- Press Release Distribution

Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars

The “oriented” samples, the first of their kind from any planet, could shed light on Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars

As it trundles around an ancient lakebed on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is assembling a one-of-a-kind rock collection. The car-sized explorer is methodically drilling into the Red Planet’s surface and pulling out cores of bedrock that it’s storing in sturdy titanium tubes. Scientists hope to one day return the tubes to Earth and analyze their contents for traces of embedded microbial life. 

Since it touched down on the surface of Mars in 2021, the rover has filled 20 of its 43 tubes with cores of bedrock. Now, MIT geologists have remotely determined a crucial property of the rocks collected to date, which will help scientists answer key questions about the planet’s past. 

In a study appearing today in the journal Earth and Space Science, an MIT team reports that they have determined the original orientation of most bedrock samples collected by the rover to date. By using the rover’s own engineering data, such as the positioning of the vehicle and its drill, the scientists could estimate the orientation of each sample of bedrock before it was drilled out from the Martian ground. 

The results represent the first time scientists have oriented samples of bedrock on another planet. The team’s method can be applied to future samples that the rover collects as it expands its exploration outside the ancient basin. Piecing together the orientations of multiple rocks at various locations can then give scientists clues to the conditions on Mars in which the rocks originally formed. 

“There are so many science questions that rely on being able to know the orientation of the samples we’re bringing back from Mars,” says study author Elias Mansbach, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. 

“The orientation of rocks can tell you something about any magnetic field that may have existed on the planet,” adds Benjamin Weiss, professor of planetary sciences at MIT. “You can also study how water and lava flowed on the planet, the direction of the ancient wind, and tectonic processes, like what was uplifted and what sunk. So it’s a dream to be able to orient bedrock on another planet, because it’s going to open up so many scientific investigations.”

Weiss and Mansbach’s co-authors are Tanja Bosak and Jennifer Fentress at MIT, along with collaborators at multiple institutions including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. 

Profound shift

The Perseverance rover, nicknamed “Percy,” is exploring the floor of Jezero Crater, a large impact crater layered with igneous rocks, which may have been deposited from past volcanic eruptions, as well as sedimentary rocks that likely formed from long-dried-out rivers that fed into the basin. 

“Mars was once warm and wet, and there’s a possibility there was life there at one time,” Weiss says. “It’s now cold and dry, and something profound must have happened on the planet.” 

Many scientists, including Weiss, suspect that Mars, like Earth, once harbored a magnetic field that shielded the planet from the sun’s solar wind. Conditions then may have been favorable for water and life, at least for a time.

“Once that magnetic field went away, the sun’s solar wind — this plasma that boils off the sun and moves faster than the speed of sound — just slammed into Mars’ atmosphere and may have removed it over billions of years,” Weiss says. “We want to know what happened, and why.”

The rocks beneath the Martian surface likely hold a record of the planet’s ancient magnetic field. When rocks first form on a planet’s surface, the direction of their magnetic minerals is set by the surrounding magnetic field. The orientation of rocks can thus help to retrace the direction and intensity of the planet’s magnetic field and how it changed over time. 

Since the Perseverance rover was collecting samples of bedrock, along with surface soil and air, as part of its exploratory mission, Weiss, who is a member of the rover’s science team, and Mansbach looked for ways to determine the original orientation of the rover’s bedrock samples as a first step toward reconstructing Mars’ magnetic history. 

“It was an amazing opportunity, but initially there was no mission requirement to orient bedrock,” Mansbach notes. 

Roll with it

Over several months, Mansbach and Weiss met with NASA engineers to hash out a plan for how to estimate the original orientation of each sample of bedrock before it was drilled out of the ground. The problem was a bit like predicting what direction a small circle of sheetcake is pointing, before twisting a round cookie cutter in to pull out a piece. Similarly, to sample bedrock, Perseverance corkscrews a tube-shaped drill into the ground at a perpendicular angle, then pulls the drill directly back out, along with any rock that it penetrates.

To estimate the orientation of the rock before it was drilled out of the ground, the team realized they need to measure three angles, the hade, azimuth, and roll, which are similar to the pitch, yaw, and roll of a boat. The hade is essentially the tilt of the sample, while the azimuth is the absolute direction the sample is pointing relative to true north. The roll refers to how much a sample must turn before returning to its original position. 

In talking with engineers at NASA, the MIT geologists found that the three angles they required were related to measurements that the rover takes on its own in the course of its normal operations. They realized that to estimate a sample’s hade and azimuth they could use the rover’s measurements of the drill’s orientation, as they could assume the tilt of the drill is parallel to any sample that it extracts. 

