Because the Perseverance rover drilled right into a rock on Wednesday to gather a pattern from Jezero Crater on Mars, Justin Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Johnson House Heart in Houston, felt each nervous and excited. He has the distinction of serving because the “pattern shepherd,” main the hassle from hundreds of thousands of miles away, however the stress’s on. “These samples not solely will permit us to grasp the geology of the crater but additionally minerals probably associated to the historical past of water there,” he stated yesterday.

However first, the rover needed to really seize a piece of rock in a test-tube-sized container. An preliminary try in early August had come up empty. That first rock, nicknamed “Roubion,” merely crumbled to mud because the drill bored into it, and none of these bits made it into the container.

Simon can now breathe a sigh of aid. Perseverance’s second attempt, with a special rock, seems to have efficiently extracted a Martian core barely thicker than a pencil.

“We bought that picture of only a spectacular-looking core, a fantastic-looking cylinder, damaged off cleanly. It seems geologically very fascinating, one thing scientists of the long run will take pleasure in engaged on,” says Ken Farley, a Caltech geochemist and venture scientist of the Perseverance mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

However the evaluation of the brand new pattern goes to take awhile, as a result of NASA scientists haven’t been capable of get clear images attributable to low lighting circumstances, which makes the photographs powerful to interpret. So as to add extra drama for the scientists, when Perseverance did a “percuss-to-ingest” process—shaking the pattern to verify the tube wasn’t overfilled, which might make the system jam when it’s saved—one picture appeared to point out an empty pattern tube. (They’re fairly positive they bought the pattern, however they’re going to attempt taking extra pictures in higher mild over the subsequent couple of days.)

Perseverance’s first drill try, which primarily pulverized the pattern, wasn’t an entire failure, because it yielded proof suggesting the rock had been weathered, worn down by a river flowing into the lake crater billions of years in the past. “It at all times had been doable that this lake was a transient occasion, like possibly a comet, wealthy in water, hit Mars and made lakes, after which it boiled away or froze inside tens of years. However that will not produce the weathering we see,” stated Farley in an interview earlier this week.

Since that rock was too powdery, the scientists then piloted the rover to a brand new space, searching for a special form of rock to pattern, utilizing the Ingenuity copter to scout forward. Perseverance trundled barely to the west, the place on a ridgeline the researchers discovered a bigger, boulder-like rock, which they nicknamed “Rochette” and which appeared much less more likely to disintegrate when the rover deployed its instruments on it. “It seems like a rock that, if you happen to may throw it, would clank down on the bottom. A very good, wholesome rock,” Farley stated.

Earlier than every sampling try, Perseverance performs reconnaissance by snapping a bunch of photographs of a candidate rock. Final weekend, it additionally carried out an abrasion take a look at to see if Rochette was sturdy sufficient to pattern. The rover is supplied with a rotary percussive drill (with additional drill bits) that each spins and hammers into the rock. This instrument helps clear away mud and chip by means of the weathered outer layer. The abrasion was spectacularly profitable, in line with Farley, so the scientists determined to go forward with grabbing a pattern. Perseverance prolonged its 7-foot-long robotic arm, fired up the drill, and thoroughly extracted a core pattern. Then it rotated the arm’s “hand” in order that the pattern tube might be inspected.