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Optics are Critical in Search for Ancient Life on Mars

 

The Perseverance rover is searching for signs of water and ancient life on Mars

 

The rover uses a total of 23 cameras to navigate and collect samples

 

A laser vaporizes rock up to 7m (20ft) away as a spectrometer analyzes the composition

 

Investigating if substances on Mars would be harmful to humans

NASA’s missions to Mars over the last few decades have proven that parts of the Red Planet were likely covered in water billions of years ago. The Perseverance rover is now roaming the cold, dry surface of Mars looking for signs of ancient microbial life. It landed in February 2021 and is analyzing rock and soil samples to better understand Mars’s past, present, and potential for future human colonization. Perseverance is equipped with 23 cameras helping it navigate and pursue its mission (Figure 1).1 These varied optical systems are essential in determining whether Mars once sustained life and if it could be habitable in the future.

A total of 23 imaging systems allow the Perseverance rover to safely navigate and collect geological samples from the surface of Mars.
Figure 1: A total of 23 imaging systems allow the Perseverance rover to safely navigate and collect geological samples from the surface of Mars.1,2

Why Does One Rover Need 23 Cameras?

The many imaging systems on Perseverance serve as its “eyes” and other senses. Seven cameras were specifically used to assist the rover in entering Mars’s atmosphere, descending towards the surface, and landing safely.1 These systems, along with advanced algorithms, allowed the rover to greatly improve the precision of where it could land, opening new regions of Mars for exploration (Figure 2). Nine engineering cameras help Perseverance drive autonomously and avoid hazards. Seven additional cameras allow the rover ¬to collect rock and soil samples and analyze their composition. Several of the most interesting scientific cameras are described below.

This aerial image of Mars shows the significantly smaller landing site of Perseverance as compared to past Mars missions, which were much less precise.
Figure 2: This aerial image of Mars shows the significantly smaller landing site of Perseverance as compared to past Mars missions, which were much less precise.2

SuperCam: Vaporizing Martian Rocks with a High-Power Laser

SuperCam is one of the most interesting scientific cameras on Perseverance. It uses a high-power laser to vaporize rocks from up to 7m (20ft) away and then a spectrograph analyzes the remains to determine their chemical composition(Figure 3).1 SuperCam is looking for the presence of organic compounds which could indicate microbial Martian life from the past. The laser generates a plasma (very hot gas of free electrons and ions) after hitting its target.

SuperCam vaporizes rocks from up to 7m away and an attached spectrograph determines the chemical composition of the remains to see if they contain organic compounds.
Figure 3: SuperCam vaporizes rocks from up to 7m away and an attached spectrograph determines the chemical composition of the remains to see if they contain organic compounds.2

Other Cameras on Perseverance

The other cameras on Perseverance serve a wide variety of functions. Three-dimensional stereo imaging lets the rover accurately sense its environment and avoid hazards.1 An X-ray fluorescence system characterizes chemical elements in target areas as small as a single grain of table salt. CacheCam is an imaging system which provides a top-down view of rock samples that Perseverance collects before they are sealed and stored (Figure 4). This allows scientists to keep a record of the entire process of sample collection and watch over it to ensure its proper function.

The top-down view of rock samples collected by CacheCam lets scientists monitor the geological samples.
Figure 4: The top-down view of rock samples collected by CacheCam lets scientists monitor the geological samples.2

Imaging Lenses for Harsh Environments by Edmund Optics®

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Cw Series Fixed Focal Length Lenses

  • Waterproof (Cw) Versions of TECHSPEC® C Series Fixed Focal Length Lenses
  • Meets IEC Ingress Protection Ratings of IPX7 and IPX9K
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  • Designed to Eliminate the Need for a Protective Lens Cover
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Cr Series Fixed Focal Length Lenses

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1.1” HPr Series Fixed Focal Length Lenses

  • Ruggedized Lens (50g Shock) with Individual Optics Glued in Place
  • Up to 20 MegaPixels, 1.85μm Pixel Size Sensors
  • 1.1", C-Mount Lens
  • 16mm to 50mm Focal Length
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Rugged Blue Series M12 Lenses

  • Ruggedized Lens (50g Shock) with All Optics Glued in Place
  • Up to 5 MegaPixels, 1.4μm Pixel Size Sensors
  • Up to 1/2", S-Mount Lens
  • 6mm to 25mm Focal Length
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HEO Series M12 Lenses

  • Harsh Environment Optics (HEO) Waterproof Lens
  • Up to 1.2 MegaPixels, 5μm Pixel Size Sensors
  • Up to 1/2", S-Mount Lens
  • 2.2mm to 8mm Focal Length

References

  1. NASA (2021). The Cameras on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. Mars 2020 Mission Perseverance Rover. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/rover/cameras/.
  2. NASA (2021). Image Gallery: Perseverance Rover. Mars 2020 Mission Perseverance Rover. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/multimedia/images/.

FAQs

FAQ  Has Perseverance found any signs of ancient life on Mars yet?
No, as of 2021, Perseverance has not yet found any signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. However, it has found rock samples that show signs of being shaped by water and wind. These indicate that, at one time, Mars featured running water and other conditions which might indicate the presence of life.
FAQ  How many rovers are on Mars right now?

As of 2021, there are five rovers on Mars. Perseverance is the most recently launched and the others are Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.

FAQ  How does this rover’s mission differ from past rovers?

Unlike past rovers, Perseverance collects promising rock and soil samples and stores them in a "cache" on Mars’s surface. A future mission could bring these samples back to Earth.

FAQ  Where on Mars did the Perseverance rover land?

It landed in the Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta which contains geological features that could only have been formed by water.

Technical Resources

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