Strange terrain southwest of Jezero Crater

Strange terrain near Jezero Crater

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on June 16, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists have merely label “landforms.”

I instead call them strange. Clearly we are seeing exposed layering that surrounds the mesa in the middle of the image. This in turn suggests that the mesa top was once the surface of this whole region, and that region had been formed by the repeated placement of multiple sedimentary layers. Then, over time the surrounding terrain was eroded away, exposing those underlying layers.

Even so, some of the parallel lines do not appear to be layers, but striations etched into the ground. To get a better look, the white box marks the area covered by a full resolution close-up below.
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The scattered debris from Perseverance’s landing, now being tracked by the rover

Perseverance's parachute, as photographed by Ingenuity
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A piece of string on Mars
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The Perseverance science team today posted a detailed update on the various pieces of debris that both the rover and the Ingenuity helicopter have been tracking since both landed on Mars in February 2021.

Some of the EDL [entry, descent, landing] hardware broke into smaller pieces when it impacted the surface. These pieces of EDL debris have been spotted in images of the Hogwallow Flats region, a location roughly 2 km to the northwest of the EDL hardware crash zones. As of Sol 508 (July 24, 2022), the operations team has catalogued roughly half a dozen pieces of suspected EDL debris in this area. Some of these EDL debris are actively blowing around in the wind. So far, we’ve seen shiny pieces of thermal blanket material, Dacron netting material that is also used in thermal blankets, and a stringlike material that we conclude to be a likely piece of shredded Dacron netting.

To the right are two of the most interesting examples. The top image shows the parachute and associated equipment from the landing, taken by Ingenuity during a flight in April 2022. That image, when compared with an earlier picture taken from orbit, showed that the wind of Mars, though incredibly weak, had been able to shift the parachutes edges.

The second image shows the string that the rover photographed on July 12, 2022, and had blown away four days later when Perseverance re-photographed this site.

Today’s update notes that the area in the crater they have dubbed Hogwallow Flats “appears to be a natural collecting point for windblown EDL debris.” The flats are an area at the foot of the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater in the past, and is an area where Perseverance has been traveling most recently.

That the wind has been able to move small pieces so effectively is I think somewhat of a surprise. That it is gathering the material against the crater’s western cliffs suggests the prevailing winds here blow to the west.

NASA/ESA revise plan to recover Perseverance core samples from Mars

NASA and ESA yesterday announced that the agencies have revised their plan to recover Perseverance core samples from Mars, dropping the launch of a rover to pick up the samples.

Instead, they have decided to use Perseverance to bring the samples to the return vehicle, which will also carry two small helicopters.

In 2030, if all goes as planned, the NASA lander will touch down near where Perseverance is working. The rover will drive over to the lander, and an ESA-built robot arm will extract the tubes one by one and place them inside a spherical container the size of a basketball. In early 2031, a rocket on the lander will loft the container into Mars orbit, where a return craft built by ESA will snare it, enclose it in several layers of shielding for safety, and then head for home. In 2033, a saucer-shaped descent pod will carry the samples down to the Utah desert.

If Perseverance gets into difficulties during its 9-year wait for company, controllers can instruct it to drop its cargo of sample tubes onto the ground, creating a second depot. If that happens, the helicopters come into play: they can fly up to 700 meters, land next to a sample tube—each weighs up to 150 grams—and, with wheels on the bottom their feet, roll over the tube and pick it up with a grabber. On returning to the lander, they will drop the tubes on the ground for the arm to pick up.

The change means that the rover the United Kingdom was planning to build will either be abandoned, or repurposed as a lunar rover.

A Martian slot canyon!

A Martian slot canyon
For originals go here, here, and here.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The mosaic to the right is made up of three images produced by the high resolution camera on the Mars rover Perseverance (found here, here, and here). All three were taken on July 24, 2022 and look north to the nearest cliff face at the head of the large delta that flowed into Jezero Crater some time in the distant past.

