Science

Mars 2020 Rover Is Sending Martian Meteorite Home

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is going to send a piece of an ancient Martian meteorite back to the Red Planet. There are ancient pieces of Mars on Earth in the form of meteorites, which scientists found had blasted away from the Martian surface many millions of years ago. According to the announcement of NASA on Tuesday, the rover will carry a piece of meteorite back, known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SAU008.)

The meteorite will be used as target practice for a laser technology which was designed to learn more about the Martian meteorite features on Mars. The laser instrument is dubbed SHERLOC which is short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals. However, the scientists need to provide a testing spot for the Martian rock.

Martian Meteorite Mars
karlfrey / Pixabay

The scientists at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could likely use the Martian rock itself and it could prove to be more efficient for target practice.

“We’re studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was quoted in a statement. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”

SHERLOC utilizes techniques that are similar to those of forensic experts. For example, there are certain chemicals which will reveal a special glow once they are exposed to ultraviolet light. SHERLOC will use a similar process, by taking pictures of Martian rock and documenting the chemicals that “glow” in order to determine the presence of life.

“This kind of science requires texture and organic chemicals—two things that our target meteorite will provide,” Rohit Bhartia, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and SHERLOC’s deputy principal investigator, said in a statement.

The researchers carefully planned which meteorite would be good enough to be sent back to Mars. There are roughly 200 known Martian rocks on Earth, although scientists had to find the one that would be strong enough to endure the launching and landing of the Mars 2020 rover.

SaU008, the rock that they will use was initially discovered in Oman back in 1999. According to the researchers the sample is rugged. The researchers will use two pieces of SaU008, which will be tested on Earth and Mars. The Martian meteorite to go back to the Red Planet will be the first to return to the Red Planet, although it’s not the first when it comes to a return trip to Mars. There is another Martian meteorite called Zagami and it’s floating in the Red Planet’s orbit on the defunct Mars Global Surveyor.

There is another instrument on the Mars 2020 rover called the SuperCam which will also pick a sample for target practice.

“This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back from home for the benefit of science,” Smith said in the statement.