Scientists speculate the rock could be a meteorite or a far-flung chunk of Mars.
Mars is a haven for meteorites, and it’s always notable when a rover comes across one of these emissaries from space. Scientists are currently scrutinizing a rock full of holes spotted by NASA’s Perseverance rover. The rock bears a resemblance to meteorites seen elsewhere.
NASA hasn’t declared what the rock is just yet, but the Perseverance team tweeted on Wednesday, «While the helicopter is getting ready, I can’t help checking out nearby rocks. This odd one has my science team trading lots of hypotheses.»
The rover team said the rock is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and told space fans to look closely at the image to «spot the row of laser marks where I zapped it to learn more.»
Perseverance is equipped with a rock-zapping laser designed to help it collect data on Mars geology. You can listen to the laser in action as heard by a microphone. «Variations in the intensity of the zapping sounds will provide information on the physical structure of the targets, such as its relative hardness or the presence of weathering coatings,» NASA said when it shared the laser audio earlier in March.
Researchers are already throwing around some ideas about the rock, including that it may be a weathered piece of bedrock, a little chunk of Mars from elsewhere that was flung by an impact event or a meteorite.
Perseverance is already hip to meteorites. There’s a tiny slice of a Martian meteorite built into a calibration target used by the rover’s Sherloc (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument. So NASA sent a piece of Mars back to Mars.
The rover made time for the rock investigation while it’s in the process of unfolding the Ingenuity helicopter so it can set it down on the surface prior to what NASA hopes will be the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
Between rocks and choppers, it’s been an exciting week for the Perseverance mission.