The rover was about 80 feet away from the feature when the photo was snapped. Though scale in the photo is not provided, using the scale in the overview map below I would guess this slot canyon is several feet wide, with some spots narrow enough that your body would touch both walls at spots. Its height is likely nor more than 20 feet high, at the very most.

On the overview map, the blue dots mark Perseverance’s location, in both the main map and the inset. The green dot marks where the helicopter Ingenuity presently sits. The red dotted line is my guess as to the future route of the rover up into the delta. The yellow lines indicate the area viewed in the mosaic.

Though hardly as deep as the many slot canyons found in the American southwest, that this slot exists on Mars is quite intriguing. Did it form like those southwestern slots from water flow? Probably not. More likely we are looking at a fracture produced by shifts in the entire delta itself, and then later widened by wind.

That the cliff shows multiple layers suggests the delta was laid down in multiple events, and that the fracture occurred after the delta was emplaced. That the layers on either side of the fracture appear to match up strengthens this conclusion. These layers also suggest that the layering is not simply in a series of small events. The layers are also grouped into larger aggregates, suggesting those larger groupings mark longer epochs, each with its own unique conditions.

Collapsed dunes in Jezero Crater

Collapsed dune on Mars
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Cool image time! The photo above, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on July 20, 2022 by one of high resolution cameras on the rover Perseverance. It shows what appears to be a collapsed dune on the floor of Jezero Crater.

The arrows mark the highest dune ridge line that suddenly ends at a cliff, with the sand that is piled up at its base appearing almost like it flowed like thick mud outward away from that cliff. Apparently, that material broke off in one single event sometime in the past.

Note the many parallel lines pointing outward from the base of the cliff. These lines appear to reflect the internal structure visible in the cliff itself. Somehow, when that sand collapsed, it flowed away while retaining some of that structure.

When this collapse happened is unclear. I don’t think it has happened recently, since Perseverance’s arrival, but I could be wrong.

Perseverance spots a string on Mars!

A piece of string on Mars
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According to the Perseverance science team, they believe the strange spaghetti-like object to the right, taken by one of the rover’s hazard avoidance camera’s on July 12, 2022, is actually a piece of string that fell here during the rover’s landing in February 2021.

The string could be from the rover or its descent stage, a component similar to a rocket-powered jet pack used to safely lower the rover to the planet’s surface, according to a spokesperson for the Perseverance mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Perseverance had not previously been in the area where the string was found, so it’s likely the wind blew it there, the spokesperson said.

The string, which appears to be a few inches across, was apparently gone four days later, when another hazard avoidance picture was taken of the same spot

An official description from the scientists is expected in a week or so.

Perseverance gains a little height

View of Jezero Crater from Perseverance
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Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The photo above, rotated and cropped to post here, was taken on July 18, 2022 by the right navigation camera on the Mars rover Perseverance.

The view isn’t that remarkable, when compared to many other pictures from Mars. What makes it newly interesting is that it shows that Perseverance has gained a little elevation as it explores the base of the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater. It is no longer on the crater floor, but above it, though not by much.

You can see the far rim of Jezero Crater in the distance, obscured somewhat by the dust that builds up in the Martian atmosphere during the winter. You can also see the gentle left-to-right downward slope of material that flowed down from that delta some time in the past. Also, though the resolution isn’t good enough to show it, the helicopter Ingenuity probably sits somewhere near the center of this picture, just to the right of the nose of the biggest ridgeline.

The overview map on the right gives the context, with the yellow lines showing my estimate of the area viewed by the picture above. The blue dot is Perseverance, the green dot is Ingenuity. The red dotted line is my present guess as to the planned route of Perservance up onto the delta.

No more Ingenuity flights until August

Because it is now winter on Mars, with lots of seasonal dust in the atmosphere, the engineering team operating the helicopter Ingenuity have decided to suspend further flights until August.

Dust levels are expected to subside later in July, so the team has decided to give the helicopter’s batteries a break for a few weeks and build their daily state of charge back up. Weather permitting, Ingenuity is expected to be back in the air around the start of August.

