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Five of the very best discoveries aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars

Curiosity rover
This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines a large number of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) through the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s focus on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the looks of section of the ground next to the rover. Credit: NASA

Revealing the potentially habitable climate of ancient Mars is really a key section of NASA’s mission to explore and understand the unknown, to inspire and benefit humanityand for 10 years, the Curiosity rover has been on the case at the Red Planet.

To mark the occasion, listed below are five of the very most significant discoveries that scientists have made using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. SAM is among NASA’s most effective astrobiology instruments on Mars. Designed and built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, SAM looks for and measures organic molecules and light elements, which are essential to life once we know it. To perform this, SAM carries components that scientists use remotely to check Martian samples.

1. Detection of organic compounds on Mars

Charles Malespin and Amy McAdam, SAM’s principal and deputy principal investigators at Goddard, quite definitely acknowledge SAM’s most crucial finding: SAM detected organic molecules in rock samples collected from Mars’s Gale Crater. Organic molecules (those containing carbon) could possibly be used as blocks and “food” forever. Their presence on Mars suggests the earth once may have supported life, if it ever was present.

As the isotopes in skin tightening and and measured during some SAM sample analyses could possibly be in keeping with ancient biological activity producing the organics observed, importantly additionally, there are non-life-based explanationsfor example, this isotopic signal is actually a consequence of an interaction between ultraviolet light from sunlight and skin tightening and in Mars’s atmosphere producing organics that fall to the top, no life required.

Overall, these results motivate ongoing and future studies with SAM and the complete Curiosity suite of instruments, along with other planetary missions looking for proof habitable environments and life beyond Earth.

2. Methane variability

Using SAM’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, scientists have detected fluctuations in the abundance of methane in the near-surface atmosphere where Curiosity gathers samples. ON THE PLANET, the majority of the methane within the atmosphere gets there because of processes from life and varies because of changes in biological processes, but we have no idea whether this is actually the case on Mars.

Curiosity isn’t equipped to find out set up methane it has detected hails from biological processes, however the host of Red Planet missions continue steadily to patch together the tantalizing puzzle.

3. Rock formation and exposure age in Gale Crater

Curiosity had only been on Mars for a little more when compared to a year when, because of SAM, scientists determined both formation age and the exposure age of a rock at first glance of another planet for the very first time.

The rocks round the rim of Gale Crater were formed about 4 billion years back, then transported as sediments to Yellowknife Bay. “Here these were buried and became sedimentary rocks,” McAdam said. From there, weathering and erosion slowly broke down and exposed the rocks to surface radiation about 70 million years back. Aside from providing insight into Mars’s erosion rates, focusing on how long an example was exposed enables scientists to take into account possible radiation-induced changes to that could affect the capability to identify potential biosignatures.

“This dating experiment had not been planned before launch,” McAdam said. “But flexibility in the look and operation of SAM, and dedication of a team of scientists and engineers, enabled it to be successfully completed.”

4. Homing in on the annals of water on Mars

SAM in addition has reveal Mars’s wetter past and the way the planet has dry out. Water is quite crucial to life once we know it, and “multiple lines of evidence indicate that the rocks of Gale Crater record a rich history of ,” Malespin said. Section of that evidence may be the presence of jarosite, a ruddy-yellow mineral only formed in watery environments, McAdam said. An age-dating test out SAM and another Curiosity instrument (APXS) found jarosite vast sums of years younger than expected.

This finding shows that even as a lot of the top of Mars was becoming dry, some liquid water remained below the top in the Gale Crater environment, extending the time of habitability for just about any Martian microbes that may have existed.

Furthermore, analyses by SAM provided insight in to the lack of Mars’s atmosphere that led its long-term evolution from the first warm and wet state to the present cold and arid state. Water, H2O, contains two hydrogen atoms and something oxygen atom. The hydrogen could be swapped for a heavier type of itself, called deuterium. Through measuring the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in its samples, Curiosity uncovered proof a brief history of hydrogen escape and water loss on Mars.

5. Biologically useful nitrogen

ON THE PLANET, can be an essential ingredient in the recipe for lifebut not only any nitrogen can do. For some biological processes to utilize it, the nitrogen atoms must first be “fixed”: free of their strong tendency to interact only with themselves. “Fixed nitrogen is necessary for the formation of DNA, RNA, and proteins,” Malespin said. “They are the inspiration of life once we know it.”

SAM detected fixed nitrogen by means of nitrate in rock samples it analyzed in 2015. The finding indicated that biologically and chemically usable nitrogen was present on Mars 3.5 billion years back.

“While this nitrate might have been produced early in Martian history by thermal shocks from meteor impacts,” McAdam said, “it’s possible that some could possibly be forming in the Martian atmosphere today.”

No finding from SAM or Curiosity’s other instruments can provide proof positive for past life on Mars, but importantly, these discoveries don’t rule it out. Earlier this season, NASA extended Curiosity’s mission at the very least into 2025, allowing the rover and its own mobile SAM chemistry lab to remain centered on the tantalizing matter of Mars’s habitability.



Citation: Five of the very best discoveries aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars (2022, August 4) retrieved 4 August 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-discoveries-aboard-nasa-curiosity-rover.html

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