NASA is preparing for a must-watch video tour of Mars today, tapping into the eyes of Perseverance’s high-tech Mastcam-Z robot to give a fresh glimpse of the red planet. It’s an opportunity not only to see Mars in full 360 degrees, but also to get a guided look at what the newly landed craft can see and why scientists are so eager to explore it.
The Perseverance reached Mars on Thursday, February 18th, and since then the probe systems have gradually been operational. Cameras are among the oldest devices to have been put into operation: persistence comprises 23 of these devices in total, although most of them differ slightly and address different needs.
Mastcam-Z is two cameras, not one. It is mounted on the rover’s “head” so that it can be moved around, and the camera system contains two 2-megapixel sensors that are positioned 9.5 inches apart. In this way, he can take 3D pictures of the Martian surface.
No less important than the “Z” suffix: it is an indication of the combined zoom of the two cameras. Curiosity, the former rover on Mars, didn’t have the ability to zoom in / out on any of its optics, but with the zoom feature, you will be able to persevere in seeing long distances without having to move first. In fact, NASA says, it can “see features as small as a house fly – all the way down from a distance the length of a football field.”
Due to the way it is installed, the Mastcam-Z can rotate a full 360 degrees to get panoramic images around the rover. It can also look like a full 180 degrees up and down. These are the talents that NASA will take full advantage of on the video and guided tour, which begins at 4 PM EST (1 PM PDT) on Thursday, February 25.
NASA already shared a high-definition panorama of the Jezero crater where the Perseverance landed. But without the basic knowledge the team possesses at JPL and elsewhere, it is difficult to know exactly what the rover is looking for – and why it might be important. This is something NASA aims to help answer today, even before perseverance moves an inch forward or back.
Before that happens, the wheel system must be inspected: in fact, the wheels “vibrate” left and right to make sure they are running as intended. Exploring Tenacity will be relatively slow, as the rover not only digs into Martian soil and regoliths to check with its on-board toolkit, but also packs some into specially designed sample tubes.
These tubes will be the focus of subsequent missions, and cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), to collect them from the surface of Mars and eventually return them to Earth for more comprehensive testing. Tests of gadgets like the Mastcam-Z – and the upcoming flight of an Ingenuity Mars helicopter, which she’s persevering on its stomach – will help the team at NASA figure out where they want to explore first.