aug 052012

A researcher at The Open University in the UK will take part in a mission to explore the chemistry of Mars when Curiosity lands on the planet.

The area where NASA’s Curiosity rover will land has a geological diversity that scientists are eager to investigate, as seen in this false-color map based on data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The image was obtained by Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System. It merges topographical data with thermal inertia data that record the ability of the surface to hold onto heat. The yellow oval shows the elliptical landing target for Curiosity’s landing site.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Dr Susanne Schwenzer in the University’s research centre for physical and environmental sciences is part of a team which will study minerals formed when hot or cold water interacts with rocks on Mars.

“We already know that there is water on Mars,” said Susanne. “Now, we want to know the temperature of the water and whether it is clean and supportive of potential life – or if it is poisonous. We also want to know if Mars has niches where microbial life could have existed.” Susanne joins a mission led by Dr John Bridges, Reader in Planetary Science at the University of Leicester.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL), landing NASA’s most advanced planetary rover called Curiosity, is a deploying the most powerful suite of instruments yet sent to the Red Planet.

Global mosaic of 102 Viking 1 Orbiter images of Mars taken on orbit 1,334, 22 February 1980.
Image Credit: NASA

The rover is scheduled to land at 6.31am UK time on Monday 6 August, beside a Martian mountain within Gale Crater called Mount Sharp, to begin two years of unprecedented scientific detective work.

Curiosity will also carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface. The rover will analyse a dozen or so samples scooped from the soil and extracted from rocks. The record of the planet’s climate and geology is essentially “written in the rocks and soil”-in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover’s onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to decide if the conditions on Mars were able to support microbial life.

Prior to the landing, the MSL spacecraft will decelerate significantly from a speed of about 13,200 miles per hour to enable the rover to achieve a landing speed of about 1.7 miles per hour.

The success of the landing is a critical milestone toward the goal of sending humans to Mars by 2030.

Source: The Open University in the UK

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