Issue detected on the Perseverance Mars rover’s SHERLOC instrument  

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has been operating on Mars since 2021, is facing an issue.

One of the Perseverance rover’s science instruments, SHERLOC, is not working properly because the cover that prevents dust from accumulating on the instrument’s optics remains partially open.

SHERLOC instrument of Perseverance Mars rover is seen here
SHERLOC instrument of Perseverance Mars rover is seen here, which is mounted on the end of the robotic arm. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

The SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument is mounted on the rover’s robotic arm, which uses cameras, a spectrometer, and a laser to search for organic compounds and minerals on the Martian surface.

According to the statement of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), which manages the rover, “With the cover in its current position, the instrument cannot use its laser on rock targets and cannot collect spectroscopy data.”

However, the assistant camera of the SHERLOC instrument, called WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), is still operating perfectly.

Currently, the engineering team of JPL has been investigating to determine the root cause and possible solutions. The team has been sending commands to the instrument to understand the behavior of the cover’s motor.

The team designed the instruments of the Perseverance rover in such a way so that there is some overlap among the capabilities of the instruments. If the SHERLOC instrument fails, then the rover will perform spectroscopy through the PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) and SuperCam instruments.

Since the rover’s landing on February 18, 2021, SHERLOC has scanned and provided rich data on 34 rock targets, creating a total of 261 hyperspectral maps of those targets, according to NASA.

The SHERLOC instrument gets its name from the fictional British detective Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes’ partner, Dr. John H. Watson, the SHERLOC instrument also has an assistant camera called WATSON. 

NASA’s Perseverance rover has seven scientific instruments:

All the scientific instruments of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover
All the scientific instruments of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  1. Mastcam-Z cameras that can take high-definition video, panoramic color, and 3D images of the Martian surface and features in the atmosphere with a zoom lens to magnify distant targets.
  2. MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) measures weather, including wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity.
  3. MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) can produce oxygen from the Martian carbon-dioxide atmosphere, which will help for future human exploration on Mars.
  4. PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) measures the chemical makeup of rocks at a very fine scale through an X-ray spectrometer.
  5. RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) can see geologic features under the surface with ground-penetrating radar.
  6. SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) can detect minerals, organic molecules, and past microbial life.
  7. SuperCam can identify the chemicals in rocks and soils, including the makeup of their atoms and molecules.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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