It took hundreds of images to put together a broad Martian panorama showing all 10 of the Perseverance rover’s sample depot tubes on the ground.
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
In a nice flat spot in the Jezero Crater on Mars, there are 10 titanium tubes on the ground. They’re mostly stuffed with Martian rock samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover. This is “the first sample depot on another world.” On Tuesday, NASA released a stunner of a panorama showing all the tubes on the ground.
The panorama consists of 368 images taken by Percy. The tubes are all there, even if they’re hard to spot. You can also see tracks left by the rover on the ground. “The color has been adjusted to show the Martian surface approximately as it would look to the human eye,” said NASA. The space agency previously released a proud Percy selfie at the depot site.
An annotated version of the panorama shows you where each tube is hiding. There’s one that’s easy to find in the foreground, but you might want to check NASA’s zoomable version to get a closer look at the ones farther away.
This annotated version of the Perseverance rover’s sample depot panorama shows where each tube is located.
The sample depot is part of an elaborate backup plan for the future Mars Sample Return mission. MSR will involve a complex series of events designed to pick up some of the rover’s tubes and bring them back to Earth for closer study in the 2030s. The primary plan is for Percy to meet up with the MSR lander and hand off its tubes (it’s been collecting samples in pairs) in person. If that doesn’t work out, MSR will arrive with two helicopters on board that can fly over to the sample depot site and pick up the backup tubes left there.
The arrangement of the tubes might seem random in the panorama, but NASA designed the depot with a specific pattern that will help the helicopters locate and grab the tubes.
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The sample tubes may be our best shot at figuring out whether Mars once hosted microbial life. Jezero Crater was home to a lake and a river in the planet’s deep past. Percy is now exploring a river delta region as it delves deeper into Mars’ intriguing history of water.
The sample depot panorama will stand as a testament to the work of the rover and its human team back on Earth. If we get those samples successfully into laboratories, we’ll look back at this moment as a milestone in the process.