This decision is not a surprise. When the team announced in May the plans for the helicopter’s most recent flight, completed in June, they suggested flights would pause for awhile thereafter. They have now made it official.

One of Perseverance’s two wind sensors damaged by wind-blown material

According to the principal investigator for Perseverance’s two wind sensors, one was recently damaged by a wind-blown tiny pebble.

Pebbles carried aloft by strong Red Planet gusts recently damaged one of the wind sensors, but MEDA can still keep track of wind at its landing area in Jezero Crater, albeit with decreased sensitivity, José Antonio Rodriguez Manfredi, principal investigator of MEDA, told Space.com. “Right now, the sensor is diminished in its capabilities, but it still provides speed and direction magnitudes,” Rodriguez Manfredi, a scientist at the Spanish Astrobiology Center in Madrid, wrote in an e-mail. “The whole team is now re-tuning the retrieval procedure to get more accuracy from the undamaged detector readings.”

…Like all instruments on Perseverance, the wind sensor was designed with redundancy and protection in mind, Rodriguez Manfredi noted. “But of course, there is a limit to everything.” And for an instrument like MEDA, the limit is more challenging, since the sensors must be exposed to environmental conditions in order to record wind parameters. But when stronger-than-anticipated winds lifted larger pebbles than expected, the combination resulted in damage to some of the detector elements.

The term “pebble” implies a larger-sized particle than what probably hit the sensor. I suspect the “pebble” was no more than one or two millimeters in diameter, at the most.

Perseverance’s first climb

Perseverance's first climb
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on the Mars rover Perseverance on June 16, 2022, shortly after it began its first climb up from the generally flat floor of Jezero crater and onto the delta that once in the far past flowed through a gap into that crater.

I have rotated the image about 8.5 degrees to make horizontal the crater floor and the distant rim of the crater (barely visible through the atmosphere’s thick winter dust). This shows that the rover was then climbing what appears to be a relative low angle grade, hardly as challenging as the serious grades that Curiosity has been dealing with now for the past two years in the foothills of Mount Sharp. Nonetheless, Perseverance has begun climbing.

To see where the rover is see the overview map from the start of this week. Unfortunately, I have been unable to determine the direction of this photo. It could be looking west, south, or east, based on features inside Jezero Crater. I therefore cannot tell you the distance to the rim, which depending on the direction, could be from five to twenty-five miles away.

Perseverance peers towards the rim of Jezero Crater

Perseverance peers through winter haze
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Overview map
Click for interactive map.

In our second cool image from Mars today, the Mars rover Perseverance gives us its own long distance view of the dusty winter air inside Jezero Crater. The photo above, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on June 16, 2022 by the rover’s left high resolution camera, and looks to the southwest towards the crater’s western rim.

As with today’s previous cool image from Curiosity, we can see several ranges, each with distance faded more by the dust that hangs in the air during the winter on Mars. In the foreground right is the nearest cliff of the delta that flowed into Jezero over time in the past. Next is a knob and ridge line, also part of that delta flow but farther away. Third are some farther ridges that might have been part of that flow but maybe not.

Faintest of all are the highest mountains that form the western ridge of Jezero Crater, barely visible in the haze.

The blue dot in the overview map to the right marks Perseverance’s approximate position when the photo was taken. The yellow lines my guess as to the area covered by the photo. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s present position after its last flight, much closer to the delta that I had predicted.

Ingenuity successfully completes its 29th flight on Mars

Ingenuity's 29th flight, estimated

Based on this tweet posted yesterday, Ingenuity has successfully completed its 29th flight on Mars, placing it in “a better communication position with the rover.”

According to the helicopter’s flight log, the flight lasted about 66 seconds, was about 587 feet long, and had a maximum altitude of 33 feet.

On the overview map to the right the green dot marks Ingenuity’s position before the flight. The yellow line is my guess as to the approximate flight path for this 29th flight. In this new position the helicopter is better aligned with the hollow that Perseverance will climb (as indicated by the red dotted line), and will therefore also have better line of sight communications with it.

