Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars | Science & Technology

As it trundles around an ancient lakebed on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is assembling a one-of-a-kind rock collection. The car-sized explorer is methodically drilling into the Red Planet’s surface and pulling out cores of bedrock that it’s storing in sturdy titanium tubes. Scientists hope to one day return the tubes to Earth and analyze their contents for traces of embedded microbial life.

Since it touched down on the surface of Mars in 2021, the rover has filled 20 of its 43 tubes with cores of bedrock. Now, MIT geologists have remotely determined a crucial property of the rocks collected to date, which will help scientists answer key questions about the planet’s past.

In a study appearing today in the journal Earth and Space Science, an MIT team reports that they have determined the original orientation of most bedrock samples collected by the rover to date. By using the rover’s own engineering data, such as the positioning of the vehicle and its drill, the scientists could estimate the orientation of each sample of bedrock before it was drilled out from the Martian ground.

The results represent the first time scientists have oriented samples of bedrock on another planet. The team’s method can be applied to future samples that the rover collects as it expands its exploration outside the ancient basin. Piecing together the orientations of multiple rocks at various locations can then give scientists clues to the conditions on Mars in which the rocks originally formed.

“There are so many science questions that rely on being able to know the orientation of the samples we’re bringing back from Mars,” says study author Elias Mansbach, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

“The orientation of rocks can tell you something about any magnetic field that may have existed on the planet,” adds Benjamin Weiss, professor of planetary sciences at MIT. “You can also study how water and lava flowed on the planet, the direction…

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