was missing.

This would not be the first time the Red Planet's surface has played hard-to-get with robots' analytical tools.

Nasa's 2007 Phoenix lander found the local soils in Mars' "Arctic" region to have a sticky consistency that made it difficult to get a sample into the robot's onboard laboratory. And the agency's 2018 InSight lander struggled, and ultimately failed, to drive a temperature instrument into the ground. The sub-surface was unexpectedly resistant.

Perseverance landed on Mars in February, in a 45km-wide (30 miles) crater called Jezero. Its mission is to try to determine whether life exists, or has ever existed, on the planet.

One of the ways it hopes to do this is by collecting a range of rock samples for later return to Earth.

The initial attempt at getting a core was targeted at a rock that is suspected to represent the base material of Jezero. Scientists hope that if such a sample could be accurately dated, it would give them a timeline for everything that subsequently happened in the crater.

Jezero looks, from satellite pictures, to have hosted a lake many billions of years ago. It's the kind of environment that might have been favourable to micro-organisms.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's science director, said he had no doubt engineers would soon work out why the sample is missing.

"I’m confident we have the right team working (on) this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success," he added.

Heating from humans has caused irreparable damage to the Earth that may get worse in coming decades.

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Geologists Discover That NASA Rover Has Been Exploring Surface Sediments, Not Ancient Lake Deposits

SciTechDaily 10 August, 2021 - 02:50am

An image taken by the Curiosity Rover MastCam instrument shows layered sedimentary rocks composing Mount Sharp. The rover has been driving from the floor of Gale crater up through the rocks within these hills in order to understand how the rocks change from lower in the section (older) to higher in the section (younger). The rover have traversed rocks over >400 meters of elevation from the beginning of the mission. Credit: NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover

In 2012, NASA landed the rover Curiosity in the Gale crater on Mars because the crater was thought by many scientists to be the site of an ancient lake on Mars more than 3 billion years ago. Since that time, the rover has been driving along, carrying out geological analyses with its suite of instruments for over 3,190 sols (martian days, equivalent to 3278 earth days). After analyzing the data, researchers from Department of Earth Sciences, the Faculty of Science at The University of Hong Kong (HKU), have proposed that the sediments measured by the rover during most of the mission did not actually form in a lake.

The researcher team suggested that the large mound of sedimentary rocks explored and analyzed for the last eight years actually represent sand and silt deposited as air-fall from the atmosphere and reworked by the wind. The alteration minerals formed by the interaction between water and the sand did not occur in a lake setting. The “wet” environment, they propose, actually represents weathering similar to soil formation under rainfall in an ancient atmosphere that was very different from the present one.

These images show Gale crater in High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) images, with elevation colorized in blue. The image on the left shows the standard model where Gale crater is generally assumed to have been a large lake (flooded to at least an elevation of ~4,000m). The image at the right is the model proposed by Liu et al., in which only very small, shallow lakes existed on the floor of Gale crater (with the crater flooded only to an elevation of approximately ~4,500m). Most the sediments were deposited from the atmosphere as air-fall deposits and later weathered from precipitation or ice-melt. A star marks the rover’s landing site. Credit: ESA/HRSC/DLR

The discovery was published recently in Science Advances in a paper led by research postgraduate student Jiacheng LIU, his advisor Associate Professor Dr. Joe MICHALSKI, and co-author Professor Mei Fu ZHOU, all of whom are affiliated with the Department of Earth Sciences. The researchers used chemistry measurements and x-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements, in addition to images of rock textures, to reveal how compositional trends in the rocks relate to geological processes.

“Jiacheng has demonstrated some very important chemical patterns in the rocks, which cannot be explained in the context of a lake environment,” said Dr. Michalski. “The key point is that some elements are mobile, or easy to dissolve in water, and some elements are immobile, or in other words, they stay in the rocks. Whether an element is mobile or immobile depends not only on the type of element but also on the properties of the fluid. Was the fluid acidic, saline, oxidizing, etc. Jiacheng’s results show that immobile elements are correlated with each other, and strongly enriched at higher elevations in the rock profile. This points toward top-down weathering as you see in soils. Further, he shows that iron is depleted as weathering increases, which means that the atmosphere at the time was reducing on ancient Mars, not oxidizing like it is in the modern day, rusted planet.”