The flight itself tells us that the engineers have not only gotten the helicopter recharged, they have developed new flight software to compensate for the loss of a sensor that was used to determine Ingenuity’s elevation.

Perseverance gets close to its first cliff

Perseverance's first cliff
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Time for some cool images from Perseverance! The rover, now on Mars for more than a year, has finally begun its journey up the delta of material that some time in the past flowed through a gap in the rim of Jezero Crater. In doing so, it has also finally got close to a nearby cliff, within fifty feet or so, and used its high resolution left mast camera (mastcam) to take the photos to the right. The first, cropped and reduced to post here, was a wider shot taken on June 10, 2022, with the red arrow pointing to the part of the cliff featured in the second image below, taken on June 12, 2022, after the rover had moved in closer. This second photo is also cropped and reduced to post here.
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A rock stows away on Perseverance

Perseverance's stowaway
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Since early February the Mars Rover Perseverance has been toting with it a small rock in its front left wheel, as shown in the image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here and taken by the rover’s left hazard avoidance camera on February 6, 2022.

From an update today by the Perseverance science team:

Back on sol 341— that’s over 100 sols ago, in early February— a rock found its way into the rover’s front left wheel, and since hitching a ride, it’s been transported more than 5.3 miles (8.5 km). This rock isn’t doing any damage to the wheel, but throughout its (no doubt bumpy!) journey, it has clung on and made periodic appearances in our left Hazcam images.

You can see the most recent photo of the rock, taken on May 26, 2022, here. It is very clear that the rock’s repeated tumbling inside the wheel well has worn away its sharp edges as well as reduced its overall size. Given enough time its surface could even become somewhat smooth.

As the update notes, when this rock finally drops off it will create a potential mystery for future geologists, who if they are not aware that Perseverance moved it, will wonder how it got where it was, being geologically out-of-place in its new location.

MAVEN returns to full operation

NASA announced yesterday that engineers have finally completely restored its Mars orbiter MAVEN, after a three month period when the spacecraft was in safe mode due to an attitude control problem.

To fix the problem engineers uploaded new software that allowed the spacecraft to determine its orientation in space not from its onboard inertial units, but from locking onto stars in the sky.

All instruments were healthy and successfully resumed observations; however, the spacecraft was constrained to pointing at the Earth until testing of all-stellar mode was completed, so the instruments were not oriented as they normally would be during science operations. Nevertheless, some limited science was still possible, and MAVEN even observed a coronal mass ejection impact Mars less than two days after the instruments were powered on.

Moreover, for some parts of the year it will still need its inertial units, so a fix for those time periods is still required.

Regardless, MAVEN can now resume acting as a communications relay between the Earth and the rovers on Mars, which for the past year has become its prime mission. While both rovers can communication without that relay, it is often necessary depending on a number of factors, and it also provides redundancy and a greater communications capacity.

Engineers rethinking Ingenuity operations to keep it alive through the winter

The engineering team operating the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars have now determined that the cold oncoming winter temperatures on Mars are causing its systems to shut down during the night — at the edge of their designed temperature limits — and then reboot each morning, thus resetting its clock to the wrong time.

The result has been that the helicopter’s future is now definitely threatened. To address the cold winter temperatures and possibly keep Ingenuity alive, the engineers have come up with the following plan. First, they have focused on downloading from the helicopter all the remaining data still on-board, in case it shuts down permanently.

After all critical logs are transferred, the team will proceed with a recommissioning phase during which we will reestablish Ingenuity’s flight-readiness given our ongoing overnight cold-cycling. Like during the technology demonstration phase, we will perform a high-speed spin before proceeding to flight. Should Ingenuity receive a clean bill of health, we would be ready to execute a short sortie to the southwest in Flight 29. This flight will improve our radio link for approximately the next four to six months while Perseverance samples at the river delta.

