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The Atlas V rocket launching Perseverance to Mars Thursday. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA's Perseverance rover launched on a journey to Mars Thursday to hunt for signs of past alien life on the Red Planet.

Why it matters: The rover is the third spacecraft lofted to Mars this month, with the first two sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.

Details: The car-sized rover launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket at 7:50 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

  • The rover is now separated from the top of the rocket and is on its way to Mars.

The big picture: Once Perseverance makes it to its landing site in Jezero Crater in about seven months, the rover will set out on a mission to investigate interesting rocks for possible signatures of biology and life.

  • Scientists think the area of Mars that Perseverance will investigate is actually the remnant of an ancient lake and delta rich in deposits that might help preserve signs of life.
  • The rover's instruments will record sound, take photos and use a laser to analyze the chemical compositions of interesting rocks the rover comes across.
  • Perseverance will also cache small samples of rock and dirt in tubes to one day be delivered back to Earth on a future robotic mission.

Some fun things: Perseverance is carrying 10.9 million names submitted by people to the Red Planet etched into three silicon chips.

  • The rover also comes equipped with a plate honoring the first responders on the frontlines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • And a small helicopter called Ingenuity is hitching a ride to Mars to prove out new technology for future missions.

What's next: China's Mars mission, the UAE's Hope orbiter and Perseverance are all expected to make it to the Red Planet in February.

  • The three missions, all designed to perform different tasks to piece together Martian history, will help contribute to a more holistic picture of our cosmic neighbor.

Go deeper: The end of the beginning of Mars exploration

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jul 28, 2020 - Science

Perseverance will carry a Martian helicopter, other tech to the Red Planet

Artist's illustration of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance will carry new tech to Mars that represents major technological advances since NASA's last rover — Curiosity — landed on the Red Planet in 2012.

Why it matters: These new experiments and technology demonstrations will fill in gaps in knowledge scientists have about the world and set up future robotic missions in the process.

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.