Understanding how the Martian atmosphere, and the surface environment as a whole, evolved is important for the exploration for possible life on Mars, as well as our understanding of how Earth may have changed during its early history. “Obviously, studying Mars is extremely difficult, and the integration of creative and technologically advanced methodologies are necessary. Liu and co-authors have made intriguing observations via the utilization of remote sensing techniques to understand the chemical composition of ancient sediments that inform on their early development. Their data present challenges to existing hypotheses for both the depositional environment of these unique rock formations and the atmospheric conditions that they formed under – specifically, the authors show evidence for weathering processes under a reducing atmosphere in a subareal environment similar to a desert, rather than formation in an aqueous lake environment. Indeed, this work will inspire new and exciting directions for future research.” Assistant Professor from Department of Earth Science Dr. Ryan McKenzie added.

China successfully landed its first lander, Zhurong, on Mars in May this year. Zhurong is currently roving the plains of Utopia Planitia, exploring mineralogical and chemical clues to recent climate change. China is also planning a sample return mission likely to occur at the end of this decade.

The Department of Earth Sciences, Research Division for Earth and Planetary Science and the Laboratory for Space Research specializes in the applications of traditional Earth and environmental science techniques and skills for modern space science challenges. Dr. Joe Michalski operates the Planetary Spectroscopy and Mineralogy Laboratory at HKU, and is the Deputy Director of the Laboratory for Space Research.

We now know that we can Produce oxygen on other plants with a CO2 atmosphere, as the perseverence has succesfully provenzalisches. WOW!

Time scale. Time scale. Time scale… MAYBE BOTH scenarios apply, one following the other, more recent Discovery discovery… Is that REDUNDANT?

Wow the hight (sic) of exploration. Billions of dollars spent on an ongoing effort to do things people could only dream of for a very long time. That deposit may be redistributed, but it will help in identifying future spots so they can be prioritized. Do the Electric Slide and get down.

I assume HKU is some university?? It is not defined.

Thanks for your question. HKU is The University of Hong Kong.

It was in the byline, but we should have included it in the body of the article. That has now been fixed.

If the planet surface is three billion years old, it doesn’t matter if the eroded sediments have been redistributed or not, they are still that old. On Earth if early Archean sediments are eroded into a lake they are still 3.5 billion years old even if the lake bottom is Cenozoic in age. An atmosphere without oxygen is not automatically reducing but if it is life is precluded by virtue of lacking protection from the Sun’s damaging UV radiation. The iron minerals on Mars are oxidized. Iron depleted sediments are not the same as reducing. The absence of laminated, fissile shales on Mars is more telling. No liquid water for very long to synthesize clay minerals that would then be eroded. And no dark colored sediments that would indicate the presence of organic matter.

I would have like to know their feeling on discovering they were actually on a different form of sediment and if that would change things in any way moving forward,

Learn to spell GENIUS! To Neil Barron…lol

They say earth and Mars are something a like but I do think mars has gravity like earth so where is gravity it has to be oxygen some where on Mars lol

Wouldn’t ‘rainfall:’ pool. And if enough and enclosed, form a lake? Jeez even a puddle can be called a micro-lake.

Nice comment Mr. Towe. Logical suppositions based on the information currently available. Not emotional whining about subject matter barely understood as we often see.

For those who think money spent on space exploration is wasted…wow. let me see how briefly i can lead you to a better understanding:

1.We are quickly overpopulating this planet and depleting natural resources needed for our survival.

2. We are also destroying the most vital needs…our air water soil etc. I am the furthest thing from a liberal btw…

3. We will soon need somewhere to live besides Earth. Only way to get there and colonize is a competent space program…now with private companies too (!!)

3 steps is best i can help you folks above to quit picking fleas off your sisters at the zoo and join us nerdy types in supporting the only means of insuring humanity survives. You’re welcome.

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Life on the Red Planet? NASA is looking for 4 people to live inside their 3D-printed Mars module for a year

USA TODAY 10 August, 2021 - 02:50am

The robot's mechanisms seemed to work perfectly but when a metal tube expected to hold the sample was examined, it was found to be empty.

The mission team think the particular properties of the target rock may have been to blame.

More images and telemetry pulled down from Mars should solve the puzzle.

"The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the sampling and caching system," said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

"Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analysing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube."

Perseverance has a drilling and coring system on the end of its 2m-long robotic arm.

