A New View on Mars

Launched in July of 2020, and landing just a few days ago Perseverance is NASA’s newest rover on Mars. Following in the tracks of Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity; Perseverance will explore the Martian surface, this time starting off in the Jezero Crater. Perseverance is searching for possible evidence of past life on Mars. While it is equipped with a wide array of instrumentation; the camera’s are possibly the most interesting. With 23 cameras, we can expect a wide array of imagery throughout Perseverance’s life.

Seven cameras are dedicated specifically to the entry, descent, and landing of the vehicle. These include cameras on the back shell aimed up at the parachute, cameras on the descent stage aimed down at the rover, a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, and a camera on the rover looking down at the surface.

Perseverance also carries a wide array of science and engineering cameras. There are three types of engineering cameras on Perseverance; HazCams, NavCams and the Cache Cam. Alongside these cameras, for the first time ever we have microphones on the surface of Mars.

Cameras on Perseverance. Credit: NASA

These cameras share a common 20mp sensor but the lenses vary based on the cameras specific purpose. The Hazcams, or Hazard Avoidance Cameras are at the front and rear of the rover, and are used to avoid obstacles that may be in the path of the rover and to determine where to move the robotic arm.

NASA releases raw images from these cameras here. The images shared are not all color images, but can be processed into a color image by combining the red, green and blue channels.

While this processing can be done in an image editing program like photoshop, Christopher Becke shared a simple online tool which can be used to create your own color images from Perseverance.

Panorama taken by Navcam. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Navigation cameras, or navcams, aid the rover in navigating the Martian surface. The two color cameras aid in both remote operation of the rover from earth and the autonomous driving of the rover.

The last engineering camera on Perseverance is the Cachecam. The cache camera is used to take pictures of the rock samples and sample tubes as they are collected from the surface of Mars. Perseverance will be collecting and sealing samples of soil and rock for future collection- to prevent any possible contamination of the rock by future Mars missions.

Mastcam-z looking at Calibration target. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/NBI-UCPH

Two types of science cameras are mounted on the mast of Perseverance, these are the Mastcam-z and Supercam. The Mastcam consists of two color cameras in order to provide a 3d view and is also capable of taking videos. The Supercam is used to measure the chemical composition of rocks from a distance. A high power laser is fired and the camera looks at the flash of plasma to measure the specific wavelengths of light created in order to determine its composition.

The final three science cameras; PIXL, SHERLOC and WATSON are all mounted on Perseverance’s robotic arm. This allows them to get extremely close to the surface and gives them the greatest amount of flexibility in where they are aimed.

PIXL stands for Planetary Institute X-Ray Lithochemistry. It is able find chemical fingerprints on a point the size of a grain of sand in search of any traces of life that past microbes may have left behind.

SHERLOC consists of lasers and Spectrometers to measure composition but also a macro camera to get extremely closeup images. SHERLOC also has spacesuit material to determine how well the material holds up in the Martian atmosphere.

WATSON is a wider camera that helps provide context between the extremely closeup imagery from SHERLOC and the wide shots shown from the Mastcam.

Earlier today NASA released video of Perseverance landing. We can expect a great deal of valuable data in the coming days. History is being made each and everyday, and the data gained from this mission will help prepare us for a future where people may visit Mars.