NASA is taking a Martian meteorite back home - for calibration purposes

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Is Sending Back an Ancient Slab of a Martian Meteorite to Use as Target Practice

The rover has sent about 225,000 images back to the Earth during its time on the Red Planet, the mission officials said.

The soon-to-be meteorite passenger is going to be used as target practice for a laser technology created to examine rock features on Mars as fine as human hair.

That level of precision requires a calibration target to help tweak the laser's settings. Now, scientists have made a decision to send a chunk known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SAU008) aboard the rover, NASA announced Tuesday.

"Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world for study", Smith said.

Some of the new science instruments included on the 2020 Mars rover are an X-ray spectrometer, ultraviolet laser, excited rings of carbon atoms, and a ground-penetrating radar that will allow NASA to look under the surface of Mars up to 30 feet deep depending on terrain. In the past, NASA has used rocks, metals and pieces of glass to help adjust similar technology to its new martian surroundings.

Earth has a limited supply of Martian meteorites, which scientists determined were blasted off Mars' surface millions of years ago.

These meteorites aren't as unique as the geologically diverse samples 2020 will collect.

"We're studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim", Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "We already knew it was unlike any place any Mars rover has seen before, even if we don't yet know how it formed, and now we're seeing surfaces that look like stone stripes". Geologists believe the meteor originated from Mars, and NASA now plans to send it back, but with a goal: to serve as a control sample for research to be conducted on similar Martian formations. Zagami, another Martian meteorite, is still floating in Mars's orbit on the now-defunct Mars Global Surveyor. Studying the planet's environment is crucial in preparing for future manned missions to Mars, and for bringing us closer to again saying, "One small step for man..."

Additionally, the team behind Mars2020's SuperCam instrument will be adding a Martian meteorite to their own calibration target. Mars 2020 will bring spacesuit fabric, a helmet visor, and gloves to see how they hold up under Mars' weather conditions.

As is the case with everything we send to Mars, SHERLOC will be calibrated, tested, then re-tested and re-calibrated before it makes the journey.



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