NASA has released a spellbinding 360-degree image of an ancient river found on Mars recorded by the space agency’s Perseverance Rover.
The 360 image, brought to life in a video, is comprised of 993 individual images and 2.38 billion pixels looking in all directions from the top of a location the rover science team has dubbed “Airey Hill.”
The view from Airey Hill shows a river delta in the Jezero Crater where water once flowed through billions of years ago. Scientists are seeking biosignatures that might indicate past microbial life in habitable environments.
“On Earth, the record of such an ancient river and lake would have been erased long ago,” says Perseverance Rover Project Scientist Ken Farley who adds that sending a robot explorer is so valuable.
Farley explains that Mars is a special place that “preserves a unique record of things that happened in the first billion years of the solar system.”
Above: A 60-second pan across the 360 image.
In the stunning high-resolution photographs stitched together into a 360 sphere, different rock layers can be seen that chart the Jezero Crater’s history.
“The flat light-colored rocks were deposited on the banks of a river flowing slowly across the landscape,” says Farley. “The boulders in the distance were deposited later in what was likely a raging torrent.”
The scientist then focuses in on a peculiar rock formation in the foreground which he speculates could be lava flow. “Lab equipment on Earth can accurately measure when a volcanic rock was formed, so if we can return a sample of this lava to Earth in the future, we may know when and for how long water flowed into Jezero,” adds Farley.
What’s Next for Perserverance?
Perseverance has been active on Mars for 1,023 sols (1,050 Earth days) and is traveling west upstream of the ancient Martian river but will soon climb out of the Jezero Crater. From there NASA hopes that Perseverance will encounter rocks far older than the ones in Jezero.
“Perseverance has been climbing the delta and piecing together the history of this once-watery environment,” adds Farley. “We’ve come a long way in nearly three years of exploring and collecting samples. But there’s still so much more to investigate.”