Oct 18, 2012
By: Ben Lachman – PR and Marketing Assistant
Dave Lavery, who I felt held the coolest title as the Program Executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters, explained a neat fact about this mission: Curiosity was the first astrobiology mission since the Viking Missions in 1979. Curiosity isn’t just looking for signs of water, but was sent to find out if at one time the planet was inhabitable or “fit to live in”.
It was decided that to get the best understanding of Mars, “Curiosity” should land in the Gale Crater. There are many reasons that JPL chose Gale Crater for her landing site; mainly of which is geology. The Gale Crater is like a layered cake made of minerals and some of these minerals only form in the presence of water, which could help prove the presence of water on Mars. Curiosity will also ‘sniff’ the air and detect the levels of methane and other chemical compounds in the atmosphere.
Time on Mars is easily divided into days based on its rotation rate and years based on its orbit. Sols (Martian solar days) are only 37 minutes and 22 seconds longer than Earth days, and there are 668 sols (684 Earth days) in a Martian year. During the Martian summer methane breaks down rapidly under UV light, which means it is coming from somewhere and that could be living life. More background information – The atmosphere of Mars is relatively thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide (95.32%). There has been interest in studying its composition since the detection of trace amounts of methane, which may indicate the presence of life on Mars, but may also be produced by a geochemical process, volcanic or hydrothermal activity. A reason to look deeper!