This is capable of cutting and retrieving finger-sized samples of rock. These are then passed to a processing unit inside the rover's belly that packages and seals them in titanium cylinders.

But before sealing, a camera and probe are used to assess the amount of material recovered, and when this was done for Friday's coring attempt it became obvious the sample was missing.

This would not be the first time the Red Planet's surface has played hard-to-get with robots' analytical tools.

Nasa's 2007 Phoenix lander found the local soils in Mars' "Arctic" region to have a sticky consistency that made it difficult to get a sample into the robot's onboard laboratory. And the agency's 2018 InSight lander struggled, and ultimately failed, to drive a temperature instrument into the ground. The sub-surface was unexpectedly resistant.

Perseverance landed on Mars in February, in a 45km-wide (30 miles) crater called Jezero. Its mission is to try to determine whether life exists, or has ever existed, on the planet.

One of the ways it hopes to do this is by collecting a range of rock samples for later return to Earth.

The initial attempt at getting a core was targeted at a rock that is suspected to represent the base material of Jezero. Scientists hope that if such a sample could be accurately dated, it would give them a timeline for everything that subsequently happened in the crater.

Jezero looks, from satellite pictures, to have hosted a lake many billions of years ago. It's the kind of environment that might have been favourable to micro-organisms.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's science director, said he had no doubt engineers would soon work out why the sample is missing.

"I’m confident we have the right team working (on) this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success," he added.

Heating from humans has caused irreparable damage to the Earth that may get worse in coming decades.

15 sayings from around the world

We are on the brink of a new space race – it’s time to talk about Mars

The Independent 10 August, 2021 - 02:50am

The Outer Space Treaty (OST), signed during the Cold War in 1967 and ratified by all the space-faring countries, is quite clear on two regards: no one country can own an extraterrestrial object, in part or as a whole; and all of outer space is held in common for the benefit of everybody. Arguably, the OST’s assumption that we are the masters of our own solar system and potentially beyond, is an act of hubris. But Mars is in our celestial backyard. If anyone gets to decide its fate, it’s going to be us.

The presenting problem is that Mars is a very long way away, and any crewed mission will be at the end of the most precarious supply line in history. Food, fuel, water, air, tools, spare parts – everything – needs to be taken along or sent in advance. It’s incredibly expensive to do that, and the pressure to cut the costs, as well as the risk, is intense. Which is why future planned missions to Mars rely heavily on the anodyne-sounding practice of In Situ Resource Utilisation.

Water is heavy and incompressible, but Mars is already rich with water ice. Oxygen can be cracked from the carbon dioxide that comprises most of Mars’s atmosphere. Fuel for the return journey can be synthesised by combining the water and the oxygen. Even the habitats the astronauts live in, however temporarily, are best made from thick mounds of Martian soil, to protect its fragile Earth-born occupants from the constant, cancer-inducing radiation.

Perhaps no one would begrudge Mars’s first visitors such a boon – water, fuel and air being vital for their survival. But what would be the status of a permanent base, digging into the Martian surface, excavating more of its ice, using chemicals found there as feedstock for manufacturing vital parts, or mining the rock for metal ores? One base will become a network of settlements, and at what point do we call them a colony? When does using the commons for survival become misusing them for private gain?

Although the OST came without any meaningful enforcement, it could have an unexpected, and growing, part to play in our future – if we show enough collective will and insist that its signatories honour it. When it comes to protecting Mars, we could do far worse than to look to the governance of the Antarctic Treaty, in place since 1961. That treaty has saved that continent for science, setting aside territorial claims, preventing economic activity and militarisation. Oversight committees representing all the interested nations arbitrate disputes and coordinate activity, based on consensus and legally binding obligations to each other.

Because it’s almost inevitable that, if we do nothing, the default will be a chaotic and exploitative land grab – not today, not tomorrow, but soon enough. In a hundred years time, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may well look back and wonder at the poor choices we made now.

Mystery swirls around Mars rover’s failed sample attempt—here’s what we know

National Geographic 09 August, 2021 - 03:03pm

The Perseverance rover isn't the first robot to have trouble digging into the red planet. But NASA is optimistic about trying again.

Although NASA has enjoyed a string of high-profile successes on the red planet, sometimes Mars throws scientists a curveball. Experts at the space agency don’t know why yet, but the Perseverance rover came up empty during its first attempt to collect a sample of Martian rock last week. Now the hunt is on to figure out exactly what went wrong.  

