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NASA Mars helicopter scouts out rocks with 'curious lines'

The intriguing rocks might hint at the history of water in the ancient Martian lakebed.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter snapped this view of the fascinating "Raised Ridges" area on Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter is gearing up for its 11th flight, which could happen as soon as Wednesday night. It's a fairly simple relocation flight, so it's not expected to be as dramatic as the previous airborne journey. The Ingenuity team is still poring over images the rotorcraft snapped on that flight, and there are some noteworthy rocks on display.

Ingenuity is acting as a landscape scout for its ground-bound companion, the Perseverance rover. The helicopter took a look at an area with rippling sand called "Raised Ridges." 

Some of the rocks at Raised Ridges caught the eye of Perseverance science team member Kevin Hand, who has been inspecting a 3D version of the view. "If you look closely, you can see some curious lines across the surfaces of several rocks. Are these just made by eons of wind and dust blowing over the rocks, or might those features tell the story of water? We just don't know yet," Hand said in a NASA statement on Wednesday.

Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, a now-dry lakebed, because it's a perfect spot to seek out signs of ancient microbial life. Scientists are eager for a closer look at rocks that might tie into the red planet's watery history.

Ingenuity has been a smashing success. It represents the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, and has now settled into a co-starring role acting as an assistant to Perseverance. The team is evaluating whether to send the rover on a multi-day trip to Raised Ridges to drill a rock or sediment sample. The images from Ingenuity will help direct the rover's mission. 

Said Perseverance deputy project scientist Ken Williford, "These aerial previews from Ingenuity provide the kind of actionable data that allow us to whittle down our options and get on with the business of exploring our corner of Mars."

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