Perseverance rover arrived on Mars on February 18, 2021 after a tense landing during which the craft (intentionally) lost contact with NASA and had to navigate a critical part of the descent alone.
The entire landing was captured in video, which awed many a space fan (after, of course, a hoax video had made the rounds). But Wednesday's release of a 360-degree view of Jezero Crater showed how far images from Mars have the power to wow us Earthlings.
The image released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is technically not one continuous image of the kind you might take with the panorama mode on your phone's camera. Instead, it is an assemblage of 142 images taken on Sol 3, or Sunday, February 21. ("Sol" is the name for a day on Mars is 24 hours and 37 minutes.)
Mission scientists are already finding plenty to be excited about. Portions of the image reveal the crater's rocky terrain, which scientists believe was formed by a meteorite. Later, they theorize, the crater was home to a reservoir of water on ancient Mars. For context, the crater is about twice the diameter of California's Lake Tahoe on Earth.
Already scientists are finding interesting objects of study on Mars as a result of these first images. Clues to Mars' present and past geology include rocks which may have formed through sedimentary processes — in which deposits of materials carried by a liquid source, like water, agglomerate into rocks — or by volcanic processes. Both are of interest to scientists working to reconstruct the environment on ancient Mars.
The Jezero Crater site was chosen by NASA for Perseverance's landing site because of its watery history, which is likely more than 3 billion years in the past. Today, some areas of the crater are still carved by ancient streams, which may have deposited organic materials into the crater.
The Perseverance rover will look for evidence of this ancient life, both through on-board instruments and by collecting and caching samples to be later retrieved by another craft or perhaps even human explorers to Mars.
These images are just the beginning of Perseverance's 687 day mission on Mars — many more surprises are in store.