After landing on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will explore Jezero Crater. The goal is to help scientists understand its geological history and find signs of past microbial life. But the six-wheeled robot will look not only at the surface of the planet: the rover will look deep under it with the help of radar penetrating the earth called RIMFAX.
Unlike similar instruments aboard Martian orbiters that study the planet from space, RIMFAX will be the first ground-penetrating radar installed on the surface of Mars. This will give scientists much higher resolution data than space-based radars can provide while focusing on specific areas that Perseverance will explore. Taking a closer look at the terrain will help the rover team understand how the features of Jezero Crater have formed over time.
Short for Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration – A radar scanner for exploring the interior of Mars, RIMFAX can provide a very detailed view of underground structures at least 10 meters underground. In doing so, the tool will give scientists access to hidden layers of geology and help find clues to the environment on Mars in the past. Especially to one that could provide the conditions necessary to sustain life.
Although Mars is a cold desert today, scientists suspect that microbes may have lived in Jezero billions of years ago when the planet was more humid, and that evidence of such ancient life may be preserved in sediment in the crater. Information from RIMFAX will help pinpoint areas for deeper exploration with rover instruments looking for chemical, mineral, and texture cues. Found in rocks, they can be signs of past microbial life. Ultimately, the team will collect dozens of core samples using Perseverance.
Scientists believe the 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide Jezero Crater was formed when a large object collided with Mars, lifting rocks from deep within the earth’s crust. More than 3.5 billion years ago, river channels emerged from the crater, forming a lake, in which a fan-shaped river delta formed.
Scientists hope RIMFAX will shed light on how the delta formed.