NASA’s Perseverance rover has rolled up to a strange and exciting Martian terrain.
On Sunday (June 12), the car became the size Endurance took a picture that can be confused with a still image from an “Indiana Jones” movie. To the left of the tableau, a boulder lies uncertainly on top of a gray stone slab. And to the right in the middle, a formation that looks very much like a snake’s head with an open mouth protrudes from a layered reddish butt.
If this was an “Indiana Jones” movie, it would butt the cave of an evil snake-worshiping cult that Indy had to take on, and shudder all the time. (Indy hates snakesprobably regardless of which planet they happen to live on.)
Related: 12 amazing photos from the Perseverance rover’s 1st year on Mars
The Perseverance team is undoubtedly excited about this March landscape, and for far less imaginative reasons. The layered butt looks like it is a part of ancient river deltas which once existed inside the 45-kilometer-wide Jezero crater, where the six-wheeled robot and its little companion, the Ingenuity helicopter, landed in February 2021.
Endurance has two main tasks: look for signs of the past March life, if it ever existed, and collect and cache dozens of samples for future return to Earth. Jezero’s ancient delta is the best place for the rover to do such work, Perseverance team members have said; in fact, the existence of the delta is the main reason why the rover was sent to Jezero.
Ingenuity has helped Perseverance explore the crater floor, scout routes and try to find interesting scientific targets for the rover. The helicopter has been doing such reconnaissance work since completing its primary mission, an initial 30-day, five-flight campaign designed to show that powered flight is possible on Mars despite the planet’s thin atmosphere.
Winter is approaching in the Jezero region, and the falling temperatures are doing so makes life difficult for the little hacker, which has flown 29 times to date. But the Ingenuity team planned for such difficulties and are optimistic that the rotorcraft can continue to fly for a while yet.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the pursuit of alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).