On the eve of the launch of the 2020 NASA Perseverance mission, scheduled for July 30, NASA announced an unusual cargo that will travel to Mars aboard a new rover. This is an item that once belonged to the Red Planet itself – a fragment of the Martian meteorite Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU 008). People decided to return him to their homeland, pursuing two goals: practical and symbolic.
With symbolism, everything is simple – this is a bright informational lead, which recently began to accompany many American space projects (for example, the launch of a Tesla roadster into space – no benefit, but the media lead is excellent). The SaU 008 stone was formed 450 million years ago, it rested peacefully in the soil of Mars, until 600-700 thousand years ago, a strong impact of an asteroid or comet knocked it out into space. There he wandered for a long time, until about 1000 years ago he landed in Oman. Scientists have studied it far and wide and are now ready to return to Mars a valuable gift that has so enriched our science.
From a practical point of view, everything is more complicated and more interesting. Firstly, SaU 008 is one of the most durable Martian meteorites at the disposal of earthlings; it is risky to send other samples on such a path. Second, SaU 008 contains bubbles of gas identical to the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere. The mineral composition of the meteorite and other parameters became the basis for the calibration of the newest and most important Perseverance SHERLOC detector. He will use a laser to study the composition of the Martian rocks with unprecedented precision.
It was the accuracy and sensitivity of the device that became the decisive argument. Scientists know exactly what to expect from the well-studied SaU 008, so when analyzing Martian soil, SHERLOC will use the meteorite as a reference, a starting point in the search for new samples. The device will be able to calibrate on the fly, will be more noise-immune and effective in work.