The multi-step sampling process initially seemed to progress smoothly. The rover bored into the red planet, closed the sample tube with an airtight seal, and safely deposited the tube into a module in the rover's belly on August 6. "The system itself worked perfectly," says Jennifer Trosper, project manager for the Perseverance mission.

But as the team teased through the data, they realized the tube was empty. During tests conducted on Earth, some of the cores were smaller than others, but "we've always gotten some sample in the tube," Trosper says.

The failed sample attempt joins several past missions that have struggled to dig into the red rocks of Mars as planned. “This is kind of par for the course” when it comes to Mars missions, Trosper says. A self-hammering heat probe on Mars's InSight lander, for example, only managed to sink an inch or so deep into the surface before popping back out.

To investigate the latest hiccup, the science team is searching for rocks on Earth with similar properties to the Martian rock they tried to drill, so they can run more tests. They also plan to use a camera positioned at the end of the rover's arm to take a close look down the sample hole for more information about what might have happened.

Trosper speculates that pockets of air in the sample rocks may have caused it to crumble and fall out of the tube, which was designed to hold a solid cylinder. Or perhaps the coring device ground the sample to bits. But for now, the only thing the team knows for sure is that the rock of Mars has surprised them again.

"Once more, Mars shows us that it is not Earth," Trosper says.

While Mars is now a frigid desert, signs of past water abound, from winding stream channels to sprawling river deltas. Perseverance touched down on Mars in February 2021 to search for clues to ancient life in a 28-mile-wide crater that was probably once filled with a freshwater lake.

A key part of this search is collecting the first pristine samples from Mars's surface. Equipped with 43 ultraclean sample tubes, the Perseverance rover should collect dozens of samples across the crater floor and up through an ancient river delta. The rover would then cache the samples in a yet-undetermined place so that a future mission can scoop them up and return them to Earth.

The sampling process is a "choreographed and coordinated" series of events that requires a total of 11 days, explains Vivian Sun of NASA's JPL, who is co-leading the mission's first science campaign. The scientists begin by abrading a patch of the surface, which clears away any dust or coatings and allows them to study the makeup of the underlying rock.

The final stage of Perseverance’s first sample attempt began the evening of August 5, after the team issued commands for the automated process to start. They awoke the following morning at 2 a.m. PT to check Perseverance's progress, discovering it had successfully drilled into the surface. An image showed exactly what they expected: a hole surrounded by a ring of sand known as tailings. "It was beautiful," Trosper says.

Around 8:30 a.m., the team received images of a successfully sealed tube inside the rover. But then they looked at the rest of the data.

Before the tube was sealed, an arm inside the rover pushed it upward into a sensor to measure the volume of material—revealing nothing inside. The team then downloaded images looking down into the tube to confirm that it was empty.

"We started to scratch our heads," Trosper says.

This isn't the first time that Martian rocks haven't acted the way scientists expected. NASA's Phoenix lander, which touched down on Mars in 2008, initially struggled to scoop the planet’s rusty red regolith into a device that heats the rocks to sniff out their components. The material was more “sticky” than expected, and the rocks didn't easily fall from the scoop. Scientists still debate why, Trosper says.

Another issue involved the self-hammering heat probe, or “mole,” on NASA's InSight lander, which is currently studying the interior of Mars. Each time the mole attempted to dig itself in, it would pop back out again. NASA finally gave up in January 2021 after several hammering attempts, citing a lack of friction that prevented the probe from penetrating more than an inch or so underground.

During the months of preparation before Perseverance launched, the team took more than a hundred practice samples on Earth to try and ensure the process would go as planned. But when designing missions to other worlds such as Mars, Trosper says scientists often talk about the “unknown unknowns”—situations when something totally unexpected happens. This missing sample is just that.

Such mysteries also provide an opportunity to discover something new. "One of the beauties of the work that we do is making some of those ‘unknown unknowns’ known," Trosper says.

For now, the rover otherwise seems to be in good health, and the mission scientists remain positive that the tests they are running will help inform the next sampling attempt—though NASA has not yet announced when the next attempt will take place.

"I look around me and I see so much—hundreds of years—of experience," says Trosper, noting that most of the Perseverance team has worked on three to five different missions. "We love problem-solving, and we think we're going to get this one solved."

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