In the meantime, the Ingenuity flight software team will be preparing a series of upgrades to enable advanced navigation features. These new capabilities will help Ingenuity ascend the river delta and continue its missions as a forward scout for Perseverance past winter.

All this effort will carry much greater risk, especially because Ingenuity is now operating far beyond its original planned capabilities, and the worst and coldest winter temperatures are yet to come. For the next three months or so the amount of sunlight available will be insufficient to power it as planned, and thus it will face a possibility of permanent failure almost every day. That 29th flight is thus likely critical to survival.

Perseverance’s upcoming travel plans

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Today’s update from the Perseverance’s science team provided a rough outline of their travel and drill-sampling plans for the Mars rover in Jezero Crater as it begins its climb up onto the delta that once poured into the crater. The route they plan to travel initially is dubbed Hawksbill Gap.

At Hawksbill Gap, however, we may instead carry out the first portion of the sampling sol path (which includes abrasion and collecting observations using our proximity science instruments) at up to 5 locations along our ascent. After that, we’ll turn around and begin a descent back down Hawksbill Gap and collect rock core samples at 3 of our abrasion locations.

This modified sampling strategy is intended to provide the team with valuable contextual information as we climb Hawksbill Gap and interpret the delta stratigraphy around us. With proximity science data in-hand, we can down-select our sampling sites to ensure we’ll be collecting the most scientifically valuable cores along our descent. Of course, we still maintain the option of collecting sample cores at any point during our ascent, if the team decides a particular abrasion site warrants immediate sampling.

The map above shows my guess (the red dotted lines) as to their potential routes uphill. As the science team has so far not published a map indicating exactly where Hawksbill Gap is, I can only guess at this point. The blue dot indicates Perseverance’s present position, the green dot Ingenuity.

As for the helicopter, there is no word yet whether the engineers have successfully gotten its batteries back to full charge. Until then, it cannot fly, and is also at risk of freezing up in the cold Martian winter.

Pointy rocks on Mars

Pointy rocks as seen by Curiosity
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Pointy rocks as seen by Perseverance
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We have two cool images today from both of America’s rovers on Mars, each of which illustrates the alien nature of the red planet.

First on the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, is a close-up taken by Curiosity’s high resolution camera on May 14, 2022 of the rightmost jagged boulder in yesterday’s navigation panorama. The number of layers is astonishing, though hardly a unique phenomenon as seen by Curiosity in its travels. Each likely marks one of many climate and geological cycles, each laying down another unique stratum for a relatively short period of geological time. Some might be volcanic ash or lava layers. Some might be layers caused by climatic changes.

The ability of these thin layers to extend outward so much, almost like they were floating, illustrates the weak Martian gravity, as well as the thinness of its atmosphere. On Earth, if the wind and weather didn’t cause these flakes to break, the gravity would.

Second on the right, cropped and sharpened to post here, is a high resolution photo taken by Perseverance on May 15, 2022 of one of the cliff faces seen by the rover looking up into the delta in Jezero Crater. Here again we see many layers and jagged, pointy rocks, illustrating again the many cycles in the past that formed the delta as it flowed into the crater.

The smoothness on the surface of the leftmost pointy rock suggests that it has stood in this position for a long very time, allowing the wind of Mars’ very thin atmosphere to erode its rough surface.

Ingenuity in trouble

The engineering team yesterday revealed that several days earlier the Mars helicopter failed to communicate with the rover Perseverance as scheduled, now believed to have been caused by “a low-power state.”

Data downlinked indicates that the communications dropout on May 3, Sol 427 of the Perseverance rover’s mission at Mars, was a result of the solar-powered helicopter entering a low-power state, potentially due to the seasonal increase in the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere and lower temperatures as winter approaches. The dust diminishes the amount of sunlight hitting the solar array, reducing Ingenuity’s ability to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. When the battery pack’s state of charge dropped below a lower limit, the helicopter’s field-programmable gate array (FPGA) was powered down.

This state then caused the helicopter’s clock to get out of sync with the clock on Perseverance, so that when the rover tried to communicate the helicopter was not listening.

