August 20, 2022

In the present day marks precisely 10 years since NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars.

The one-tonne car launched from Earth in November 2011 and – after an arduous nine-month journey which included the ‘seven minutes of terror’ right down to the Martian floor – it got down to search for proof that the Crimson Planet might as soon as have supported life.

Since then, Curiosity has pushed almost 18 miles (29 kilometres) and ascended 2,050 toes (625 metres) because it explores Gale Crater and the foothills of Mount Sharp inside it. 

The rover has analysed 41 rock and soil samples, counting on a collection of science devices to be taught what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling.

Such has been its success, what was initially meant to be a two-year mission was later prolonged indefinitely, resulting in a relatively busy decade.

Curiosity has studied the Crimson Planet’s skies – capturing photographs of shining clouds and drifting moons – whereas the rover’s radiation sensor has allowed scientists to measure the quantity future astronauts could be uncovered to on the Martian floor, serving to NASA work out find out how to maintain them secure. 

However most significantly, Curiosity has decided that liquid water in addition to the chemical constructing blocks and vitamins wanted for supporting life have been current for at the very least tens of thousands and thousands of years in Gale Crater. 

In the present day, Curiosity’s Twitter account wrote: ‘Completely satisfied 10-year landiversary to me! It’s been a decade of discoveries. 

‘I’ve explored Gale Crater and Mount Sharp, analysed rock samples, and studied the Martian clouds and sky. Within the years forward, I’ll examine a area wealthy in salty minerals known as sulfates.’

Right here, MailOnline appears to be like again at a few of the rover’s largest achievements throughout its decade on Mars, together with what it may but uncover because it powers into the long run.

Milestone second: In the present day marks precisely 10 years since NASA’s Curiosity rover (pictured) touched down on the Crimson Planet

1. Detection of natural compounds 

Natural molecules are the constructing blocks and ‘meals’ for all times. 

In 2018, Curiosity supplied probably the most compelling proof but of the existence of life on the Crimson Planet when it detected natural molecules preserved in 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rock. 

The rock samples have been collected from Gale crater, which as soon as held a lake that waxed and waned in dimension over time, and the presence of the natural materials suggests Mars may have supported life, if it ever was current.

Natural molecules include carbon and hydrogen, as nicely nitrogen and different components. These molecules are usually related to life on Earth, however can be created via non-biological processes. 

The rover extracted and heated samples from Mojave and Confidence Hills within the Gale Crater — each of that are identified to include mudstones courting again roughly three billion years.

This revealed the presence of molecules that resembled organic-rich sedimentary rock discovered on Earth, in line with scientists, together with thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, akin to propane or butene.

‘These natural molecules may have come from life,’ astrobiologist Dr Jennifer L. Eigenbrode mentioned on the time, ‘however we don’t know that there was ever life on Mars.

‘So these particular molecules will not be proof of life.’

As a substitute, the researcher defined, these molecules could possibly be traced to non-life sources, akin to meteorites.

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Scientists additionally mentioned that whereas the isotopes in carbon dioxide and methane measured throughout a few of the analyses could possibly be in step with historical organic exercise producing the organics noticed, importantly there are additionally non-life-based explanations.

For instance, the isotopic sign could possibly be a results of an interplay between ultraviolet gentle from the solar and carbon dioxide in Mars’s ambiance producing organics that fall to the floor, so no life required.

2. Methane variability

The 2019 revelation that methane had been discovered on Mars despatched shockwaves all through the scientific group, as virtually the entire gasoline on Earth is produced by life.

Methane is claimed to be a promising clue within the seek for life as a consequence of its hyperlinks to organic exercise on our planet. 

NASA’s Curiosity rover first measured a ‘sturdy sign’ of the molecule on 15 June, 2013, however some consultants questioned the reliability of the invention. 

It wasn’t till six years later that each Curiosity and the European House Company’s Mars Specific spacecraft confirmed the presence of methane.

The rover detected fluctuations within the abundance of methane within the near-surface ambiance the place the rover gathers samples. 

