The Perseverance rover, which has just landed on the planet Mars, brought some very special objects with it: two Martian meteorites!
Perseverance has seven scientific instruments. Two of them, SHERLOC and SuperCam, are very sensitive and require regular calibration.
SHERLOC is equipped with a laser, a camera (called WATSON) and spectrometers. These highly accurate instruments will analyze rocks on Martian soil to determine their composition and to search for organic molecules.
Due to the harsh environment on Mars, the instruments will need to be calibrated every 3 to 5 months. To that end, samples of different materials were loaded onto Perseverance, including a fragment of a Martian meteorite.
Called Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU 008), this meteorite was discovered in 1999 in the Sultanate of Oman. The Natural History Museum in London donated a fragment of the meteorite to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for integration into the rover.
A travelling meteorite
The second Martian meteorite fragment on Perseverance has an even more fascinating story!
It’s part of the calibration target positioned at the rear of the rover. This target will be used by the SuperCam mounted on Perseverance's main mast to calibrate its spectrometers and laser.
This time, it’s a fragment of the meteorite NWA 10170 that’s been integrated into the rover. This meteorite was discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2015. French meteorite hunter Luc Labenne donated a fragment of the meteorite from his personal collection to the European Space Agency.
The Agency then handed it over to astronaut Thomas Pesquet to take with him during his stay on the International Space Station in 2016. On his return, the meteorite was cut into three pieces. One of them is now on display at the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse, France. Another was offered to Mr. Pesquet. Finally, a little piece was incorporated into the calibration target on Perseverance.
It’s therefore an unprecedented return to their origin for these two fragments of Martian meteorites.