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Exploring Mars


On February 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars. Its mission: to seek evidence of past microbial microbial PW MICROBIAL SANJERI—GETTY IMAGES having to do with extremely small living things only visible with a microscope (adjective) The biologist came across a new form of microbial life. life. Something may have thrived on the planet billions of years ago.

The rover’s 300 million–mile journey to Mars’s orbit took nearly seven months. But its descent through the planet’s atmosphere took just seven minutes. The car-sized rover fell at 12,100 miles per hour. Air friction raised the temperature on its heat shield to 2,370°F.

HEATING UP An illustration shows the Perseverance rover and spacecraft entering Mars’s atmosphere.


The friction also acted as a brake. Within minutes, the ship slowed down. The heat shield came off, a parachute opened, and Perseverance drifted to the ground.

Cheers went up at Mission Control in California. “The team is beside itself,” NASA engineer Rob Manning said. “It’s so surreal surreal MARTINE DOUCET—GETTY IMAGES strange; like something from a dream (adjective) When Jeremy visited his old kindergarten classroom, he had the surreal feeling that he had stepped back in time. .”

SUCCESS NASA’s Mission Control team in California cheers when the rover lands on Mars on February 18.


Looking for Clues

The rover will be on Mars for about two years. It will explore the Jezero Crater, an area 28 miles wide. Three and a half billion years ago, it was a lake. Water flowed through channels in the crater’s rim. The planet’s atmosphere was thick and warm. Those conditions can support life.

Later, Mars lost most of its atmosphere and nearly all of its water. The planet turned into a frigid desert. But if there was ever life on Mars, traces could remain. Fossils might be found in the dried-up lake.

TOUCHDOWN After separating from the heat shield and parachute, the rover is lowered into Jezero Crater by a rocket-powered craft.


The rover will search for these fossils. But it will look for other signs of past life, too. Rocky, wavy mounds might lie along the crater’s edges. They could have been made by colonies, or groups, of microbes.

Tools of the Trade

NASA ground controllers on Earth will set up the rover’s scientific instruments. These include:

  • a camera for seeking signs of past microbial life;

  • an X-ray instrument for studying tiny particles;

  • a rock-busting laser; and

  • an instrument that will test the possibility of making oxygen out of carbon dioxide. This technology could help future astronauts on Mars produce breathable air and rocket fuel.

The rover also carries a small helicopter called Ingenuity. It will make test flights. On future Mars missions, helicopters could allow for exploration of hills and mountains.

READY TO WORK An illustration shows the Perseverance rover, with Ingenuity below


The Perseverance rover is the ninth American spacecraft to set down on Mars. The only other nation to get there was the former Soviet Union, now mostly part of Russia. Will Perseverance discover proof of extraterrestrial extraterrestrial pw-extraterrestrial RON GALELLA, LTD./RON GALELLA COLLECTION—GETTY IMAGES coming from or existing beyond the planet Earth (adjective) Director Steven Spielberg made a movie about an extraterrestrial being. life? The possibility is thrilling to imagine.

Message From Space

The Mars rover landing was exciting enough. But NASA added a twist: a secret message. The message was hidden in the pattern on the rover’s parachute (pictured). The pattern translates into binary code, the language of computers.


Maxence Abela is a computer science student in France. He and his dad, Jerome, cracked the code and posted the message on Twitter. It reads: “Dare mighty things.” That’s the motto of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in California.