NASA’s Perseverance will have the most advanced pair of zoomable ‘eyes’

As it prepares for its Mars mission, NASA‘s Perseverance rover underwent tests in southern Australia – especially its tools and methods that will look for evidence of microbial life forms. The US space agency has added Mastcam-Z to the SuperCam instrument integrated into the Rover’s head: a pair of cameras equipped with a powerful zoom.

The Mastcam-Z (the Z stands for “zoom”) is the Rover’s primary camera. This advanced camera that will give Mars Rover the “eyes” to facilitate the work of the driving team remotely and help scientists obtain ultra-high-resolution 3D color images.

Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z simplifies matters, zooming both lenses until they match and can be used to make a single 3D image. This is both easier and requires sending fewer images and fewer data to Earth. The resulting image can have many benefits. They will give a better understanding of the terrain that the Rover has to cross. Along with producing images, the cameras provide key data to help engineers navigate, and scientists choose interesting rocks to study.

A 3-D printed model of Mastcam-Z, which will include a 3:1 zoom lens.
A 3-D printed model of Mastcam-Z, which will include a 3:1 zoom lens.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The vision of the Mastcam-Z is actually more powerful than ours, with ultraviolet and infrared light sensitivity, which helps to better recognize the metal meteorites dotting on the surface or color variations indicating compositions that warrant more detailed analysis by other instruments.

And there is more: Mastcam-Z will turn its “superhuman vision” to the sky, watching for transits of Mars’ moons across the Sun and measuring how dust storms and cloud formations change over the seasons on the Red Planet. The rover operators, who carefully plan the driving route and every single movement of the robotic arm, view these stereoscopic images through 3D goggles in order to have a more precise idea of the landscape to be explored.

At the same time, the most striking images will be shared on a public website, reflecting the fact that endeavor is on Mars on behalf of us to explore the red planet in advance. “It’s important that the public have a sense of ownership,” said Jim Bell, Mastcam-Z’s principal investigator, and Mastcam’s deputy principal investigator. “The Mastcam-Z images belong to all of us.”

Total 23 cameras will be equipped on NASA's 2020 Mars rover.
Total 23 cameras will be equipped on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mastcam-Z is one of the 23 cameras that Mars 2020 rover has been equipped with that are meant to serve different purposes like navigation, observation, engineering, and more. The Rover is also equipped with PIXL, an instrument that uses X-rays to discern the chemical composition of the selected rocks. And finally, SHERLOC, a spectrograph that the Rover will use to probe the presence of organic molecules and potential biosignatures in these same samples.

If everything goes as planned, NASA intends to release Perseverance sometime in late July or early August of this year, when Earth and Mars are in good positions with each other for the trip.

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