Perseverance paves the “tourist routes” on Mars with local hitchhikers

NASA’s Perseverance rover turns into a “tour bus” for Martian rocks. In March 2022, the rover picked up a rock in the front left wheel. This rock still remains in place. But it seems that the rover now has a new friend – a larger piece of rock caught in the right front wheel.

At the end of February, the Perseverance rover picked up a “hitchhiking” rock. Photo: NASA, JPL-Caltech

Astrophotographer Simeon Schmaus noticed the new rock at the end of February and posted on Twitter a mosaic image of both rocks in the front wheels, which were taken by the left and right HazCams Perseverance cameras to avoid hazards. That’s why they are installed so low on the rover. 

HazCams help to monitor the terrain traversed by the rover, and they are also useful for monitoring the condition of the wheels. As it turns out, they are effective for monitoring rocky hitchhikers. The new free passenger was first seen in a raw image sent by the rover on February 27. On March 1, the camera was able to see the rock up close, although the photo turned out to be very shaded.

The elder rock in the Perseverance wheel traveled with the rover for many kilometers and witnessed the collection of samples and the creation of the first depot on another planet. One of the main goals of the Perseverance mission is to help us understand whether there was once microbial life on Mars. A key part of this effort is delivering the rover’s sample collection to Earth for more detailed study with the upcoming Mars Sample Return mission.

A new rock in the Perseverance wheel may subsequently fall out while traveling through the Jezero Crater. NASA was not worried about the original piece of rock, stated that “the rock does not pose a risk.” Therefore, another pebble also does not bother the agency’s engineers much. 

Mars is known to be a rocky place, as evidenced by the battered wheels of the Curiosity rover. NASA has redesigned the design of aluminum wheels so that they can withstand strict driving on inhospitable terrain.

Earlier we reported on how Curiosity and Perseverance were unable to detect life on Mars.

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