Engineers regained communications on May 5th, but the helicopter remains in trouble. Its batteries are no longer fully charged, which means it doesn’t have enough power to heat Ingenuity through the longer cold nights of winter that presently exist in Jezero crater.

The engineers have established a plan to get the batteries back up to full charge, but it means the heaters will no longer attempt to warm the helicopter as much. The result could be damaged parts not able to withstand those colder temperatures.

Navigating a rover on Mars

16 photos taken by Perseverance's right navigation camera on May 2, 2022

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The photo to the right is actually a screen capture of 16 consecutive photos taken on May 2, 2022 by the right navigation camera on the Mars rover Perseverance.

The overview map below gives the context. The red dot marks Perseverance’s position when the photos were taken. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s position. The small white dot marks the spot where the rover’s parachute landed. The yellow lines indicate I think the area covered by the sixteen navigation images.

There is a reason for showing this panorama in this somewhat crude form. The engineers who run Perseverance have programmed its navigation cameras to send back its pictures so that they immediately line up in this coherent pattern. There is no need to rearrange them upon arrival. The engineers thus can instantly see how each picture relates to the others, and thus get an immediate sense of the nearby terrain in which they must plot the rover’s next move.

Perseverance is now in its second science campaign, focused on studying the base of the delta. As the science team studies the delta’s cliff face, they are also studying the best route to continue uphill. To do both, they have begun slowly moving along that face, going from west to east.

The rough panorama above thus shows them the ground ahead as they continue that traverse. I expect the rover’s next move will be to the northeast, once again moving along the base of the nearest cliff. The panorama shows that while the ground in this area has a few ridges, none are so high as to cause Perseverance any problems.

Ingenuity photographs Perseverance’s abandoned parachute on 26th flight

Perseverance's parachute, as photographed by Ingenuity
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Overview map
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In the past week the Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its 26th and 27th flights, with the first specifically planned to fly over the parachute that had been used by Perseverance when it landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. The first photo to the right, enhanced, cropped, and reduced to post here, is the color photo of that parachute that Ingenuity took during that flight on April 20th. Near the top of the frame you can also see the equipment used to attach the chute to the rover. The photo looks to the southwest.

The map to the right indicates the flight paths for both hops, both slightly more than 1,000 feet total. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s position yesterday, the red dot Perseverance’s position. The small white dot indicates the parachute’s location.

On April 8th Perseverance had snapped a picture of the parachute, from the position indicated by the black dot. Since that photo was taken from a distance, it could not show much. Ingenuity’s more recent photo from overhead however captures the chute quite clearly, and suggests that in the year since landing the weak Martian wind has shifted its edges slightly while depositing some dust on its surface.

You can see the changes at the edges by comparing Ingenuity’s picture with a photo taken on February 19, 2021 by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). In Ingenuity’s picture the near edge of the parachute especially appears to have become bunched up over time, suggesting the prevailing and strongest winds have come from the south.

Perseverance captures solar eclipse by Phobos

Phobos eclipse the Sun
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Cool movie time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, shows the Sun partly blocked by the Mars’ moon Phobos, taken by the high resolution camera on Perseverance on the surface of Mars. Below I have embedded the full movie compiled from the images taken as Phobos moved across the Sun’s face. From the caption:

It’s long been known that Phobos is drifting toward the Martian surface year by year; tens of millions of years from now, it is expected to crash into the planet or fragment into chunks that will impact the planet. Studying Phobos’ orbit also allows scientists to refine predictions of when the doomed moon will crash into Mars.

Unfortunately, the website does not say when this solar eclipse occurred. The spots on the lower left of the Sun’s face are sunspots.
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Perseverance spots its parachute

Perseverance spots its parachute
Click for full resolution. Original images found here and here.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! Today the Perseverance science team released two photos taken on April 6th that captured the parachute that the rover had used to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. The enhanced panorama above is from those images. The white feature near the center is the parachute. The mountains in the distance are the southern rim of Jezero Crater, about 40 miles away.

