Perseverance rover beams back stunning new images of Mars

WASHINGTON • Nasa on Friday released stunning new photographs from Perseverance, including one of the rover being gently lowered to the surface of Mars by a set of cables, the first time such a view has been captured.

The high-resolution still was extracted from a video taken by the descent stage of the spacecraft that had transported the rover from Earth.

At that moment, the descent stage was using its six-engined jetpack to slow to a speed of about 2.7kmh as part of the “skycrane manoeuvre” – the final phase of landing.

“You can see the dust kicked up by the rover’s engines,” said Perseverance’s chief engineer Adam Steltzner, who estimated that the shot was taken about 2m or so above the ground.

The three straight lines are mechanical bridles holding the rover underneath the descent stage, while the curly cable was used to transmit the data from the cameras to Perseverance.

When the rover touched down, it cut the 6.4m-long cables, allowing the descent stage to fly away for its own safe landing.

Another new image, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, captures Perseverance as it was parachuting down through the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour.

Perseverance has also been able to upload its first high-resolution, colour photo showing the flat region it landed on in the Jezero Crater, where a river and deep lake existed billions of years ago.

A second colour image shows one of the rover’s six wheels, with several honeycombed rocks thought to be more than 3.6 billion years old lying next to it.

Nasa deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan said: “One of the questions we’ll ask first is whether these rocks represent a volcanic or sedimentary origin.”

Volcanic rocks in particular can be dated with very high precision once the samples are brought back to Earth on a future return mission – an exciting development from a planetary science perspective.

As the first images came in, “it was exhilarating, the team went wild”, said mission operations system manager Pauline Hwang. “The science team immediately started looking at all those rocks and zooming in and going, ‘What is that!’ – it couldn’t have been better.”

The first two images were released on Thursday shortly after the rover landed, but they were lower resolution and in black-and-white because of the limited data rate available.

Nasa hopes to have more high resolution photos and videos in the coming days, but does not know yet if it has successfully recorded sound on Mars for the first time using microphones.

That might be known later this weekend or early this week, said Perseverance’s chief engineer.