After just coming out of its month-long “vacation” due to solar conjunction, the Curiosity rover is ready to resume science operations, and do some more drilling, it was reported last Thursday.
For any future astronauts who land on Mars, there is one piece of advice that shouldn’t even need to be said: keep your helmet on! Mars has an atmosphere, like Earth, but it is much thinner than ours (and mostly carbon dioxide), and so is unbreathable by humans. However, evidence has continued to grow that Mars’ atmosphere was once a lot thicker than it is now, early on in the planet’s history. Recent findings from the Curiosity rover have added to that evidence, as well as showing not only how Mars has lost most of the atmosphere that it once had, but also that the atmosphere which remains is still very active.
You may be familiar with the phrase “follow the water” when it comes to the search for life on Mars, and for good reason – any place on Earth where there is liquid water, there is life. So, logically, the best places to look for evidence of past or present life on Mars would be where there has been liquid water in the past (or perhaps even still is, underground). But now there is also another approach being taken, in terms of possible present-day habitability in particular: follow the salt.
Scientists studying data from the Curiosity rover have found another interesting puzzle, one which may easily have gone unnoticed were it not for one diligent researcher in particular, it was announced last week at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas.
The Curiosity rover is continuing to recover from a couple of computer glitches, and it may be another day or two before resuming full time science operations, so things have been rather quiet lately. Other than of course the big press conference last Tuesday where it was announced that Curiosity has confirmed a previous habitable environment in this area from a long time ago.
The analysis results of the first-ever rock drilling on Mars, by the Curiosity rover, were announced today by NASA at a press briefing in Washington. The new findings indicate that ancient Mars, at least in this area, was habitable and could have supported some form of life.
Here is a beautiful panoramic view of Curiosity’s current location in Gale crater, showing the scene at Martian twilight. The panorama is composed of images taken between sol 170 and sol 176, thanks again to Damien Bouic. Click to see the full-size version of the image. How long will it be before astronauts can see a view like this?
Here is another great view of the first two holes ever drilled on Mars, by the Curiosity rover. The first one, top, was made on sol 180 (February 6, 2013) and the second one, below, was made on sol 182 (February 8, 2013). The second one is deeper, and some of the powdered bedrock sample obtained will be delivered to the CheMin and SAM laboratory instruments for analysis. The grey material is powdered bedrock (not covered by reddish Martian dust) which has spilled out during the drilling.
The Curiosity rover has now drilled its second hole in a flat piece of Martian bedrock and obtained a sample for analysis by its on-board laboratory. This is the first time ever that such a drilling has been done on Mars.