Curiosity’s five biggest discoveries after ten years on Mars

  • This August 6 marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival on Mars of the robotic vehicle ‘Curiosity’

  • The original goal was for the rover to operate for two years, but it has been on the mission for ten years.

  • The rover’s instruments have confirmed the presence of water in Mars’ past and suggest it may have once supported life.

This August 6 10 years have passed since the arrival on Mars of the robotic vehicle ‘Curiosity’with a mission to test the past environments suitable for life on the surface of the red planet.

“Curiosity” took off aboard an Atlas 5 rocket on November 26, 2011 and traveled through space for nine months, covering 482 million kilometers.

The successful arrival of the rover was a milestone in technologycondensed into seven minutes of dizzying descent from orbit, slowing down with a combination of parachutes, retrorockets and assisted landing.

The original goal was for the rover to operate for two years conduct a geological survey of Mount Sharp, a sedimentary elevation in the middle of Gale Crater, located just south of the Martian equator. After visiting the crater, Curiosity currently exploring the slopes of Mount with its chambers and instruments for the collection and chemical analysis of samples.

This scenario was chosen because of the age of the crater, between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years, the same period during which the Earth and the rest of the planets of the solar system were frequently bombarded by meteorites. It is also the time when Mars was able to host an atmosphere capable of raising the temperature and allowing the presence of liquid water on the surface.

Curiosity’s Five Biggest Discoveries

Famous for his “selfies”the work of this vehicle — which traveled more than 28.5 kilometers — revealed that Mars had an atmosphere in its youth, there is more detailed radiation data on the planet — for future manned missions — he found proof of the existence of liquid water in the past and variable emissions of methane and organic compounds. However, found no traces of life on the red planet.

  • Detection of organic compounds on Mars: one of the instruments of the rover organic molecules detected in rock samples taken from the Gale crater on Mars. Organic molecules (those containing carbon) could be used as building blocks and “food” for life. Its presence on Mars suggests the planet may have once supported life, if it ever did. Although the isotopes of carbon dioxide and methane measured during some sample analyzes could be compatible with ancient biological activity which produces the observed organic compounds, it is important that there are also explanations that are not based on life; For example, this isotopic signal could be the result of an interaction between ultraviolet light from the Sun and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars, producing organic compounds that fall to the surface and do not require life.
  • Methane variability: Using Curiosity’s SAM tunable laser spectrometer, developed in NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, scientists have detected fluctuations in methane abundance in the near-surface atmosphere where the rover collects samples. In the ground, most of the methane in the atmosphere comes from life processes and varies with changes in biological processes, but it is unknown if this is the case on Mars. Curiosity is not equipped to determine whether or not the methane it detected comes from biological processesbut the large number of Red Planet missions keep assembling the tantalizing puzzle .
  • Rock formation and exposure age at Gale Crater: Curiosity had been on Mars for just over a year when, thanks to the SAM instrument, scientists determined for the first time the age of formation and the age of exposure of a rock on the surface of another planet. The rocks around the rim of the Gale crater formed about 4 billion years ago then transported as sediment to Yellowknife Bay. From there, weathering and erosion slowly destroyed it and exposed the rocks to surface radiation around 70 million years ago. In addition to providing information about erosion rates on Mars, knowing how long a sample has been exposed allows scientists to consider possible radiation-induced changes in organic compounds that could affect the ability to identify d possible biological signatures .
  • Diving into the history of water on Mars: Curiosity too shed light on Mars’ wetter past and how the planet dried up. Water is vitally important to life as we know it. The rover found clues that Mars had a wet past. Some of this evidence isin the presence of jarosite, a reddish-yellow mineral that forms only in aqueous environments. The Curiosity instrument (APXS) found jarosite hundreds of millions of years younger than expected. This finding suggests that even though much of the Martian surface was drying out, liquid water remained below the surface in the Gale Crater environment. extend the period of habitability of any Martian microbes that may have existed. In addition, analyzes performed by the SAM instrument provided information about the loss of the atmosphere of Mars which led to its long-term evolution from the initial hot and humid state to the current cold and arid state. Water, H2O, contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Hydrogen can be exchanged for a heavier form of itself, called deuterium. By measuring the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in your samples, Curiosity has discovered evidence of a history of hydrogen leakage and water loss on Mars .
  • biologically useful nitrogen: On Earth, nitrogen is an essential ingredient in the recipe for life, but not just any nitrogen. For most biological processes to use it, the nitrogen atoms must first be “fixed”: freed from their strong tendency to interact only with themselves. Curiosity detected fixed nitrogen as nitrate in rock samples he analyzed in 2015 . The discovery indicated that biologically and chemically usable nitrogen was present on Mars 3.5 billion years ago.

NASA stresses that none of the findings from the rover’s SAM instrument or Curiosity’s other instruments can offer positive evidence of past life on Mars, but more importantly, these findings do not rule it out. At the beginning of this year, NASA has extended Curiosity’s mission until at least 2025 allowing the rover and its mobile chemistry lab SAM to stay focused on the tantalizing question of Mars’ habitability.

Leave a Comment