Star Wars fans spot a “light saber” on Mars in a new photo

New images released by NASA show an object on the surface of Mars, resembling a lightsaber from the famous Star Wars series. Despite its appearance, this mysterious article is actually a titanium tube containing a rock sample resting on the surface of the Red Planet. Last Wednesday, the US space agency Perseverance Rover placed the tube there, in preparation to bring it back to Earth on a small spacecraft. NASA is now planning a future mission to retrieve samples collected by the rover, and return the first pieces from Mars to Earth. The lightsaber-like sample tube is prepared to form a “tube depot” that can be considered for the return trip to Earth by the Mars Sample Return Expedition.

The first tube dropped contained samples of a chalk-sized core of igneous rock informally called “Malay,” which was collected on January 31, 2022, in an area of ​​Jezero Crater called “South Séítah.”

Over the next two months, Perseverance will deposit a total of ten tubes at this site, referred to as “Three Forks,” marking a historic step as humanity builds its first sample repository on another planet.

However, the rover also collects duplicate samples from the rock targets that the mission chooses. She currently has 17 other samples (including one atmospheric sample) taken so far in her belly.

In a blog post, NASA noted that “based on the structure of the Mars sample return campaign, the rover will deliver samples to a future robotic lander.”

This probe, in turn, would use a robotic arm to put the samples into a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would blast off into Mars orbit, where another spacecraft would pick up the sample container and return it safely to Earth.

If Perseverance fails to deliver its samples, the repository will serve as a backup for the return drive, at which time NASA will deploy a pair of sample-recovery helicopters to finish the job.

In the coming weeks, scientists will have other opportunities to check Perseverance’s progress working more sample deposits into the Three Forks cache.

“Seeing our first sample on Earth is a wonderful culmination of our main mission period, which ends on January 6th,” said Rick Welch, deputy project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “We are also closing this first chapter of the mission.”

Read more: NASA achieves massive breakthrough on Mars where ‘building blocks of life’ found

The main goal of the NASA Perseverance mission on Mars is astrobiology, which involves searching for signs of ancient microbial life, especially by investing those areas where Mars had rivers flowing millions of years ago.

NASA said: “The rover will characterize the planet’s geological and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rocks and regoliths (broken rocks and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s lunar-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes the Artemis missions to the moon and that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

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Perseverance’s complex sampling and caching system took nearly an hour to retrieve the lightsaber-like metal tube from inside the rover’s belly, view it one last time with its internal CacheCam, and drop the sample about 3 feet (89 centimeters) onto a carefully selected patch of the Martian surface.

However, after dropping the tube, NASA engineers had to position the WATSON camera located at the end of Perseverance’s 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm to peer below the rover, and check to make sure the tube was not. It rolled into the path of the rover’s wheels.

“The samples from this repository — and duplicates on board Perseverance — are an impressive collection that is very representative of the area explored during the main mission,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, principal scientist for ASU’s Mars Sample Return Program.

“We have not only igneous and sedimentary rocks that record at least two and maybe four or even more different modes of water change, but also regolith, atmosphere and tube witness.”

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