The Perseverance Mars rover snapped a selfie recently, showing its tracks wending through the Martian dust and up to a rock named Rochette. This is the area where the rover collected one of its recent Mars samples, drilling into the rock to collect a small amount in its sample tubes.
Eventually, the tubes will be collected by a future rover and brought back to Earth for study. In the image, you can see the two drill holes in the rock where the rover took the samples.
As well as taking charming selfies, the cameras on Perseverance are a vital part of its science mission. “The imaging cameras are a huge piece of everything,” said Vivian Sun, the co-lead for Perseverance’s first science campaign at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We use a lot of them every single day for science. They’re absolutely mission-critical.”
The cameras include two navigation cameras and nine engineering cameras which help the rover find its way across the Martian landscape by enabling its autonomous driving. These cameras were also responsible for capturing the rover’s first panoramic view of the Martian surface. They give a quick, lower-resolution overview of what the rover is seeing, so more powerful cameras can be trained on targets of interest.
“The navigation camera data is really useful to have those images to do a targeted science follow-up with higher-resolution instruments such as SuperCam and Mastcam-Z,” Sun said.
SuperCam and Mastcam-Z are two of the rover’s instruments which include high-resolution cameras. Mastcam-Z’s cameras capture broad overviews, like panoramas or 3D images plus high-definition video. The SuperCam instrument is used to target specific sites which are further away by zooming in in great detail to study mineralogy.
And to zoom in for super close-up shots, there’s the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm which can image rocks in great detail.
With these tools, researchers think they have the best chance yet of discovering evidence of ancient microbial life on the planet. “Once we get over closer to the delta, where there should be really good preservation potential for signs of life, we’ve got a really good chance of seeing something if it’s there,” said Luther Beegle, principle investigator for the rover’s SHERLOC instrument.