NASA’s Curiosity rover has hit a serious milestone: the robotic is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012.
Over the last decade, the rover has enormously superior our understanding of the Crimson Planet by way of its exploration and analysis. Curiosity‘s main mission goal was to find out whether or not or not Mars was liveable previously. Via earlier missions, scientists had already decided that water was as soon as current on Mars and, the truth is, is at present current on Mars within the type of ice. However water alone is not sufficient to help life.
“Figuring out habitability requires understanding if there have been issues like natural molecules — carbon-containing molecules that life wants — sources of vitality, different molecules that life wants, like nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen,” Curiosity deputy challenge scientist Abigail Fraeman, who can also be a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, advised Area.com. “And we’ve discovered that every one of these had been there.”
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As a way to discover these key signatures of habitability on Mars, Curiosity carries with it instruments to drill into the floor of the planet and spectrometers just like the Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) that may analyze the ensuing samples. Inside the rover’s first few years on the planet, it had already found key necessities for all times.
“So we discovered, one, Mars was liveable, and two, that these liveable environments continued for tens of thousands and thousands of years, more than likely, possibly even lots of of thousands and thousands of years, which was stunning and thrilling,” Fraeman mentioned.
The rover’s analysis into the rock and soil of Mars additionally yielded new details about groundwater cycles on Mars. “The entire rocks that we have pushed by way of present not solely the signature of water after they had been initially deposited, however this later overprinting of 1 or two or dozens of cycles of groundwater circulating by way of the rocks,” Fraeman mentioned. “And so it actually emphasised the significance of subsurface water on Mars, which is one thing that will have been a very essential course of.”
However in a decade of exploration, Curiosity has found far more than the constructing blocks of life. “One of many varieties of science that does not get talked about a complete lot, however is actually essential and actually fascinating, is the environmental science we have been doing,” Fraeman mentioned.
Curiosity has radiation detectors and environmental and atmospheric sensors which have been put to good use on Mars. As an example, all through its wanderings, when Curiosity approached geological formations like cliffs and buttes, the rover’s devices detected that the rocks blocked radiation from reaching it. “We are able to now use that for fashions for future astronauts. For instance, can you employ pure terrain as shielding?” Fraeman mentioned.
She’s additionally enthralled by Curiosity’s examine of Martian climate, noting that simply final 12 months, Curiosity photographed stunning clouds often called noctilucent clouds, which seem at sundown throughout winter.
Though Curiosity’s authentic mission timeline lasted slightly below two Earth years, a decade out the rover continues to be in comparatively good well being — ok to proceed its work. “We do have slightly little bit of arthritis, slightly little bit of aches and pains within the joints,” Fraeman mentioned. Its wheels, for example, have developed fairly a couple of holes after some 17.5 miles (28 kilometers) of journey with a 2,000-foot (600 meters) elevation acquire. However Fraeman famous that the wheels are accumulating injury at a comparatively gradual fee, permitting Curiosity to proceed transferring.
“I believe what’s most outstanding to me is all of the science devices are principally working in addition to they did once we landed,” she mentioned. “We’re nonetheless in a position to do the identical high quality and breadth of science that we had been 10 years in the past, and that is fairly extraordinary.”
Subsequent up for Curiosity is an investigation into what occurred to the once-habitable local weather of Mars and the way lengthy the area remained liveable because the water started to dry up. Whereas the rover spent the previous decade exploring lake environments — most not too long ago, a area the place sand dunes shaped as lakes disappeared — the staff is now sending the explorer even greater up Mount Sharp.
“We’re so near reaching what we name the Layered-Sulfate unit, which is a totally totally different portion of Mount Sharp,” Fraeman mentioned. “We see from orbit that it has a special texture, a special mineralogy, and we expect that is going to signify a really totally different environmental time on Mars. We’re excited to see simply what this environmental change was, the way it’s mirrored within the rock report, and what meaning for habitability.”
However earlier than Curiosity will get to all that, the staff goes to spend slightly time celebrating the anniversary. “These of us who’re native in Pasadena, we’ll have a celebration. We’ll get some Thai meals, we’ll have a raffle,” Fraeman mentioned. “I believe it will simply be a joyous event to have a good time the accomplishments and hopefully sit up for extra enjoyable science.”