Perseverance laser-engraved the first “message” on the surface of Mars

The Perseverance rover in the Jezero crater actively collects samples, which it stores inside, so that future missions will then deliver them to Earth for study. Rock sampling can be heterogeneous and sometimes requires the rover to drill several holes in solid rocks. As a result of such procedures, a small “graffiti” is created on the surface.

Three dark laser pits in the shape of a slightly tilted letter L were created on the surface of the Pinefield Gap rock. L has dimensions of 2.5 mm in height and 1 mm in length. Authorship: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

In June, Perseverance used a laser, which is part of the SuperCam device, to leave three characteristic points on the stone, shaped like the Latin letter L. However, this did not happen by chance. There is a good scientific reason. SuperCam Chief Researcher Roger Vince commented in his report that the inscription L is the first letter laser-engraved on Mars.

Currently, the rover is exploring the delta of an ancient river, where there is the highest chance of finding evidence of past microbial life. This means that the rock samples collected there are especially important for science. In addition, the stones delivered to Earth can help researchers reconstruct the history of the magnetic field of Mars and study its effect on the planet’s atmosphere. Therefore, researchers need to know the orientation of the rock fragments on the surface to determine the original directions of the magnetic lines in the samples. That’s where the laser marking technique comes to the rescue. To make this letter, the rover fired 125 laser shots. 

Drilling rocks on Mars

“If the surface is fine-grained, the orientation of the rock may be poorly visible. In this case, we need to make artificial marks on the surface,” explained Roger Vince. Therefore, fine-grained rocks in the delta area of the river were an ideal place to check. The team chose the uppercase letter L as a simple and effective way to indicate the direction. This little letter is very important for the exploration of Mars.

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