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Camera still shot of Mars landscape. View of a few craters on surface.
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Top Photo: Perseverance phoned home with this initial shot to show it had landed OK. Credits: photo courtesy of NASA

After leaving Earth more than six months ago, the Mars 2020/Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet on Feb. 18!

Perseverance immediately started returning incredible images. Video captured by the rover showed the spacecraft PLUMMETING, parachuting and rocketing toward the surface of Mars. While there was no audio of the landing, the rover has sent back a 60-second audio clip in which a Martian breeze is audible for a few seconds. You also can hear the mechanical sounds of the rover.

Less than a week after the rover’s landing, NASA released a 360-degree PANORAMA of Jezero Crater, a 3.9 billion-year-old dry lake bed. The image is the first high-definition look at the crater, and it was created after scientists at NASA stitched together 142 images taken by the rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument, a pair of zoomable color cameras. The two cameras are like high-definition eyes on Perseverance that allow the rover to share its view with NASA’s team of scientists and engineers back home.

“For those who wonder how you land on Mars—or why it is so difficult—or how cool it would be to do so—you need look no further,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “Perseverance is just getting started, and already has provided some of the most iconic visuals in space exploration history. It reinforces the remarkable level of engineering and precision that is required to build and fly a vehicle to the Red Planet.”

NASA has big plans for Perseverance during its mission. Over the course of the next two Earth years, which is one Mars year, the rover will explore the landing site region. According to NASA, the main goal is for the rover to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and soil for possible return to Earth.

There is certainly no shortage of ground to cover. Mars is slightly more than half the size of Earth. But while approximately 70 percent of our plant’s surface is covered by liquid water, Mars has no liquid water on its surface and instead is covered by rocks and dust.

ferret popping out of view looking directly in camera.Could Cloning Help Save a Species?

FORT COLLINS, CO—This cute, furry-faced ferret is just a few months old and goes by the name Elizabeth Ann. But if you were around at least 31 years ago, you might have met her, or at least a ferret that’s genetically identical to this KIT!

Elizabeth Ann is a clone of a black-footed ferret named Willa that died 31 years ago. The numbers of black-footed ferrets had plummeted back then, so biologists preserved Willa’s remains, including her DNA (genetic information), by freezing.

What happened to black-footed ferrets, which are part of the weasel family Mustelidae? In a way, scientists attribute it to habitat loss. Prairie dogs, the prey of this species of ferret, were being exterminated by ranchers to protect the land for cattle grazing.

But the ferrets, which lived among the EXTENSIVE burrow colonies of the prairie dogs, also died out and were thought to be extinct.

From 1985–87, the last known black-footed ferrets were caught and became part of a captive breeding program. Just seven of these 18 survivors were able to breed, yet since the 1990s, U.S. Fish & Wildlife has reintroduced thousands of black-footed ferrets in the Western U.S., Mexico and Canada. But these offspring are all closely related and may lack the genetic diversity a healthy population needs.

Although just a kit, Elizabeth Ann has the unique genetics that Willa had—but three decades later. Scientists have high hopes that Elizabeth Ann will be able to give birth and add her much-needed genes to the black-footed ferret gene pool.

March 2021