NASA announced Monday that it has captured, sealed, and stored the first core sample ever drilled on another planet.
The space agency’s Perseverance rover completed the collection of the first sample of a Martian rock, a core from the Jezero Crater that’s slightly thicker than a pencil.
NASA says the core is now enclosed in an airtight titanium sample tube, making it available for retrieval in the future.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning a series of future missions to return the rover’s sample tubes to Earth for closer study. They would be the first set of scientifically identified and selected materials returned to our planet from another.
“This is a momentous achievement, and I can’t wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement.
Along with identifying and collecting samples of rock and dust while searching for signs of ancient microscopic life, NASA says Perseverance’s mission includes studying the Jezero region of Mars to understand the geology and ancient habitability of the area, as well as to characterize the past climate.
Perseverance began its sample-taking process on Sept. 1, when the rotary percussive drill at the end of its robotic arm cored into a flat, briefcase-size Mars rock nicknamed “Rochette.”
After completing the coring process, NASA says the arm maneuvered the corer, bit, and sample tube so the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera instrument could image the contents of the still-unsealed tube and transmit the results back to Earth.
After mission controllers confirmed the cored rock’s presence in the tube, they sent a command to complete the processing of the sample.
Early Monday morning, Perseverance transferred sample tube serial number 266 and its Martian cargo into the rover’s interior to measure and image the rock core. It then hermetically sealed the container, took another image, and stored the tube.
Perseverance is currently exploring the rocky outcrops and boulders of “Artuby,” a ridgeline of more than a half-mile bordering two geologic units believed to contain Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.
The rover’s initial foray, which spans hundreds of Martian days, will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, it will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles, and may have filled as many as eight of its 43 sample tubes.
After that, Perseverance will travel north, then west, toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero Crater’s delta region. NASA says the delta is the fan-shaped remains of the spot where an ancient river met a lake within the crater. The region may be especially rich in clay minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are often associated with biological processes.