To estimate a sample’s roll, the team took advantage of one of the rover’s onboard cameras, which snaps an image of the surface where the drill is about to sample. They reasoned that they could use any distinguishing features on the surface image to determine how much the sample would have to turn in order to return to its original orientation.

In cases where the surface bore no distinguishing features, the team used the rover’s onboard laser to make a mark in the rock, in the shape of the letter “L,” before drilling out a sample — a move that was jokingly referred to at the time as the first graffiti on another planet. 

By combining all the rover’s positioning, orienting, and imaging data, the team estimated the original orientations of all 20 of the Martian bedrock samples collected so far, with a precision that is comparable to orienting rocks on Earth. 

“We know the orientations to within 2.7 degrees uncertainty, which is better than what we can do with rocks in the Earth,” Mansbach says. “We’re working with engineers now to automate this orienting process so that it can be done with other samples in the future.”

“The next phase will be the most exciting,” Weiss says. “The rover will drive outside the crater to get the oldest known rocks on Mars, and it’s an incredible opportunity to be able to orient these rocks, and hopefully uncover a lot of these ancient processes.”

This research was supported, in part, by NASA and the Mars 2020 Participating Scientist program. 


Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News

Paper: “Oriented Bedrock Samples Drilled by the Perseverance Rover on Mars”


[Attachments] See images for this press release:
Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars


Illinois study: Supporting disease-challenged broiler chickens through nutrition

Illinois study: Supporting disease-challenged broiler chickens through nutrition
URBANA, Ill. — When broiler chickens are busy fighting the parasitic infection coccidiosis, they can’t absorb nutrients efficiently or put energy toward growth. With consumer sentiment pitted against antimicrobials and other drugs, producers still have some options to ensure optimal growth during inevitable outbreaks. New research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign suggests diet changes might help.  “Vaccines and anticoccidials are the traditional ways to prevent this disease. Nutrition can't replace all of the pharmaceuticals, but it can be supportive in providing care,” said senior study author Ryan Dilger, ...

Communities severed by roads and traffic experience a larger number of collisions in New York City

March 4, 2024- New York City neighborhoods with disrupted community connections, due to traffic, roads, and transport infrastructure, are experiencing an increase in traffic collisions. This increase is seen both in total collisions and for those in which pedestrians or cyclists are injured or killed, according to a new study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The findings are reported in the journal Environment International. “Despite recent remarkable progress, road safety remains an urgent urban issue in New York and other U.S. cities. It is important to understand how the spatial configuration of the city enhances ...

Study shows new class of antivirals that works against SARS-CoV-2

EDMONTON — A University of Alberta research team has uncovered a new class of drugs with the potential to prevent or treat infections in a future viral outbreak. In the paper, published this week in Nature, the team reports that SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — activates a pathway in cells that stops the production of peroxisomes and interferon, key parts of the normal immune response. The team successfully tested a new class of antiviral drugs that stimulate interferon production to reverse that effect. Tom ...

Cost of direct air carbon capture to remain higher than hoped

Switzerland plans to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by no later than 2050. To achieve this, it will need to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In its climate strategy, the Swiss government acknowledges that some of these emissions, particularly in agriculture and industry, are difficult or impossible to avoid. Swiss climate policy therefore envisages actively removing 5 million tonnes of CO2 from the air and permanently storing it underground. By way of comparison, the Intergovernmental ...

Unraveling the mystery of chiton visual systems

Unraveling the mystery of chiton visual systems
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) — You’d probably walk past a chiton without even seeing it. These creatures often look like nothing more than another speck of seaweed on the crusty intertidal rocks. But it sees you. At least, if it’s one of the species with eyes dotting its platemail shell. A team of scientists — led by Rebecca Varney at UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB) — discovered that some of these tough mollusks sport the most recently evolved eyes with a lens. What’s more, the ...

Case Western Reserve University-led research team discovers new method to test for oral cancer

Case Western Reserve University-led research team discovers new method to test for oral cancer
CLEVELAND—Oral cancers and precancerous mouth lesions are considered especially difficult to diagnose early and accurately. For one, biopsies are expensive, invasive, stressful for the patient and can lead to complications. They’re also not feasible if repeated screenings of the same lesion are required. But a team of researchers, led by a clinician scientist at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, has discovered a noninvasive, low-cost test to detect oral cancer, monitor precancerous lesions and determine when a biopsy is warranted. Their findings, published ...

