NASA's Mars Helicopter Reveals Intriguing Terrain for Rover Team

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Images snapped by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on its ninth flight on 5 July have offered scientists and engineers working with the agency's Perseverance Mars rover an unprecedented opportunity to scout the red planet.

Some of the images from Ingenuity, which completed the long journey back to Earth on 8 July, show the shadow of the helicopter and a portion of the helicopter's landing gear can be seen at top left.

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 colour 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 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."

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