NASA news: Curiosity Mars rover posts selfie while searching for alien life clues

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NASA news: Curiosity Mars rover posts selfie while searching for alien life clues 1

The latest NASA Curiosity Mars rover selfie is particularly special. Stitched together from 57 individual photographs taken by a camera on the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm, the wide-angled image marks only the second time the Mars rover has performed a special chemistry experiment. Visible in the left-hand-side are two small holes drilled by the NASA space probe dubbed “Glen Etive 1” (right) and “Glen Etive 2” (left).

Curiosity then analysed the rock samples’ chemical composition by dropping them into its internal portable laboratory, known as Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) on September 24.

The portable lab contains 74 small cups used for testing samples.

Most of these cups function as miniature ovens that heat the samples; SAM then “sniffs” the evaporating gases, searching for chemicals holding clues about the ancient Martian environment, when the Red Planet was more habitable to microbial alien life.

However, nine of SAM’s cups are filled with solvents Curiosity can use for special “wet chemistry” experiments.

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“Now that we’re in the clay-bearing unit, we’ve finally got it.”

Clay-based rocks are particularly good at preserving chemical compounds relating to life, which would otherwise quickly degrade when bombarded by brutal solar radiation.

NASA is intrigued to see which organic compounds, if any, have been preserved in the Red Planet’s regolith.

Understanding how this area formed will also offer a better idea of how the Martian climate evolved billions of years ago.

While this marks Curiosity’s second wet-chemistry experiment, it is the rover’s first on a drilled sample.

In December 2016, when Curiosity’s drill malfunctioned, NASA’s Mars rover still retained a bit of sand that had been scooped up in an area called Ogunquit Beach.

It was not a drilled sample, but NASA was unsure whether they would succeed in getting the drill working again to perform perform wet chemistry.

They therefore sent the Ogunquit Beach sand to one of SAM’s wet chemistry cups since there was still science to be gained.

Scientists consider Glen Etive a strategic location capable of revealing more about how the clay-bearing unit formed.

NASA built upon the Ogunquit Beach rehearsal to make adjustments to improve upon the 2016 experiment.

Mr Mahaffy revealed results will be known next year.

He said: ”SAM’s data is extremely complex and takes time to interpret.

“But we’re all eager to see what we can learn from this new location, Glen Etive.”

Curiosity’s latest selfie was shot on October 11 (Sol 2,553) in a location the team had eagerly awaited reaching since before Curiosity launched.

Approximately 984ft (300m) behind the unmanned NASA rover is Vera Rubin Ridge, which Curiosity departed almost one year ago.

Gale Crater’s floor and northern rim are also visible beyond the ridge.

Curiosity has been ascending Mount Sharp, a three mile (5km) tall mountain inside the crater.

The individual images in this selfie were taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

The photos were then stitched together into a panorama, meaning the robotic arm is invisible in the parts of the images used in the composite.

Daily Express :: Science Feed


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