EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - NASA landed its newest rover 'Perseverance' on Mars' surface Thursday. It will help scientists better understand the red planet and plan for the future.
UW-Eau Claire professor of astronomy Dr. Paul Thomas said Perseverance has a better camera than previous rovers and will be able to see more of the composition of rocks on the planet's surface.
Another robot accompanying Perseverance, called Ingenuity, will fly above the rover to help NASA find out how a helicopter could fly in the very different atmosphere.
Another project for Perseverance, Thomas said, is to conduct a test to see if the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Mars can be turned into oxygen. This would benefit future human travel to Mars as well as be useful for rocket propellent.
Thomas said NASA is also hoping to find bio-signatures on the red planet, which are organic molecules that are the building blocks of past organisms. If these are found, it means there might have been life on Mars billions of years ago.
"The real motivator for our exploration of Mars right now is that there are endless signs on the surface that there was a lot of water and a much warmer planet in the past when the atmosphere was thicker," Thomas said said. "And life was getting started on Earth around the same time, around 3 billion years ago or so."
Perseverance is the fifth rover NASA has sent to study Mars. The first was Sojourner that landed in 1997, and most recently Curiosity which landed in 2012.