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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.

Updated 24 mins ago - Sports

Japan's Naomi Osaka lights Olympic cauldron, kicking off Tokyo Games

Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

After a year-long delay, the Olympics finally got underway Friday as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is competing for Japan, lit the cauldron, formally kicking off the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: Friday's opening ceremony looked, like many things over the last year, different than normal — multicolored seats replaced cheering fans, masks were a central part of the athletes' uniforms and a subdued, somber tone marked the occasion.

1 hour ago - World

China sanctions Wilbur Ross, 5 other Americans over Hong Kong warnings

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Chinese government imposed sanctions on Monday against six Americans, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in response to an advisory from the Biden administration warning businesses of the increased risks of operating in Hong Kong.

Why it matters: It's the latest example of China responding furiously to U.S. attempts to shed light on human rights abuses in places like Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, which Chinese officials routinely condemn as "interference" in domestic affairs.