The Perseverance rover has begun exploring one of the most exciting areas of Mars: the delta in Jezero Crater. The rover’s Delta Front campaign began on April 18 and searched the site of an ancient river delta where it can learn more about the history of water on Mars and even find evidence of ancient microbial life if it ever existed there.
“We’ve been monitoring the delta from a distance for more than a year as we explored the crater floor,” said Ken Farley, Caltech’s Perseverance project scientist, as the rover approached the delta. “At the end of our fast-paced journey, we’ll finally be able to get up close and get images of ever-greater detail revealing where best to explore these important rocks.”
Perseverance watches the Delta on Sol 419 and captures this image with its right navigation camera. NASA/JPL-Caltech
After driving at top speed to reach the delta from its previous location on the crater floor, the rover can now begin its dual goals of making scientific measurements of the area as well as drilling and collecting samples to retrieve and return to Earth through future missions.
“Perseverance will roam 40 feet high and across the delta, drilling cores along the way and characterizing the stratified sedimentary rocks that make up the delta,” explains Denise Buckner, a Student Collaborator on Perseverance at the University of Florida. “These sediments were deposited billions of years ago when water spilled over the surface of Mars and a river flowed into the ancient crater below. If there had been life on Mars during this time, remnants or signatures of those organisms could be preserved in some of these ancient rocks.”
This part of the rover’s mission will last about six months, and looking at the sedimentary layers will help researchers understand the geological history of this particular region. In addition, when the river flowed onto the surface of Mars billions of years ago, it carried rocks from all over the region, so collecting samples from here is like looking at monsters from a much larger area.
Perseverance is currently passing through an area called Cannery Passage that runs between the crater floor and the delta, and the team on the ground will analyze images and other data to decide which path the rover should take next as it drives into the delta itself.