NASA have installed specially designed reflectors onto its Perseverance rover with the intention of firing lasers at it once it has landed on Mars. The space agency did a similar thing during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, the purpose of which was to shooting lasers at it from Earth to gather important data on the Moon. Now, NASA is going to replicate that process with the Perseverance rover.
Unlike the reflectors placed on the Moon, which are hit by lasers from Earth, NASA has come up with a new way to shoot lasers at the rover’s reflector. The space agency explained that in the future, it could equip a laser onto a future Mars orbiter spacecraft. If NASA is able to achieve this, it would drastically reduce the distance the laser would have to travel to get accurate measurements.
The reflectors themselves are actually quite small, measuring in at around 5.8 centimeters, or the size of a regular bike reflector. They are however a bit more advanced than your average bike reflector. Each reflector contains three mirrored faces that are positioned at a 90-degree angle from one another. This setup means light entering the holes is directed back out at exactly the same direction it came from, according to NASA.
“This kind of science is important for understanding how gravity shapes our solar system, the whole universe, and ultimately the roles of dark matter and dark energy,” said Simone Dell’Agnello, lead developer of all three retroreflectors at Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech