Nasa’s Perseverance rover will land on Mars tonight in hunt for life

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Nasa’s Mars Perseverance rover will land on the red planet tonight (February 18) to begin its search for traces of life.

The mission, backed by the UK Government, is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars.

The rover – a scientific laboratory the size of a car – is due to land on the red planet at around 8.43pm on Thursday.

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The research destination is Jezero crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing sediments of an ancient river delta.

NASA's Perseverance started its journey to Mars on July 30, 2020 (Getty Images)NASA's Perseverance started its journey to Mars on July 30, 2020 (Getty Images)
NASA's Perseverance started its journey to Mars on July 30, 2020 (Getty Images)

Researchers suggest that evidence of past life could be preserved here.

Perseverance will gather rock and soil samples using its drill, and will store the sample cores in tubes on the Martian surface ready for a return mission to bring around 30 samples to Earth in the early 2030s.

The researchers are Prof Sanjeev Gupta, Prof Mark Sephton (both from Imperial College London), Prof Caroline Smith and Dr Keyron Hickman-Lewis (both from Natural History Museum).

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The researchers are supported by more than £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UKSA, said: “It is great to see a strong representation of UK scientists and engineers involved in the Perseverance mission.

“Over the next few years, our scientists will play a leading role in this international endeavour, from managing logistical operations to deciding which samples are to be returned to Earth.

“Perseverance will bring us one step closer to answering the question that’s been on the lips of Bowie fans and scientists for the last 40 years.”

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The rover’s instruments will analyse scientifically interesting samples at the Martian surface.

Selected samples will be collected by drilling down to several centimetres and then sealed in sample tubes and stored on the rover.

When the rover reaches a suitable location, a cache of tubes will be dropped on the surface of Mars to be collected by the Sample Fetch Rover, being developed by Airbus in Stevenage, which will take them to the Nasa Mars Ascent vehicle.

Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which will fly short distances from the rover in the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet.

A successful test of the helicopter could lead to more flying probes to survey the landscape on other planets.

By Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent