Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Curiosity: A Decade Later

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, History of Science, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

What has been learned from the Curiosity rover after its first decade on Mars? NPR reporters Ailsa Chang, Kai Mcnamee and Mallory Yu provide some details in an NPR report. Here is some of the reporting.

--According to Curiosity's lead scientist Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, Mars was habitable not for just a short period of time but for many millions of years..Curiosity had the technology to detect signs of current life but the goal of the mission was to determine life's possibilities. ...". "So if life ever did take hold, it probably never got beyond kind of a microbial stage."

--Mars was once more like our planet but that was very early: 3 - 4 billion ya.  Vasavada notes that because "it's a smaller planet than Earth, [so] that allowed it to cool faster. Once it cooled, it lost its ability to generate a magnetic field. Once the magnetic field stopped, the atmosphere was stripped away by radiation in space. And that led to its inability to, at that point, stay warm and have liquid water." Physics at work.

--The Gale Crater landing site was chosen with care and the cavity it formed "filled with sediment deposited in lakes, and formed layers of mud. Again Vasavada. "What this meant is that we could land there, and see if that sediment really was deposited within liquid water environments, like lakes and streams,We could read the early history of Mars by driving up these rock layers, and determining whether any of those periods of Mars' time had these habitable conditions."

--The Curiosity Rover has driven up more than "over 2,000 vertical feet (about 60 meter sticks worth)  on the mountain, and for the most part, every layer we've looked at formed in a wet environment and had conditions that would have been favorable to life."

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