- NASA’s Perseverance rover has drilled a sample from a rock on Mars for the first time.
- NASA aims to collect dozens of samples, then return them to Earth someday to study.
- The rover’s first sample attempt came up empty after that rock crumbled into powder.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has drilled into a rock in Mars’ Jezero Crater and emerged with a finger-sized core of alien stone.
To confirm its catch, the rover beamed photos back to mission controllers on Thursday showing its sample-collection tube filled.
“Now that is one beautifully perfect cored sample, if I do say so myself,” Adam Steltzner, the rover’s chief engineer, said on Twitter.
Initially, some poorly lit photos from the rover made the NASA team fear their new sample had fallen out of the titanium tube. But they confirmed the rock core was still in there on Saturday and sealed it securely on Monday.
“We LOVE this sample and we are feeling relieved that we were able to acquire it,” Jennifer Trosper, the project manager for Perseverance, told Insider via email.
NASA hopes this core will be the first of many – the rover is carrying 43 such tubes. In about a decade, the agency plans to send another spacecraft to gather those samples and launch them back to Earth. Scientists suspect that, if they can get their hands on Jezero Crater’s rocks, they may find the first strong evidence of ancient alien life.
That’s because, more than 3.5 billion of years ago, a river spilled over the edge of this crater and filled it with water. So if Mars ever hosted microbial life, Lake Jezero would be the place to find evidence of it. The river would have carried clay and minerals into the lake, where those materials would have fallen to the bottom – possibly trapping microbes and enshrining them as fossils in sedimentary stone.
To get its first taste of that kind of stone, Perseverance drilled into a different rock last month. But its sample tube came up empty. There was a hole in the rock, but no core to be found.
After some head-scratching, NASA scientists and engineers determined that the rock had simply crumbled into a fine powder. It was too porous and weak to withstand the rover’s drill.
So Perseverance drove south to a field of rocks that appeared hardier. The NASA team chose a rock, nicknamed it “Rochette,” and instructed the rover to dust off the spot where it would drill. On Wednesday, the robot made its second attempt to collect a sample. This time, the tube came up full.
Now Perseverance is set to spend the next year and a half roaming the floor of Jezero Crater, climbing the ancient river delta, and drilling new samples as it roams.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on September 2, 2021.