Ask any space explorer, and they’ll have a favorite image or two from their mission. For Apollo 8’s Bill Anders, it was a picture looking back at the Earth from near the Moon. Astronaut Randy Bresnik prizes a photo of an aurora he took while aboard the International Space Station. And for Vivian Sun, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, it’s an image NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took of one of Jezero Crater’s escarpments (long, steep slopes at the edge of a plateau) – so far away but yet so tantalizingly close.
Sun knows that close-ups of what the rover’s science team has named the “Delta Scarp” and its conglomerates (coarse-grained pebbles mixed with sand turned to rock) and cross-bedding (tilted layers of sedimentary rock) may, at first glance, seem like something only a geologist could love. But, the co-lead of Perseverance’s first science campaign wants to assure you that whatever it may lack in cinematic panache, this Martian mosaic makes up for in geologic importance.
“I’ve been studying Jezero Crater for years and must have looked at orbital images of the Delta Scarp over a thousand times,” said Sun. “But you can only learn so much from orbit, and when this image of the scarp came down to Earth from the rover after landing, it literally took my breath away. This is a favorite because for the first time I could see actual evidence of the conglomerates and cross-bedding we had hypothesized.”