NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover snaps an epic selfie along with ‘mission-critical’ views of Red Planet

NASA’s Perseverance rover has compiled a variety of photos since landing at its new home on Mars in February, offering a more comprehensive view of the Red Planet and its ancient past.

The six-wheeled robotic explorer, which landed on the surface of Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is equipped with a total of 23 cameras — each of which captures a different perspective, from extreme close-ups to wide-angle, panoramic views.

“The imaging cameras are a huge piece of everything,” Vivian Sun, the co-lead for Perseverance’s first science campaign at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement. “We use a lot of them every single day for science. They’re absolutely mission-critical.”

The Perseverance rover touched down inside Mars’ 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which is believed to have been a massive lake and delta system 3.5 billion years ago. One of the mission’s primary science objectives is to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars.

The rover’s SuperCam aids in the search for past life by firing a laser at mineral targets and analyzing the mineralogy and chemistry of the vaporized rock. The SuperCam includes the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), which can zoom in on features the size of a softball from more than a mile away, according to the statement.

SuperCam is located on Perseverance’s mast, or head, near a pair of other cameras called Mastcam-Z, which have a powerful zoom lens and are able to capture color images, 3D stereo images and high-definition video. The Mastcam-Z imagers — commonly referred to as the rover’s “eyes” — help scientists identify target locations and which features to zoom in on.

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These two instruments often work in tandem, with the Mastcam-Z providing a broader view and the SuperCam capturing a closer look.

A series of images taken on March 17, 2021, captures a detailed view of an escarpment called the “Delta Scarp,” which is part of a fan-shaped river delta that formed in the crater.

In the image above, the bottom view, taken by the rover’s Mastcam-Z, shows the base and plateau of the escarpment, while the top inset view is a mosaic of images taken by Perseverance’s RMI from about 1.4 miles (2.25 km) away, according to the statement.

“This is showing huge boulders. That means there had to have been some huge flash flooding that occurred that washed boulders down the riverbed into this delta formation,” Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in the statement.

“These large boulders are partway down the delta formation. If the lakebed was full, you would find these at the very top. So the lake wasn’t full at the time the flash flood happened. Overall, it may be indicating an unstable climate. Perhaps we didn’t always have this very placid, calm, habitable place that we might have liked for raising some microorganisms,” Wiens said.

Images taken by Perseverance’s cameras also suggest evidence of igneous rock that would have formed from lava or magma flowing on the crater floor before, during or after the lake formed, scientists said.
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Next to each Mastcam-Z imager is a Navcam, which are designed to help the rover drive around Mars autonomously. At each stop, the rover uses its two navigation cameras to get a 360-degree view of the area. The image below shows a view from one of the Navcams, taken on July 1, 2021, after the rover traveled 358 feet (109 meters), which was its longest autonomous drive at the time.

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