2 stunning panoramas show life on Mars through the eyes and ears of NASA’s Perseverance rover

Perseverance
NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. AP
  • NASA’s Perseverance rover has been snapping photos of Mars for several months.
  • A new 360-degree video captures Mars’ rocky terrain, plus the sound of its windy atmosphere.
  • Another panorama gives a close-up look at the rover’s tracks in the Martian soil.
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In its first 100 days on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover took more than 75,000 images – including selfies, photos of mysterious rocks, and a snapshot of its own shadow.

But NASA recently published a 360-degree panoramic video from the rover that offers one of the most immersive looks yet at its view of the Martian terrain.

The video is a compilation of 992 individual photos taken by Perseverance between April 15 and 26, though the photo of the rover itself is from March 20. At the time, Perseverance was keeping an eye on the Ingenuity helicopter, the 2kg rotorcraft that traveled in its belly to Mars.

Both the rover and helicopter are stationed in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 45km-wide ancient lake bed that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago.

In the video, you can find Ingenuity in its original landing spot, dubbed Wright Brothers Field. The helicopter was originally supposed to conduct five flights over Mars, but after an exceptional performance, NASA sent it to start exploring new locations. Ingenuity completed its seventh flight – and second “bonus” flight – on Monday.

Perseverance spent 13 days watching Ingenuity’s first flights from a nearby lookout point called the Van Zyl Overlook. That’s the vantage point from which the panoramic video was taken.

The video also includes soundbites of Mars’ windy atmosphere, which were picked up by the rover’s microphones on February 22.

Another panorama, taken on March 20, offers a similar glimpse of the rocky Martian landscape.

That photo gives a closer look at Perseverance’s equipment deck, which carries the rover’s cameras and mast. The deck also contains antennas to pick up on sounds and send communications back to Earth.

If you look closely in the panorama, you can see detailed rover tracks in the copper-colored Martian soil. You can also spot the rover’s debris shield – a guitar-shaped covering that protected Ingenuity during the initial Mars landing.

Both panoramic views were taken by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z, a pair of rectangular cameras with powerful zoom lenses that can record video and snap three-dimensional and color images.

A road trip to explore new Martian terrain

Perseverance embarked on its primary science mission on June 1: hunting for fossils of ancient alien microbes.

That required it to leave its landing spot in Jezero Crater and head on a road trip to some of the area’s deepest and potentially oldest layers of exposed rock.

Perseverance will spend the next few months exploring a 1.5-square-mile patch of crater floor. Over the course of the trip, the rover is expected to travel up to 3.1 miles and collect up to eight tubes of Martian rock and dust.

First, Perseverance will drive to Séítah-North, a mitten-shaped area covered in sand dunes. The uneven terrain will likely to be difficult to navigate, so Perseverance must dodge the dunes before bee-lining for the spot it intends to study.

Perseverance route
The routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks). NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Next, Perseverance will head toward the nearby Cratered Floor Fractured Rough. There, it will collect rock and sediment samples and stow them so that a future mission can one day return them to Earth.

Eventually, Perseverance will retrace its steps toward its landing site, marking the end of the first leg of its science mission.

After that, NASA scientists plan to send Perseverance to the base of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta. The trek to this area, known as Three Forks, will take several months. But scientists hope to discover something there that’s worth the trip: minerals that might have trapped and fossilized microbes if life ever existed on the red planet.