Six methane spikes have been found by Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS), which is ready to discover small quantities of methane at lower than one-half half per billion (ppb).

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky showing clouds drifting overhead was captured by NASA's Curiosity rover this year

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky displaying clouds drifting overhead was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover this 12 months

Martian clouds are very faint in the atmosphere, so special imaging techniques are needed to see them and produce footage like these two eight-second clips

Martian clouds are very faint within the ambiance, so particular imaging strategies are wanted to see them and produce footage like these two eight-second clips

One particular detection of about 15 ppb was found, whereas the others registered round 10 ppb.

The measurement from Curiosity discovered 21 components per billion of methane within the air, thrice what was discovered throughout a 2013 measurement.

NASA made certain that the methane was not from the rover itself, with the crew working it checking extensively.

Between 90 and 95 p.c of the methane in Earth’s ambiance is ‘organic in origin,’ with a lot of it stemming from cows, goats and yak burps.

Different sources embody termites, rice paddies, swamps and pure gasoline leakage and photosynthetic vegetation.

Methane might be produced via each organic and geological processes, so its presence just isn’t a definitive signal of life. However, it will probably level scientists in the suitable course for the place they need to look.

Curiosity isn’t geared up to find out whether or not or not the methane it has detected originates from organic processes, however the host of Crimson Planet missions proceed to piece collectively the tantalizing puzzle.

Earlier this 12 months, the rover additionally captured mesmerising footage of the Martian sky displaying clouds drifting overhead.

Martian clouds are very faint within the ambiance, so particular imaging strategies are wanted to see them and produce such footage.

3. Rock formation and publicity age in Gale Crater

Curiosity had solely been on Mars for a bit of greater than a 12 months when scientists decided each the formation age and the publicity age of a rock on the floor of one other planet for the primary time.

The rocks across the rim of Gale Crater have been fashioned about 4 billion years in the past, then transported as sediments to Yellowknife Bay. 

‘Right here they have been buried and have become sedimentary rocks,’ mentioned Amy McAdam, Curiosity’s Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) instrument deputy principal investigator. 

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‘From there, weathering and erosion slowly broke down and uncovered the rocks to floor radiation about 70 million years in the past. 

‘Aside from offering perception into Mars’s erosion charges, understanding how lengthy a pattern was uncovered allows scientists to think about potential radiation-induced adjustments to natural compounds which may have an effect on the power to establish potential biosignatures.’

Wish you were here! NASA's Curiosity rover marked the 10th anniversary of its launch to Mars by sending back a spectacular 'picture postcard' from the Red Planet in November last year

Want you have been right here! NASA’s Curiosity rover marked the tenth anniversary of its launch to Mars by sending again a spectacular ‘image postcard’ from the Crimson Planet in November final 12 months

4. Homing in on the historical past of water on Mars

MARS: THE BASICS 

Mars is the fourth planet from the solar, with a ‘near-dead’ dusty, chilly, desert world with a really skinny ambiance.

Orbital interval: 687 days

Floor space: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Solar: 227.9 million km

Gravity: 3.721 m/s²

Radius: 3,389.5 km

Moons: Phobos, Deimos

Curiosity has additionally make clear Mars’s wetter previous and the way the planet in the end dried out. 

Water is vitally vital to life as we all know it, and ‘a number of traces of proof point out that the rocks of Gale Crater file a wealthy historical past of water,’ mentioned Charles Malespin, SAM’s principal investigator at Goddard. 

A part of that proof is the presence of jarosite, a ruddy-yellow mineral solely fashioned in watery environments, McAdam added. 

An age-dating experiment with SAM and one other Curiosity instrument (APXS) discovered jarosite a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of years youthful than anticipated.

This discovering means that at the same time as a lot of the floor of Mars was turning into dry, some liquid water remained under the floor within the Gale Crater setting, extending the interval of habitability for any Martian microbes that may have existed.

As well as, analyses by SAM supplied perception into the lack of Mars’s ambiance that led its long-term evolution from the early heat and moist state to the present chilly and arid state. 

