Since NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is lower than three weeks away from touchdown on this crimson planet, it appears finest to evaluation its predecessor, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover.
The arrival of perseverance doesn’t imply the top of the science that continues to generate curiosity. But the emergence of perseverance does herald the start of a extra grand period of complementary Martian floor exploration.
Here are 5 fascinating tidbits found by Curiosity within the eight years of the Gale Crater of Mars.
—The Gale Crater has the power to maintain life 3.5 billion years in the past.
Ashwin Vasavada, NASA’s MSL-Curiosity rover venture scientist, advised me that Curiosity’s scientific mission is to discover giant wind craters and discover out whether or not Mars is able to sustaining life. He stated that we’re on the lookout for a spot the place the rock fashioned about 3.5 billion years in the past, as a result of we imagine that if Mars had life, then in historic instances, the environment was denser and there was extra liquid water.
Vasavada stated that curiosity is to not detect life, however to find out whether or not Mars has all the required circumstances, corresponding to liquid water, the chemical foundation of life (corresponding to carbon), and the vitality that life can use. He stated that within the first yr of its mission, Curiosity found a website referred to as Yellowknife Bay, which as soon as had an historic lake.
Vasavada stated that from the remaining minerals, we will see that the lake isn’t too acidic or too salty. He stated that we additionally discovered carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus and different parts wanted for all times. Perhaps most significantly, curiosity found a possible supply of vitality for microbial life there.
Vasavada stated: “If there is life, then this attraction on Mars is indeed habitable.”
There are lakes within the historic Gale Crater for tens of millions of years.
Vasavada stated curiosity landed close to a three-mile-high sedimentary rock mountain. He stated, similar to the Grand Canyon on Earth, the oldest rocks are on the backside and the youthful rocks are on the high. Each layer is a file of the circumstances at a particular time.
Now, Curiosity has climbed 1,300 ft and located nearly uninterrupted data of historic lakes within the Gaelic Crater. These data might final for tens of millions, and even tens of tens of millions of years.
Vasavada stated that even when the lake has lengthy ceased to exist, curiosity can nonetheless see the bands within the rocks, that are the remnants of some millimeters of soil deposited within the lake, maybe annually. He stated there was proof that the lake would dry up often, after which returned.
—Organic substances existed on historic Mars and are nonetheless intact.
Vasavada stated that curiosity found that historic Mars had sufficient carbon in rocks and soil for use as a uncooked materials for all times (if it exists). He stated that curiosity found that the rocks within the lake mattress of the Dafeng Crater include a wide range of natural molecules.
Most are easy, just a few carbon atoms in size.
Vasavada stated these carbon-based molecules on Mars could also be fragments of extra complicated natural molecules which have been degraded for billions of years. He identified that it’s stunning that even these easy molecules survive.
They are more likely to be buried for a very long time and solely just lately appeared on the floor by way of a pure erosion course of.
“[But] The existence of this molecule makes the ancient environment more suitable for life,” Vasavada stated.
—So far, the methane gasoline has occasional peaks, and there’s no clarification.
Vasavada stated that telescope observers on Earth claimed that that they had seen methane gasoline (just like pure gasoline on Earth) within the Martian environment within the years earlier than the rover arrived. He stated that it appeared to return and go within the massive feathers. He stated that is very stunning, as a result of individuals suppose that methane will be shortly destroyed by different chemical compounds, and it’s thought that it doesn’t exist.
Vasavada stated that Curiosity is provided with a particular methane sensor. The background stage of methane discovered by the wanderers could be very small, with a mean content material of about 1 half per 2 billion components of Martian air. He stated that previously eight years, homeless individuals have discovered that the height is ten to twenty instances the height.
But Vasavada warned that whereas detecting methane on Mars is thrilling as a result of it may be produced by dwelling issues on Earth, there are non-biological explanations. So far, the supply of Martian methane stays a thriller.
Vasavada stated: “Either way, it is very interesting, because it means that it is produced in a certain way, and for reasons we don’t yet understand, it seems to be very different.”
—Curiosity witnessed and measured your entire planetary mud storm.
Vasavada stated, similar to within the desert on earth, the wind is continually blowing and abrading. He identified that this left loads of mud, which might often be rolled into big clouds. He stated that clouds soak up daylight and warmth it, making the wind stronger.
Vasavada stated that since there is no such thing as a rain or ocean on Mars, mud storms will proceed to develop each few years till they entangle your entire planet. He stated that such a storm occurred in 2018 and curiosity was in a position to witness it from the bottom.
Although the environment of Mars is lower than one p.c of the Earth’s environment, probably the most dramatic impact of the storm is the 97% discount in daylight from the gale crater.
Vasavada stated that even in skinny air, the wind can transfer the sand round. He stated that the dunes have been found on Mars within the Nineteen Seventies, however Curiosity was truly the primary touchdown mission to watch the motion of sand within the wind.
What is curiosity?
Vasavada stated that within the subsequent yr, Curiosity will examine the key transition from clay-rich rock formations to sulfate-rich rock formations, which can be the results of the worldwide local weather change from moist to dry. He stated, let’s see if historic Mars is appropriate for all times, and probably the most stunning factor for me is whether or not it’s appropriate for all times.
Vasavada stated: “Everything is available for life, we just haven’t found evidence that life can use it.”
According to NASA, Curiosity’s 10 scientific instrument kits embody 17 cameras, a laser to evaporate and examine small spots on rocks at lengthy distances, and a drill to gather powdered rock samples. The company identified that by measuring the chemical fingerprints that exist in several rocks and soils, the rover can decide its previous historical past and potential interactions with water.
Will the Curiosity rover proceed for ten years?
Vasavada stated that contemplating that Mars has been round for eight years, 4 instances the bottom aim, curiosity is doing properly. He stated that something main might occur, thereby shortening the lifetime of the mission at any time, however until so, the lifetime of the mission is proscribed by the facility of IS.
In the following decade, NASA might want to step by step scale back rover actions.
Vasavada stated: “At some point, there was not enough energy to maintain the operation of the rover.”