NASA’s Perseverance rover has rolled up to some odd and intriguing Martian terrain.
On Sunday (June 12), the car-sized Perseverance snapped a photo that could be mistaken for a still from an “Indiana Jones” movie. At the left of the tableau, a boulder perches precariously atop a slab of gray rock. And at right-center, a formation that looks very much like an open-mouthed snake head juts from a layered reddish butte.
If this were an “Indiana Jones” movie, that butte would house the lair of an evil snake-worshipping cult that Indy would have to take on, shuddering all the while. (Indy hates snakes, presumably regardless of which planet they happen to inhabit.)
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The Perseverance team is doubtless excited about this Mars landscape, and for far less fanciful reasons. The layered butte looks like it’s part of the ancient river delta that once existed inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, where the six-wheeled robot and its tiny companion, the Ingenuity helicopter, landed in February 2021.
Perseverance has two main mission tasks: look for signs of past Mars life, if it ever existed, and collect and cache dozens of samples for future return to Earth. Jezero’s ancient delta is the best place for the rover to do such work, Perseverance team members have said; indeed, the delta’s existence is the main reason the rover was sent to Jezero.
Ingenuity has been helping Perseverance explore the crater’s floor, scouting out routes and trying to find interesting science targets for the rover. The helicopter has been doing such reconnaissance work since acing its primary mission, an initial 30-day, five-flight campaign designed to show that powered flight is possible on Mars despite the planet’s thin atmosphere.
Winter is approaching in the Jezero region, and the falling temperatures are making life difficult for the little chopper, which has flown 29 times to date. But the Ingenuity team planned for such hardship and is optimistic that the rotorcraft can keep flying for a while longer yet.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).