Firearm access and gun violence exposure are common in Black and native communities

A  New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center study is the first to provide nationally representative data on gun use, storage and violence within Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native (AIAN) families. Both Black and native communities have seen increasingly elevated rates of gun violence victimization, including homicide and suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, minorities have become more represented among new firearm owners. Despite this, research on firearm access, storage and use has focused on samples of white adults. This prevents understanding the access Black and native individuals have to firearms, whether they are stored ...

New AI smartphone tool accurately diagnoses ear infections

New AI smartphone tool accurately diagnoses ear infections
A new cellphone app developed by physician-scientists at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately diagnose ear infections, or acute otitis media (AOM), could help decrease unnecessary antibiotic use in young children, according to new research published today in JAMA Pediatrics. AOM is one of the most common childhood infections for which antibiotics are prescribed but can be difficult to discern from other ear conditions without intensive training. The new AI tool, which makes a diagnosis by assessing ...

Screen time and parent-child talk when children are ages 12 to 36 months

About The Study: This study found a negative association between screen time and measures of parent-child talk when children are 12 to 36 months of age. For every additional minute of screen time, children heard fewer adult words, spoke fewer vocalizations, and engaged in fewer back-and-forth interactions. Interventions aiming to promote early use of language should include support to manage screen time.  Authors: Mary E. Brushe, Ph.D., of the University of Western Australia in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, is the corresponding author. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this link (doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.6790) Editor’s ...

Firearm access and gun violence exposure among American Indian or Alaska native and Black adults

About The Study: In this nationally representative survey study of 3,542 American Indian or Alaska Native and Black U.S. adults, a substantial percentage of both groups reported living in homes with firearms, storing firearms loaded and unlocked, frequently carrying firearms outside the home, and having been exposed directly and indirectly to gun violence. These findings underscore the need for nuanced public health campaigns and policies and highlight challenges for law enforcement in contexts of racial disparities ...


Most massive stellar black hole in our galaxy found

New review offers first recommendations on accurately assessing the carbon footprint of coffee farming

Seed ferns: Plants experimented with complex leaf vein networks 201 million years ago

New statewide research reveals the staggering economic cost of intimate partner violence in Louisiana

From ashes to adversity: Lessons from South Australia's business recovery amidst bushfires and pandemic

Multiple pollutants from crop and livestock production in the Yangtze River: status and challenges

Unraveling the unique role of DELLA proteins in grapevine flowering: A shift in developmental fate

Next-generation treatments hitch a ride into cancer cells

Unraveling the role of DlBGAL9 and AGL61/80 in Longan somatic embryogenesis and heat stress tolerance: A multi-omics approach

Decoding pecan pollination: A dive into the chloroplast genome of 'Xinxuan-4' and its impact on cultivar diversity and efficiency

KD-crowd: A knowledge distillation framework for learning from crowds

Can animals count?

Australian media need generative AI policies to help navigate misinformation and disinformation

Illuminating the path to hearing recovery

Unlocking the secrets of fruit quality: How anthocyanins and acidity shape consumer preferences and market value

Evidence for reversible oxygen ion movement during electrical pulsing: enabler of the emerging ferroelectricity in binary oxides

Revolutionizing Citrus cultivation: The superior tolerance and growth vigor of 'Shuzhen No.1' rootstock

Family and media pressure to lose weight in adolescence linked to how people value themselves almost two decades later

Despite the desire to reduce the risk of imitation, new research suggests startups should scale slowly and steadily

The Lancet: Many people with breast cancer ‘systematically left behind’ due to inaction on inequities and hidden suffering

From opioid overdose to treatment initiation: outcomes associated with peer support in emergency departments

NIH awards $3.4 million to Wayne State University to investigate biomarkers for better reproductive success

New study shows corporate misconduct at home hurts sales overseas

Take it from the rats: A junk food diet can cause long-term damage to adolescent brains

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute team unpacking genetic mysteries of childhood epilepsies

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers discover new clues to how tardigrades can survive intense radiation

UT Arlington prioritizes entrepreneurship efforts

Ochsner Health receives 2024 Top Workplaces Culture Excellence Awards

Are these newly found rare cells a missing link in color perception?

Annals supplement highlights important new evidence readers ‘may have missed’ in 2023

[] Study determines the original orientations of rocks drilled on Mars
The “oriented” samples, the first of their kind from any planet, could shed light on Mars’ ancient magnetic field.