The Red Planet rover took a portrait of its collection of samples, with 10 backup sample tubes that could be returned to Earth on a future mission.
Even space robots know what “pictures or nothing” means: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has provided a panorama of its recently completed sample depot — a major milestone for the mission and the first human collection of samples on another planet. Stitched together from 368 images sent back to Earth, the panorama captures more than a month of careful placement and mapping of 10 titanium tubes.
Eight of these tubes are filled with rock and regolith (rock fragments and dust), one is a sample of the atmosphere, and one is a “witness” tube. The rover photographed the depot using the Mastcam-Z camera on top of its mast, or “head,” on January 31, 2023. The color has been adjusted to show the surface of Mars approximately as it would appear to the human eye.
The depot is a reserve collection of samples that may be recovered in the future by the Mars Sample Return campaign, a joint effort between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) that aims to bring samples from Mars to Earth for closer study. The rover began building the depot on December 21, 2022, precisely positioning the pipes in case they need to be retrieved in the future.
An annotated version of a portrait taken by NASA Perseverance showing the location of 10 sample tubes in the depot. The Amalik sample closest to the rover was about 10 feet (3 meters) away; the most distant samples, Mageik and Malay, were about 197 feet (60 meters) from the rover.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
The main tubes are in the belly of Perseverance, which will pass through them with future samples taken during the mission to the lander for sample collection as part of the campaign. If something happens to the rover that prevents it from delivering the tubes directly to the lander, samples can be retrieved from storage instead. (Learn more about all 18 samples taken so far.)
Perseverance built a depot at Three Forks, a location in Jezero Crater. Billions of years ago, a river flowed into the crater, carrying sediment that formed a steep fan-shaped delta that the rover will lift up in the coming months.
While the Martian surface is now cold, dry and generally inhospitable to life, ancient Mars was likely similar to Earth – and could have supported microbial life if it once formed on the Red Planet. The samples Perseverance collects could help scientists determine whether life once left its mark in a place like Jezero Crater.
This photomontage shows each of the sample tubes placed by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at the Three Forks Sample Depot as viewed by the WATSON camera at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
More about the mission
A key goal of the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and store Martian rocks and regolith (rock debris and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency) will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s lunar exploration approach to Mars, which includes Artemis missions to the moon to help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.