Key life-hunting instrument of NASA’s rover on Mars faces issue

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)

A key life-hunting instrument of NASA’s Perseverance rover has been facing an issue since January 6, 2024.

The instrument, called the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals), detects the signs of past microbial life on Mars.

Now a cover, which protects the SHERLOC instrument from dust accumulation, remains partially open as it’s not working properly.

The SHERLOC instrument, which is mounted at the head of Perseverance’s robotic arm, uses two cameras and a laser spectrometer to search for organic compounds and minerals on the Martian surface.

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

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

Currently, the engineering team at NASA’s JPL is investigating the cover’s motor to find the root cause and possible solutions.

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars’s Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, and the SHERLOC instrument on Perseverance has scanned and provided rich data on 34 rock targets since landing.

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.

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)

Here are all seven scientific instruments that NASA’s Perseverance rover carried to Mars:

— 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.

— MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) measures weather, including wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity.

— 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.

— PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) measures the chemical makeup of rocks at a very fine scale through an X-ray spectrometer.

— RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) can see geologic features under the surface with ground-penetrating radar.

— SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) can detect minerals, organic molecules, and past microbial life.

— 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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