RovingCosmos Perseverance X-Ray

Cameras in space – a history and aboard Perseverance

Perseverance isn’t the first visitor to Mars with cameras. I thought I would recommend a post by B&H that documented the history of some of the cameras that have made their way into space. It’s a long one, but they shared some interesting artists’ renditions of the spacecraft as well as photos snapped by the numerous cameras. Before we jump into the cameras carried by Perseverance, let’s pause to appreciate the first photo in the B&H post. While technically not the first image of Earth from space (that was in 1947), it’s the first photo taken by a weather satellite.

photo of Earth from TIROS-1 weather station
Photo Credit: NASA

Perseverance’s numerous cameras

image of perseverance with cameras labelled
Image Credit: NASA

Perseverance is equipped with 23 cameras, of which 7 were used specifically for NASA to get a better view of the “Seven Minutes of Terror” (the entry, descent, landing stage). We saw some of that footage in our last post. One of the “lookdown” cameras was used for terrain-relative navigation, taking photos for Perseverance to process to assist with autonomous decision-making for the landing.

Perseverance on the move

The engineering cameras are for navigation, and Perseverance made its first moves on the 5th of March 2021! An upgrade from Curiosity, the new cameras allow Perseverance to think and move simultaneously. Perseverance’s first moves were really just tests to make sure everything is working properly, but since everything went well, we can start to get excited about more movement soon!

Perseverance's tracks on Mars
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The science cameras

There are several science cameras on the rover, all aiming to learn more about life on ancient Mars.

  • CacheCam, which snaps photos of the samples that Perseverance will collect
  • Mastcam-Z, which is a pair of cameras that allow scientists to have a high-resolution, 3D view for photo and video.
  • SuperCam sits on the very top of Perseverance and is a camera with a laser. Really. It can pinpoint areas smaller than 1mm and vaporise them so that the camera and spectrometers can look for organic compounds (ie signs of life).
  • PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) is more like an x-ray, but it has a camera to compare the x-ray image with visible characteristics of rocks.
  • SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) is a mouthful of a name. It is also a camera, laser, spectrometer combination. The camera’s name is WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering). This tool will look for things that have been altered by watery environments and may be signs of past microbial life. Also, someone on this team must love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

So far the engineering cameras and the Mastcam-Z pair have been very busy (see our last post for thoughts on the panorama). Not surprisingly, as they’re still kicking the proverbial tires out there, the other science cameras haven’t been active yet. SHERLOC WATSON has snapped a few, but it’s clearly still early days. Here’s an example:

photo of Mars by WATSON
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

Are you into cameras? Or lasers for that matter? What are you looking forward to learning from the various cameras and experiments in the coming months and years? Let us know on Twitter or shoot us an email!