Ingenuity’s ninth flight provided imagery that will help the Perseverance rover team develop its science plan going forward.
Images snapped on July 5 by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on its ambitious ninth flight have offered scientists and engineers working with the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover an unprecedented opportunity to scout out the road ahead. Ingenuity provided new insight into where different rock layers begin and end, each layer serving as a time capsule for how conditions in the ancient climate changed at this location. The flight also revealed obstacles the rover may have to drive around as it explores Jezero Crater.
During the flight – designed to test the helicopter’s ability to serve as an aerial scout – Ingenuity soared over a dune field nicknamed “Séítah.” Perseverance is making a detour south around those dunes, which would be too risky for the six-wheeled rover to try crossing.
The color images from Ingenuity, taken from a height of around 33 feet (10 meters), offer the rover team much greater detail than they get from the orbiter images (such as the one above) they typically use for route planning. While a camera like HiRISE (the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can resolve rocks about 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, missions usually rely on rover images to see smaller rocks or terrain features.
“Once a rover gets close enough to a location, we get ground-scale images that we can compare to orbital images,” said Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “With Ingenuity, we now have this intermediate-scale imagery that nicely fills the gap in resolution.”
Below are a few of Ingenuity’s images, which completed the long journey back to Earth on July 8.
Ingenuity (its shadow is visible at the bottom of this image) offered a high-resolution glimpse of rock features nicknamed “Raised Ridges.” They belong to a fracture system, which often serve as pathways for fluid to flow underground.
Here in Jezero Crater, a lake existed billions of years ago. Spying the ridges in images from Mars orbiters, scientists have wondered whether water might have flowed through these fractures at some point, dissolving minerals that could help feed ancient microbial colonies. That would make them a prime location to look for signs of ancient life – and perhaps to drill a sample.