Water, H2O, incorporates two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. 

The hydrogen might be swapped for a heavier type of itself, known as deuterium. 

By measuring the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in its samples, Curiosity uncovered proof of a historical past of hydrogen escape and water loss on Mars.

5. Biologically helpful nitrogen

On Earth, nitrogen is a vital ingredient within the recipe for all times — however not simply any nitrogen will do. 

For many organic processes to utilize it, the nitrogen atoms should first be ‘mounted’: free of their sturdy tendency to work together solely with themselves. 

‘Fastened nitrogen is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins,’ Malespin mentioned. ‘These are the constructing blocks of life as we all know it.’

SAM detected mounted nitrogen within the type of nitrate in rock samples it analysed in 2015. The discovering indicated that biologically and chemically usable nitrogen was current on Mars 3.5 billion years in the past.

‘Whereas this nitrate may have been produced early in Martian historical past by thermal shocks from meteor impacts,’ McAdam mentioned, ‘it’s potential that some could possibly be forming within the Martian ambiance in the present day.’

No discovering from SAM or Curiosity’s different devices can supply proof constructive for previous life on Mars, however importantly, these discoveries don’t rule it out.

What’s subsequent for Curiosity?

Earlier this 12 months, NASA prolonged Curiosity’s mission at the very least into 2025, permitting the rover and its cellular SAM chemistry lab to remain centered on the tantalising matter of Mars’s habitability. 

Nonetheless, consultants have admitted that the 10-year-old rover does ‘have a bit of little bit of arthritis, a bit of little bit of aches and pains within the joints’.

Subsequent up, it would look into what occurred to the once-habitable local weather of Mars.

Curiosity will purpose to find out how lengthy the area it’s surveying remained liveable because the water started to dry up. 

And whereas the rover spent the previous decade exploring lake environments, scientists are actually sending the car greater up — to Mount Sharp.

‘We’re so near reaching what we name the Layered-Sulfate unit, which is a totally completely different portion of Mount Sharp,’ Curiosity deputy undertaking scientist Abigail Fraeman instructed House.com. 

‘We see from orbit that it has a special texture, a special mineralogy, and we expect that is going to signify a really completely different environmental time on Mars. 

‘We’re excited to see simply what this environmental change was, the way it’s mirrored within the rock file, and what meaning for habitability.’

The explorer, which was launched to Mars 10 years ago, previously shared a panoramic view of its desolate surroundings

The explorer, which was launched to Mars 10 years in the past, beforehand shared a panoramic view of its desolate environment

THE NASA MARS CURIOSITY ROVER LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RED PLANET

The Mars Curiosity rover was initially launched from Cape Canaveral, an American Air Pressure station in Florida on November 26, 2011. 

After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) analysis car touched down just one.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked touchdown spot.

After a profitable touchdown on August fifth, 2012, the rover has travelled about 11 miles (18 km). 

It launched on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and the rover constituted 23 per cent of the mass of the entire mission. 

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific devices on board, the rover weighs a complete of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium gasoline supply. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) lengthy by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) vast by 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) in top. 

The Mars curiosity rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars an has since been active for more than 2,000  days

The Mars curiosity rover was initially meant to be a two-year mission to assemble info to assist reply if the planet may assist life, has liquid water, examine the local weather and the geology of Mars an has since been energetic for greater than 2,000  days

The rover was initially meant to be a two-year mission to assemble info to assist reply if the planet may assist life, has liquid water, examine the local weather and the geology of Mars.  

Resulting from its success, the mission has been prolonged indefinitely and has now been energetic for over 3,500 days.

The rover has a number of scientific devices on board, together with the mastcam which consists of two cameras and might take high-resolution photographs and movies in actual color. 

Thus far on the journey of the car-sized robotic it has encountered an historical streambed the place liquid water used to circulate, not lengthy after it additionally found that billions of years in the past, a close-by space referred to as Yellowknife Bay was a part of a lake that might have supported microbial life.