Ancient River helps NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover do its job – NASA Mars Exploration

This composite image captured by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover shows boulders decorating the top of the Jezero Crater fan deposit.

Perseverance Views Jezero Boulder Field: NASA’s Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z imager captured a series of images July 6 that were stitched together to show a field of boulders deposited into Jezero Crater by an ancient, fast-moving river. The rover tracks in the middle of the image give a sense of scale. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS. Download picture ›

The six-wheeled geologist receives help in his search for various rock samples that could be brought to Earth for further investigation.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has sealed the tube containing its 20th rock carrot on June 23 (the 832nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission), and the mission science team is excited about its potential. That’s because this sample was drilled by the rover from an outcrop made up of tiny chunks of other rocks that were transported from elsewhere by a river in the distant past and deposited here, where they cemented together. Conglomerates like this (dubbed “Emerald Lake” by the team) are packed with information about places the rover may never visit, with each new fragment of rock representing a geological story to tell.

“Pebbles and boulders found in a river are messengers from afar,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance Project Scientist at Caltech in Pasadena. “And while the water that created the Martian riverbed that Perseverance is now exploring evaporated billions of years ago, the history carried by those waters remains fresh, stored in conglomerate rock.”

NASA's Perseverance captured this image on June 13 of a sample it extracted from a conglomerate called

Perseverance’s “Otis Peak” sample reveals the colors of the conglomerate: NASA’s Perseverance captured this image on June 13 of a sample it extracted from a conglomerate called “Emerald Lake.” This “Otis Peak” core shows distinct colored areas that are individual minerals transported by a river that once flowed through Jezero Crater. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download picture ›

Perseverance collects these samples so that they can be brought to Earth by NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Sample Return campaign and studied by laboratory equipment too large and too complex to be transported to Mars. Scientists will be able to examine each pebble and fragment of this core, dubbed “Otis Peak”, to determine details such as its age, the environmental conditions in the river when the conglomerate formed and whether it contains signs of ancient microbial life.

Now in its third scientific campaign, Perseverance is exploring the top of a fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rock that is 130 feet (40 meters) high. With this sample sealed and stored in its belly, the rover is on its way to a low ridge called “Snowdrift Peak”. To get there, you will have to cross a field of rocks.

As with the rock fragments in the Otis Peak sample, scientists believe the boulders likely formed elsewhere and were transported to their current location billions of years ago by an ancient river. Boulders are also desirable because their large surface area allows scientists to visually study many potentially distinct rocks in a single image. So the team will keep their options open, ready to stop for anything that piques their curiosity.

“It remains to be seen if the boulders look intriguing enough for further examination and possible sampling – literally,” Farley said. “We are taking a page from the past. In the past, prospectors looking for gold or diamonds often searched rivers to determine if there was a deposit of interest upstream. No need to walk up there to see – let the river do the work!

Learn more about the mission

A key objective of the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including caching of samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s past geology and climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rocks and regoliths.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis Moon missions that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by Caltech, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

To learn more about perseverance:

Media contacts

DC Eagle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501 /

Leave a Reply