The Natural History Museum in London has unveiled a giant replica of Mars to mark the recent arrival of NASA’s Perseverance rover on the red planet.
The seven-meter-wide artwork is suspended from the ceiling in the Hintze Hall and was created by UK artist Luke Jerram. It features artwork from previous NASA missions and has been placed there in tribute to the rover’s landing on Mars after a seven-month journey from Earth. While there, it will search for traces of past microbial life, and scientists from the museum are working with NASA and the European Space Agency to advise on rock and soil sample collection.
While the installation is incredible to look at, the Natural History Museum remains closed in light of COVID-19 restrictions.
The rover will select scientifically interesting Martian rock and soil samples to reconstruct the surface environment of Mars billions of years ago, when it is believed that life could have existed. Museum scientists Prof Caroline Smith and Dr Keyron Hickman-Lewis form part of the NASA Mars 2020 Science Team, and they will help to make decisions about sampling and analysis throughout the course of the mission.
Perseverance will land at Jezero crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing diverse sediments of an ancient river delta. It presents the most opportune environment in which past life could have been preserved. Perseverance is the biggest and most advanced vehicle ever sent to land on another planet, and it will drill 7cm into the rocks on the planet’s surface, before sealing the samples in special tubes. When the rover reaches a suitable location, the tubes will be placed on the planet’s surface to be collected by a future retrieval mission planned for the early 2030s.
“The Perseverance rover has been specifically designed to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars,” says Prof Smith. “Its ability to collect interesting samples for potential return to Earth gives us the best chance thus far to finally answer that big question of ‘Was there life on Mars?’- this would be one of the most significant scientific discoveries in history.”