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In July of 2020, the Mars 2020 rover – part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program – will begin its long journey to the Red Planet. Hot on the heels of the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Mars 2020 rover will attempt to answer some of the most pressing questions we have about Mars. Foremost among these is whether or not the planet had habitable conditions in the past, and whether microbial life ever existed there.
To this end, the Mars 2020 rover will obtain drill samples of Martian rock and set them aside in a cache. Future crewed missions may retrieve these samples and bring them back to Earth for analysis. However, according to a recent announcement, NASA indicated that it also intends to send a piece of a Martian meteor back to the Red Planet, which will be used to calibrate the rover’s high-precious laser scanner.
Laser - Scanner - Scanning - Environments - Raman
This laser scanner is known as the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument. The laser’s resolution is capable of illuminating even the finest features in rock samples, which could include fossilized microorganisms. But in order to achieve this, the laser requires a calibration target so that the science team can fine-tune its settings.
Ordinarily, these calibration targets involve pieces of rock, metal or glass, samples that are the result of a complex geological history. However, when addressing the SHERLOC’s calibration needs, JPL scientists came up with a rather innovative idea. For billions of years, Mars has experienced impacts that have sent pieces of its surface into orbit. In some cases, those pieces came to Earth in the form of meteorites, some of which have been identified.
Meteorites - Samples - Mars - Rover
While these meteorites are rare and are not identical to the geologically diverse samples the Mars 2020 rover will collect, they are well-suited for...
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