Derby British Science Association

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Guest Post: Discoveries of The Curiosity Rover

Photo credit: NASA/Viking Project

Photo credit: NASA/Viking Project

It’s been an exciting time in the field of space exploration with NASA’s Curiosity Rover on a mission to Mars. Though the rover has a significant amount of time left in its mission, many discoveries have already been made. To be able to fully understand the breadth of these discoveries however, one must first understand what the Curiosity Rover’s mission to Mars was all about.

Mission

There are several layers to the Curiosity Rover’s mission. Firstly, the Curiosity Rover is there for the purpose of investigating Mars’ soil and atmosphere in a way that was never possible before. Secondly, it is to analyze the Gale Crater to which it had been sent for the purpose of determining whether the crater has ever had environmental conditions favorable to microscopic life. Finally, it is to prepare for and assess the viability of an actual manned mission to Mars, where astronauts rather than a rover can conduct their own experiments.

A Fading Atmosphere

One of the more significant discoveries made by the Curiosity Rover is finding evidence of an atmosphere that could’ve once been much more pronounced. Air samples have revealed that heavier carbon isotopes substantially outnumber lighter carbon isotopes, a by-product of a thinning atmosphere. The significance of this layers into the search for determinants that indicate that the Martian atmosphere was once hospitable to life. Since carbon dioxide is such a major proportion of the Martian atmosphere — over 90% in fact — this has been a very significant discovery.

Promises of a Manned Mission

Another particularly significant discovery made by the Curiosity Rover is the determination that radiation levels on Mars fall within a level that is safe for astronauts who one day hope to conduct their own mission on the Red Planet. The Curiosity Rover’s analyses have indicated that the radiation levels on Mars actually coincide closely with those experienced by astronauts in Earth’s low-orbit. Though Mars lacks a magnetic field much in the way that Earth possesses, this discovery shows that conditions on Mars are otherwise safe enough for astronauts to spend extended amounts of time on the planet. While these figures are yet to be solidified, it presents a significant step forward to preparing for a mission with humans, not machines.

Did Water Once Flow On Mars?

With the recent discovery of what has been interpreted as an ancient steambed, the answer to the age old question of whether Mars ever had water was finally given an answer. More precisely, the Curiosity Rover recently discovered stones cemented into rock layers that contain features exclusive to those that have travelled through water for long distances. This has not only given scientists at NASA the key to a certain answer, but details toward the depth and prevalence of water on the surface of Mars. Based on these samples, NASA has projected that this particular body of water had been moving at 3 feet per second, and was anywhere from ankle-high to hip-high. The presence of water is of vital importance to the presence of carbon-based life, giving NASA further evidence of what conditions may have once been like long ago.

Organic Compounds In the Future

Perhaps one of the more significant discoveries that has been made is the discovery of evidence that suggests the presence of organic compounds. Though NASA has been tight-lipped on the phenomena, and rightfully so, this discovery may have immense scientific implications. While not having found actual organic compounds, NASA hopes that this is the first step to finally doing so. When the Viking Rovers were sent to Mars nearly 40 years ago, their equipment had proved inadequate in the confirmation of organic presences and their results were deemed negative. Should the Curiosity Rover find evidence to the contrary, debates that have long since raged will finally be given an end. To the rest of humanity, this means conclusive evidence that organic material had indeed been found all those years ago on Mars, and that it still exists to this day.

This article was written by Magnus Keith on behalf of Chemical Wire. Make sure to check out http://chemicalwire.com/ for chemical products for your lab. 

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2012 by in General Science, Physics and tagged , , , .

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