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UH scientists help capture images of the Red Planet from NASA’s Perseverance rover

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 4:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has been exploring new frontiers for science since it landed on the Red Planet in February in an area called Jezero crater.

“The main goal of the mission is to seek out the signs of ancient life ― life that once existed on Mars. We’re talking about microbial life, very small basic life,” researcher Sarah Fagents said.

Fagents is with the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. She’s on the team of about of about 30 scientists, engineers and graduate students that controls the rover’s Mastcam-Z.

The imaging system captures high-resolution photographs and video of the Martian landscape.

UH doctoral student Eleni Ravanis is also a team member.

“We’re looking at places that scientists have been looking at from orbit for a long time. It’s really exciting to get up close and test some of the hypotheses that people have come up with,” she said.

The work is rewarding and a challenge logistically. The Mastcam team is spread out all over the world and a Martian day is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. Team members work round-the-clock to send Rover work orders that it receives during the Martian night.

“When the Rover wakes up in the morning, during the Martian day, it can do everything we told it to do,” Fagents said.

The Mastcam is one of seven instruments on the rover. They have their own teams of scientists who assigned specific tasks that include collecting samples of rocks and soil.

Eventually, Perserverance wlll move to another part of the Jezero crater.

“It used to have a lake in it. We can tell that from the types of deposits that we can see in there from orbit,” Fagents said.

The spacecraft will operate until it dies. The goal is to get the samples back to earth.

“There’s a lot more work that we can do in a big specialist laboratory that we have on earth compared to what we can do at Mars,” Ravanis said.

Other mission scientists with UH ties include Jim Bell, the principal investigator of the Mastcam-Z instrument, and Shiv Sharma who is the co-investigator on the Supercam instrument.

Fagents said she’s thrilled to be working on the Mars project.

“It’s the next best thing to being their with your own boots on the ground.”

If all goes well, in 2023, Perseverance will climb out of the crater to explore more of the Red Planet.

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