In Brief

Perseverance rover begins Martian search for ‘extraterrestrial life’

Six-wheeled rover will collect samples and could pave way for humans on the planet

Nasa’s science rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another planet, has successfully landed on Mars.

The touchdown followed what the Daily Mirror calls “seven minutes of terror” as the six-wheeled rover carefully descended from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface.

Its heat shield had to endure temperatures as high as 2,100C (3,800F) to complete the successful landing, which marks a historic triumph for the space agency that has seen around 60% of its missions to Mars fail.

Engineers at Nasa’s mission control in California “erupted with joy when the confirmation of touchdown came through”, the BBC reports. “The good news is the spacecraft, I think, is in great shape,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager.

Now it’s arrived, the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will begin “search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance Nasa’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars”, Nasa says. The rover will “drill to collect core samples of Martian rock” before “stor[ing] them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis”.

Although Mars is currently cold and dry, with a thin atmosphere, the planet appears to have been wetter billions of years ago, with a thicker atmosphere that would support life.

It is not likely that the rover will be able to confirm signs of life with 100% certainty. But Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary science at Purdue University and part of the Perseverance team, told the New Scientist that “the hope is we’ll find very strong evidence – layers of organic material layered in with microbial mat textures on an ancient shoreline, something like that”.

The mission could also bring Nasa closer to sending humans to the planet, with the magazine adding that it may act as a “sort of dress rehearsal” for a crewed mission to Mars.

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