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Planet Mars: what is hidden behind the “L” traced by the SuperCam of the Rover Perseverance?

Since the Perseverance rover landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, it has continued to make discoveries that benefit those curious about the red planet. Stunning images, the first sounds, isn’t it now that NASA’s rover is tracing an “L” on a Martian rock! Explanations.

Last June, we were able to listen to the first muffled sounds of the planet Mars thanks to the Perseverance rover and its microphone developed in Toulouse by ISAE-SUPAERO. A few days ago, he sent an amazing photo of a pile of strings. His exploration around the Jezero crater which was once a lake never ceases to amaze.

By firing 125 times with its SuperCam laser, NASA’s rover made 3 small holes in a Martian rock. By connecting them, they form an “L” which measures according to Numerama magazine 2.5 mm / 1mmm. Nasa, which is not lacking in humor, had fun with this layout, but it is very serious.

This sign thus engraved will make it possible to know the orientation of the rock when it will be taken to be analyzed in the laboratory. Because the robot is there to explore and extract samples to learn more about the history and future of the red planet.

Scientists will then study the formation of these rocks and the influence of the magnetic field also present on Mars as on Earth where it is stronger. They will also analyze the evolution of the intensity of this field over time.

The French eye of Perseverance was partly designed and manufactured in Toulouse by IRAP (Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology) and CNES.

Installed on the rover, SuperCam is a strategic element of the mission to Mars. The CNES worked on the design of this scientific instrument which weighs 10 kg. It is an improved version of ChemCam (also from Toulouse), the camera of Curiosity, another rover which will celebrate in a few days its 10 years of presence on Mars.

ChemCam was the first scientific instrument to be able to shoot a rock with a laser in order to analyze it. For the record, SuperCam (like its ancestor) is equipped with radiators because it cannot operate below -40°C and the average temperature on Mars is much colder (-67°C on average).

SuperCam therefore made 3 holes with a diameter of 13 mm each with its laser. Once cored, this rock will teach us more about the formation of this planet and will also allow us to better understand the origins of the Earth.

In an interview with our colleagues from France Bleu Occitanie, the scientist and teacher-researcher from the University of Toulouse Sylvestre Maurice takes stock. He is one of the designers of SuperCam. “Mars is a sort of absolutely extraordinary giant laboratory for learning more about the past and the birth of a planet. We’re talking about a planet that froze about 3.5 billion years ago and probably looked a lot like Earth. They were both born 4.5 billion years ago. The Earth which moreover had liquid water and which saw the birth of life. However, we do not have the memory of those ancient times which saw the birth of life. Except that on Mars, we found traces of water and traces of organic molecules.

The Curiosity rover will continue its mission until 2025. As for Perseverance, it is only at the beginning of this Martian and terrestrial adventure.