There’s Trouble on Mars for NASA’s Perseverance Rover

There’s Trouble on Mars for NASA’s Perseverance Rover

The Perseverance rover is at risk of losing its ability to zap Martian rocks with lasers after one of its instruments began malfunctioning last month.

One of two covers on SHERLOC, an instrument fitted on the end of the robot’s arm to look for microscopic clues on rocks, is partially open, interfering with the rover’s ability to collect scientific data, NASA announced on Tuesday. The covers prevent dust from accumulating on the instrument’s cameras, which help Perseverance in its quest to seek out minerals and organic compounds considered to be the building blocks of life on Earth.

The mission team discovered the malfunction on January 6, and engineers have been working to figure out the cause behind the cover’s orientation to devise a possible fix. “To better understand the behavior of the cover’s motor, the team has been sending commands to the instrument that alter the amount of power being fed to it,” NASA wrote.

SHERLOC, short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, uses cameras, a spectrometer, and a laser to collect evidence from Mars’ rocks. It is one of seven instruments on the Mars rover, and together with its sidekick WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), the pair have been zapping rocks with lasers to detect minerals in microscopic rocks.

Normally, Perseverance picks up an interesting-looking rock, scans a quarter-sized area of it using SHERLOC’s laser, and then takes a close-up image with WATSON. Since it landed on Mars in February 2021, the rover has relied on this detective duo to zap 34 rocks.

However, with one of SHERLOC’s covers partially open, Perseverance cannot use its laser on rock targets and cannot collect spectroscopy data. This could potentially interfere with the Martian rover’s main objective on the Red Planet, searching for signs of ancient microbial life.

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