Mars Orbiter Spots New Perseverance Lander on Surface
The NASA Perseverance rover touched down on Mars last month, kicking off what we all hope will be many years studying the red planet. Perseverance isn’t the only robot in that part of the solar system. The ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is one of several missions looking down at the surface, and it has spotted the Perseverance rover on the floor of Jezero Crater. That’s it in the image above.
Perseverance touched down in the crater on February 18th, and it has yet to take its first drive. With the rover stationary, it was a simple matter for the TGO to snap a picture of that region on February 23rd. This spacecraft is supposed to be analyzing methane and other trace gasses that could point to biological or geological activity, but it can also spot rovers. The image comes from TGO’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), and it shows the rover right near the center.
Getting Perseverance on the surface was no simple feat, and this image really drives that home. The rover is safe and sound all by itself, but the various components of the descent system are scattered around the region. Off to the far right is the heat shield that detached early in the landing. Likewise, the parachute and back shell left the rover long before landing. They ended up impacting in the opposite direction.
Like Curiosity, Perseverance is too heavy to land with just airbags or parachutes. That’s why NASA designed the wacky sky crane descent stage. This rocket-powered device lowered Perseverance to the surface on cables, a process that you can watch happen in the footage NASA released last week. After that, the descent stage flew off to crash someplace safe. That location, according to the TGO image, is halfway between the parachutes and the lander itself.
NASA is still giving Perseverance a thorough systems check, but the rover should begin science operations soon. Jezero Crater was a lake several billion years ago, fed by a river that left alluring deltaic deposits. River deltas on Earth are ideal places to find fossilized evidence of life, and scientists are hoping the same is true on Mars. As for TGO, it’s going to continue with its mission to analyze the Martian atmosphere. The ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos plan to launch a follow-up mission currently known as ExoMars 2022 that will consist of a Russian lander and a European rover.