The overview map to the right gives the context. The red dot is Perserverance’s location as of yesterday, on sol 413. The black dot marks its location on April 6th, when it took the pictures. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s present position. The yellow lines indicate the approximate area covered by the panorama.

Ingenuity had not completed its 25th flight until April 8th, two days after these photos were taken, so it isn’t actually just off the edge of these photos, it is beyond the near ridgeline out of sight.

Ingenuity completes 25th flight, the longest yet

Overview map
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On April 8th the Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its 25th flight on Mars, traveling 2,310 feet at 18 feet per second while flying for 161.3 seconds.

The long distance was designed to take it out from the rough region dubbed Seitah and near the delta that is the prime geological target of the rover Perseverance.

The overview map shows the location of both rover and helicopter as of today. The red dot is Perseverance, the green dot is Ingenuity. The rover has now completed its entire planned travels, as announced in June 2021. Where it goes next has not as yet not been announced. According to the team, they plan to use Ingenuity to scout out possibly routes up onto the delta. This likely means the rover will likely spend some time at the base of the delta, getting as much data as it can, while Ingenuity does this scouting work.

Perseverance arrives at Three Forks at the base of Jezero Crater’s delta

Panorama of delta in Jezero Crater
Original images found here, here, here, and here. Click for full resolution.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The panorama above was created from four navigation camera images taken by the Mars rover Perseverance on April 10th. Because the lens on Perseverance’s navigation cameras produce slightly curved images which are taken in pairs, the panorama is made of two parts, each a pair perfectly matched images looking from a different angle. I have overlapped the pairs but as you can see, the match at the center is imperfect. While this does not produce a single smooth image, the two paired panoramas show the foot of the entire delta that had flowed into Jezero crater in the past and is the prime geological target of the rover. What is it made of? What caused it to flow into the crater? When did it do it? How was Mars different when it did so? Was the crater wet? Was the delta mud when it flowed, or was it sediment under water, pushed out by that flowing water?

The location map to the right is taken from the “Where is Perseverance?” webpage but annotated to show the planned routes of both Perseverance and Ingenuity, as shown by the tan dashed lines. The red dot marks Perseverance present location, the green dot Ingenuty’s. The yellow lines the approximate area covered by the panorama.

What next? Expect Perseverance to move as close to the base of the delta’s cliff as possible and spend at least several months studying it. Ingenuity meanwhile will be flown to the west to scout the various hollows that are potential routes for Perseverance to climb up onto the delta.

Ingenuity completes its 24th flight on Mars

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Ingenuity today completed its 24th flight on Mars, traveling a short 33 feet for 69.5 seconds in order to place it in a good position for an upcoming record-setting 25th flight.

With Flight 24 in our log book, it is now time to look forward to our upcoming effort that charts a course out of Séítah. Flight 25 – which was uplinked yesterday – will send Ingenuity 704 meters to the northwest (almost 80 meters longer than the current record – Flight 9). The helicopter’s ground speed will be about 5.5 meters per second (another record) and we expect to be in the rarefied Martian air for about 161.5 seconds.

The red dot on the map to the right indicates Perseverance’s present position. The green dot shows where Ingenuity landed today. The tan dashed lines indicate the planned routes for both. Ingenuity’s next flight will take it out of the rough terrain of Seitah and much closer to Three Forks.

Ingenuity completes 23rd flight on Mars

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

JPL announced tonight in a tweet that Ingenuity today completed its 23rd successful flight on Mars.

23 flights and counting! #MarsHelicopter successfully completed its 23rd excursion. It flew for 129.1 seconds over 358 meters [1,175 feet].

The overview map to the right was taken from the “Where is Perseverance?” webpage and annotated by me to show the planned future routes of both Perseverance and Ingenuity. The white dotted line shows Perseverance’s path, now having almost circled the rough ground on its way to the delta and Three Forks. The tan dotted line indicates Perseverance’s future route. The dashed pink and green lines indicate two possible future flight paths for Ingenuity.

