After spending over 600 sols (days on Mars) exploring the diverse geologic environment of Jezero Crater, collecting drilled rock cores (and one atmospheric sample) along the way, Perseverance recently spent some time parked near a large sand ripple named “Observation Mountain,” with sights set on something widespread yet unique. Regolith is the sandy, dusty, loose material covering much of the Martian surface, and is made up of many small rock fragments - some of which are sourced from across the planet. Billions of years ago, lakes, rivers, and oceans flowed across Mars, but today, wind is the dominant force shaping the geologic landscape. Over time, rock breaks up into smaller pieces, then wind can carry and tumble those pieces long distances, depositing them in new locations, and even building ripples and massive dunes. Regolith is important for providing insight into the global and local Martian landscape, all in a single “grab bag.” Perseverance is equipped with a special bit to collect a sample of regolith for eventual return to Earth! The Mars 2020 science and engineering teams have spent the last week studying a large ripple at the base of the Jezero Delta that is a candidate for future regolith sampling. Hazcams, Navcams, and Mastcam-Z provided images that helped scientists choose which ripple to target, SuperCam and SHERLOC used their laser spectrometers to assess the mineralogy of regolith in the workspace, and PIXL queried the elemental composition of these rock fragments. The rover planners even used a “scuff” maneuver to scoot the wheel over a regolith pile, moving surface material out of the way so each of the instruments could take a look at rock fragments in the lower part of the regolith pile. So far, these observations have yielded important information about regolith on Mars, and the team is looking forward to collecting a grab bag sample and returning it to Earth, where scientists can continue studying this hodgepodge of Martian minerals right here at home!

Written by Denise K. Buckner, Student Collaborator at University of Florida

Source: Reading the Ripples at Observation Mountain