The Perseverance Mars rover is preparing to collect its first rock sample from the site of an ancient lake bed, as its mission to search for signs of past life begins in earnest, NASA said Wednesday.
The milestone is expected to take place within two weeks in a scientifically interesting region of the Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.”
Up ahead: the target spot where I plan to collect my first-ever sample of Martian rock. I have everything I need with me to get the job done. First is to collect detailed, close-up science of the rock, then comes the coring.
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) July 21, 2021
“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.
“I have every expectation that Perseverance’s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars.”
Perseverance landed on the Red Planet on February 18, and over the summer moved about a kilometre to the south of its landing site, project scientist Ken Farley told reporters.
“Now we’re looking at environments that are much further in the past – billions of years in the past,” he said in a briefing.
The team believes the crater was once home to an ancient lake that filled and drew down multiple times, potentially creating the conditions necessary for life.
Analysing samples will reveal clues about the rocks’ chemical and mineral composition – revealing things like whether they were formed by volcanoes or are sedimentary in origin.
In addition to filling gaps in scientists’ geologic understanding of the region, the rover will also scour for possible signs of ancient microbes.
First, Perseverance will deploy its 7-foot (two-metre) long robotic arm to determine precisely where to take its sample.
The rover will then use an abrasion tool to scrape off the rock’s top layer, exposing unweathered surfaces.
These will be analysed by Perseverance’s turret-mounted scientific instruments to determine chemical and mineral composition, and look for organic matter.
One of the instruments, called SuperCam, will fire a laser at the rock and then take readings of the resulting plume.
Farley said that a small cliff that harbored fine-layered rocks might have been formed from lake muds, and “those are very good places to look for biosignatures,” though it will be a few more months before Perseverance reaches that outcrop.
Each rock Perseverance analyses will have an untouched geologic “twin” which the rover will scoop up, seal and store under its belly.
Eventually, NASA is planning a return mission with the European Space Agency to collect the stored samples and return them for lab analysis on Earth, sometime in the 2030s.
Only then will scientists be able to say with greater confidence whether they truly found signs of ancient life forms.
Aditya L1 Solar Mission Begins Studying Energetic Particles in Solar Wind
After India’s solar mission, Aditya L1 began its journey towards Lagrange point 1 following a key manoeuvre, it has started studying energetic particles in the solar wind from space and will continue to do so for the rest of its life, a senior astrophysicist said. The study of the solar wind, the continuous flow of charged particles from the sun which permeates the solar system, will be carried out with the help of a device named Supra Thermal & Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS), a part of the Aditya Solar wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload.
“STEPS is now working from space. However, it was not sitting idle earlier. It has started functioning from within the magnetic field of the Earth since September 10 when Aditya was 52,000 kilometres above our planet,” Dr Dibyendu Chakrabarty, professor of Space and Atmospheric Sciences at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) said.
STEPS was developed by the PRL with support from the Space Application Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad.
“During the travel time of four months (till Aditya L1 reaches its destination), it will study energetic particles in the solar wind. The data will help maintain the health and performance of our space assets in a better way,” Dr Chakrabarty told PTI.
The key aim of STEPS is to study the environment of energetic particles from the spacecraft’s position on the L1 point till it will function, he said. “The data from STEPS in the long term will also help us understand how space weather changes,” the space scientist said.
STEPS comprises six sensors, each observing in different directions and measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions. The data collected during the Earth’s orbits helps scientists to analyse the behaviour of particles surrounding the planet, especially in the presence of its magnetic field.
Aditya-L1, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on September 2, will go up to the First Lagrangian point, about 1.5 million km from the Earth ISRO on September 18 said on X: “Off to Sun-Earth L1 point! The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point.” Lagrangian points are where gravitational forces, acting between two objects, balance each other in such a way that the spacecraft can ‘hover’ for a longer period of time.
The L1 point is considered the most significant of the Lagrangian points, for solar observations, which were discovered by mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Receives Approval to Start Brain Implant Human Trial
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk‘s brain-chip startup Neuralink said on Tuesday it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients.
Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, it said but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete.
The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.
The company, which had earlier hoped to receive approval to implant its device in 10 patients, was negotiating a lower number of patients with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the agency raised safety concerns, according to current and former employees. It is not known how many patients the FDA ultimately approved.
Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying it would facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions like obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.
In May, the company said it had received clearance from the FDA for its first-in-human clinical trial when it was already under federal scrutiny for its handling of animal testing.
Even if the BCI device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for the startup to secure commercial use clearance for it, according to experts.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
ISRO’s Aditya-L1 Performs TL1I Manoeuvre, Set to Reach Sun-Earth L1 Point
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced on Tuesday that its maiden solar mission — Aditya-L1 — has performed the Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre successfully and the spacecraft was now in a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. ISRO also informed that it marked the fifth consecutive time that the ISRO had successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.
A post on the ISRO official handle on social media platform X read, “Aditya-L1 Mission | Off to Sun-Earth L1 point | The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. It will be injected into an orbit around L1 through a manoeuvre after about 110 days. This is the fifth consecutive time ISRO has successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.”
Earlier, a launcher carrying the Aditya-L1 spacecraft blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Station at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The primary objectives of India’s maiden solar mission include collecting scientific data and marking another milestone in India’s solar exploration efforts.
The agency had earlier posted on X, “Aditya-L1 Mission: Aditya-L1 has commenced collecting scientific data. The sensors of the STEPS instrument have begun measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions and electrons at distances greater than 50,000 km from Earth. This data helps scientists analyze the behaviour of particles surrounding Earth. The figure displays variations in the energetic particle environment, collected by one of the units.”
The Supra Thermal and Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS) instrument, a part of the Aditya Solar Wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload, also started its data-gathering operations earlier.
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