On August 5 or 6 of this year, the Mars Science Laboratory (or MSL) named "Curiosity" will be the latest Mars Rover to arrive at the red planet.
This new rover is bigger than previous rovers, has more powerful instruments, and will hopefully explore more than the previous rovers.
Here is a earlier thread I made about the Rover itself (this was originally posted when it was launched last November).
But that thread is about the rover. This thread is about the rover's destination and mission. Curiosity is headed for a crater on Mars named "Gale
Crater", specifically at the base of a mountain within the crater unofficially named "Mount Sharp". Curiosity is set to land on a plane inside the
crater, and will rive its way to (and up) Mount Sharp.
Mount Sharp, Curiosity's landing ellipse, and one possible route of exploration (shown in blue):
Stratification on Mount Sharp suggests the mountain is a surviving remnant of an extensive series of deposits that were laid down after a massive
impact that excavated Gale Crater more than 3 billion years ago. The stack of layers more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) high offers a history book of
sequential chapters recording environmental conditions when each stratum was deposited.
During a prime mission lasting nearly two years after landing, Curiosity will use 10 instruments to investigate whether this area of Mars has ever
offered conditions favorable for life, including the chemical ingredients for life. Some lower layers of Mount Sharp might tell of a lake within Gale
Crater long ago, or wind-delivered sediments subsequently soaked by groundwater. In those layers, Mars orbiters have detected minerals that formed
during wet conditions. Liquid water is a starting point in describing conditions favorable for life, but just the beginning of what Curiosity can
As described in the excerpt above, Gale Crater is an interesting exploration site because:
(1) There are layers of sediment that could help give clues to the geological history of Mars, and
(2) Gale Crater is the possible location of an ancient lake on Mars, which may have clay deposits (created by a wet environment) that may also
indicate how hospitable Mars may have been to life in a potentially more watery past.
Here is an interesting article about Gale Crater and why it is such an exciting place for NASA astrobiologists looking for signs that Mars could have
had highly favorable conditions for the genesis of life (conditions that may have been similar to when life started on Earth):
... NASA is utilizing a first-of- its- kind pinpoint landing system for targeting Curiosity to touchdown inside Gale Crater – one of the most
scientifically interesting locations on the Red Planet because it exhibits exposures of clay minerals that formed in the presence of neutral liquid
water that could be conducive to the genesis of life...
...“From NASA’s prior missions we’ve learned that Mars is a dynamic planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars exploration
program, at a pre-launch briefing for reporters at the Kennedy Space Center.
“We’ve learned that it has a history where it was warm and wet at the same time that life started here on Earth. And we know it’s undergone a
massive transition from that more benign time to what it is today.”
Below is a video giving a quick overview of the mission of the MSL "Curiosity" Rover. Pay close attention at about the 2:50 mark for the unique
landing procedure being used by Curiosity. It's too big for an airbag system (such as used by previous rovers), so it instead uses a "sky crane"
Additional information and resources about Gale Crater and the MSL rover:
I mentioned above that Curiosity is much bigger than previous rovers. These images will give you and idea of the size of a mock-up of this new rover
(on the right) compared to earlier rovers -- the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity (on the left), and the size of the first Mars
rover, Sojourner (center), that roved several meters of Mars in 1997:
and a mock-up of it compared to people:
So, mark your calendar for the night of August 5th or the early morning of August 6th (depending on what time zone you are located). The landing of
the MSL/Curiosity should be an interesting one -- but that will just be the start of a 2-year mission (at least) that could very well be the most
exciting Mars mission to date.
Thanks for the review. So we're going off roading this time, huh? Sounds risky. That slope is fine and all from space. What if it is made of those
matza ball "marbles" and we find it slippery? This unit looks heavier than the others. Hope curiosity doesn't kill the cat. For my money I would
pick more level areas to rove around in (instead of hilly country).
I can't wait to see the doctored Photoshopped or as they call it re-enhanced photos.
Sorry I just can't follow anymore of this... the photos that they bring back or show the public are so doctored that you can tell they just change
them. It's laughable at all the anomalies they blur out.
edit on 4/22/2012 by FoxStriker because: (no reason given)
Thanks for posting, S&F. The one thing i never realiased was how small the rovers are. Not that i thought they would be the size of a Hummer, just
thought they would be bigger. I am very interested in what they find up there, but purely just for the sake of knowing. I mean, its not like there
will be some sort of 'Total Recall' outpost there any time soon
I must have missed this link in my OP, but this is an interesting video. It's a lecture by Dr. Matt Golombek, who is a NASA/JPL geologist working on
the MSL mission.
This video is about the selection of the landing site, and about some details of the landing site. In short, he explained why Gale Crater was on the
short list of landing sites, and why it was chosen over the others. It was on the short list of sites because of the presence of clay material, which
form in a neutral (non-acidic) watery environment, sulfates, which also indicate water, and has exposed strata which can help give a geological
history of Mars.
Here's a link to the video. It's about 1 hour long, and the first 37 minutes is basically about why Gale was chosen over the others. The last 22
minutes or so is about what they expect to see once they get there.
Here is further information I found on Gale Crater (Link below). This article mostly deals with the the idea that Gale Crater will offer scientists
walls of exposed geological strata showing billions of years of Mars history. The assertion that Gale Crater was perhaps once a lake bed (or at least
once very wet) could add some excitement s to what those strata may show.
When asked what he hopes to find there in his "wildest dreams", NASA geologist Matt Golombek (in the video in my post above) jokingly -- or at least
mostly jokingly -- states he hopes to find a dinosaur bone sticking out . Even though he was joking about a "dinosaur bone", I actually think in
his wildest dreams, he would like to see a visible tiny sea-creature fossil in the rock strata, although I don't think he is counting on it. If
there was life on Mars a couple billion years ago, it was most likely single-celled, and no direct signs of that life would be visible to the
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