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Mars rover celebrates a year of discovery

It’s exactly a year since that nerve-shredding descent of the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars.

Who can forget the agonizing “seven minutes of terror” as the Nasa robot entered the planet’s atmosphere and hurtled towards the ground?

The engineers who designed the vehicle’s landing mechanism said they had every confidence it would work, but they also conceded their hovering “skycrane” looked a little “crazy”.

We needn’t have worried; everything worked like a dream. So well in fact that the robot came to rest about 1.5km (one mile) from where navigators had put their notional bull’s-eye – and that after a journey of 570 million km (355 million miles) from Earth. Truly impressive.

So, 12 months on, what has Curiosity told us about Mars?

The rover landed on the floor of the 155km (95 miles) wide Gale Crater, close to a tall mound of rock referred to as Mount Sharp.

According to satellite imagery, this 5km (three miles) high peak has sediment layers at its base that look as though they were deposited in, or substantially altered by, water – a perfect place, everyone expected, to look for signs that Mars might once have had environments capable of supporting microbial life.

The first year of operations has seen Curiosity firmly establish the planet’s past habitability potential – but not at Mount Sharp.

Such have been the geological treasures out on the crater floor that the rover has been able to fulfil its main mission objectives before even reaching its primary destination.

Just in the act of landing, Curiosity was able to uncover remarkable information about Mars’ ancient history.

Dust blown away by its descent engines revealed conglomerates – rocks made up ofsmall pebbles cemented together by finer material.

When the vehicle’s survey instruments got a close-up look at these stone jumbles, they were able to confirm that the pebbles were just the sort of gravels you’d find in rivers on Earth.

Scientists’ calculations indicated the pebbles’ edges had been rounded in waters that flowed to depths that were very likely waist-deep at times.

Read full story on BBC News

Category: World News |

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Last updated October 21, 2016 at 11:57 PM
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