Is there something going on between endurance and the ingenuity of Mars helicopters?
Under its latest Red Planet flight Monday (July 5), NASAs 4-lb. (1.8 kg) Ingenuity Mars helicopter photographed a heart-shaped feature among the tracks of the six-wheeled Perseverance rover.
The “heart” shows where Endurance Rover took a slight detour, perhaps to explore some interesting rock or dirt, before returning to his original path and heading towards his path. Or if your inclinations run in a less literal, less factual direction, the grounded robot sent a message of support (or more) to its air partner.
Video: Watch NASA̵
That car-sized Perseverance rover landed with ingenuity attached to its belly in February last year on the floor of Mars’ Jezero crater, which housed a large lake and a river delta in the ancient past. In early April, the little hacker was implemented on the red dirt and started a month-long campaign with five flights designed to show that air exploration is possible on the red planet.
Ingenuity followed the original technology-demonstrating mission and was rewarded with an expansion aimed at showcasing the scout potential of Mars’ rotor jets. For example, the Perseverance team is looking forward to studying the photos that are ingenuity taken at Sunday’s sortie that flew over a rugged region called “Séítah,” the helicopters’ handling said.
“Captured in these images are rock carvings showing contacts between the large geological units on Jezero Crater’s floor,” Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip and ongoing project researcher Ken Williford wrote in a Flight 9 update Wednesday (July 7).
“They also include a system of fractures, which the Endurance Team calls ‘Raised Ridges,’ which rover researchers hope to visit in part to investigate whether an ancient subterranean habitat might be preserved there,” wrote Grip and Williford, both based on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Finally, we hope the color images give the closest look yet at ‘Pilot Pinnacle’, a place of eruption that some team members believe can detect some of the deepest aquatic environments in the ancient Lake of Jezero,” the duo added. “Given the tight mission plan, it is possible that they will not be able to visit these cliffs with the rover, so Ingenuity may offer the only option to study these deposits in detail.”
Perseverance’s main mission goal involves hunting for signs of old age March life on the floor of Jezeros and collect and cache samples for future return to Earth. The rover began to focus on scientific work in earnest when Ingenuity completed its original technology-demonstrating mission. (All communication to and from ingenuity must be through perseverance.)
Ingenuity’s extended mission is expected to last at least a few more months, provided that the helicopter remains healthy, with a flight averaging approx. every other week during this span. The helicopter team has pushed Ingenuity’s limits in the extended phase, as the recent flight showed. On Monday, the copter flew longer (2,051 feet or 625 meters) and faster (about 11 km / h or 18 km / h) and lasted longer (166 seconds), than ever before.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.