The green dot marks the position the science team marked on the map for where Ingenuity landed after today’s flight. They have not yet calculated the actual flight path, which is why it is shown by the tan dashed line. This also means there is as yet some uncertainty about this landing spot.

Originally, the plan had been to get to this spot in one flight. For reasons not yet explained, when the helicopter took off on its 22nd flight during the March 19-20th weekend, it stopped after only about 100 feet. Today’s flight apparently completed the plan, putting the helicopter where it was supposed to be.

Ingenuity completes 22nd flight; Perseverance on a roll

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

According to a tweet from JPL on March 21, 2021, Ingenuity successfully completed its 22nd flight on Mars during the March 19-20th weekend, flying for 101 seconds at a height of about 30 feet.

The tweet provided no other information, other than another flight might occur as early as later this week.

However, the most recent map update from the rover/helicopter science teams, shown to the right and annotated to post here, tells us what happened. The white dotted line indicates Perseverance’s travels. The tan dotted line indicated the flight path and landing spots for Ingenuity. The dashed tan lines indicate the planned routes for both. The red dot marks Perseverance’s present location. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s location, after its 22nd flight.

The announced flight plan for Ingenuity’s 22nd flight is shown by the two blue dots, heading north and then making a sharp left before landing. Apparently, the helicopter either did not complete that plan, landing earlier for some reason, or the flight team had decided before takeoff to shorten the flight plan significantly.

What we do know is that the helicopter landed safely, from images downloaded on March 20th [sol 384] and from the JPL tweet. The next flight, targeting later this week, could attempt to complete the previous flight plan, or instead continue to break it up into small sections.

Meanwhile, Perseverance has been racing across the Martian surface, traveling almost as much in the past week as it had for the past year. (See the map from March 16th to compare.) Moreover, the Perseverance team shortened its planned route, cutting to the west of that large crater rather than skirting it to the east. The route taken was probably slightly rougher, but nothing the rover couldn’t handle, and it saved travel time. Apparently, the scientists running the rover are now very eager to finally get to the delta, the mission’s primary geological target.

NASA extends Ingenuity’s mission through September ’22

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

NASA yesterday officially extended Ingenuity’s flight operations on Mars at least through September 2022, outlining in detail the helicopter’s hoped-for flight targets.

The map to the right shows the helicopter’s present location with the green dot, with its two possible future routes proceeding from this location indicated by dashed lines. The red dot indicates Perseverance’s present location, with its planned route from this spot indicated by the dashed lines.

Scheduled for no earlier than March 19, Ingenuity’s next flight will be a complex journey, about 1,150 feet (350 meters) in length, that includes a sharp bend in its course to avoid a large hill. After that, the team will determine whether two or three more flights will be required to complete the crossing of northwest Séítah.

Once Ingenuity crosses the rough terrain and reaches the delta, it will then be used to do more route scouting for the rover.

Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first orders will be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should take when it’s time to climb to the top of the delta. Along with routing assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets. Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield (or outside of the rover’s traversable zone), or perhaps scout landing zones and caching sites for the Mars Sample Return program.

This ambitious plan exists because both the helicopter and its engineering team have far exceeded expectations. At the moment, there is no obvious reason why Ingenuity cannot continue to operate for years, an expectation that no one predicted.

Ingenuity completes 21st flight on Mars

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

According to a tweet today from JPL, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has successfully completed its 21st flight on Mars, traveling 1,214 feet in two minutes and nine seconds at an average speed of 12.6 feet per second.

The red dot on the map to the right shows Perseverance’s location as of today. The green dot indicates Ingenuity’s position before the 21st flight. Since neither the Perseverance nor the helicopter teams have posted any updates describing the 21st flight, it is difficult to indicate a precise location for its landing site. All we know is that the helicopter is supposed to fly to the northwest, cutting across the rougher region while the rover follows the tan dotted line around that rough region, with both targeting the delta to the northwest.

As a guess, I have placed a black dot about 1,200 feet to the northwest.

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