“Curiosity” is an aptly named robot. Since August 6th 2012, it has been providing the scientific world with extraordinarily precise photographs of Mars. Recently, it started its first rock analyses. On Tuesday, April 2nd, at the Café du Pont-Neuf in Paris, three experts involved in this Mars exploration will hold a discussion organized by the CNES (National Center for Space Studies) about the progress of this mission toward the unknown.
This article is a translation of “Mars foulée, Mars révélée” by Timothée Froelich.
Curiosity is a rover robot launched in November 2011 by the mission Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). “This mission is an intermediate step between the search for water and the search for life on Mars”, explains Francis Rocard, head of Solar System Exploration Programs at the CNES.
At the beginning of the month, the rover started analyzing Martian rocks, thanks to two devices developed mainly in France: ChemCam* and SAM**. “ChemCam carries out a quick analysis of the rock located in a new area, explains Eric Lorigny, head of the French Instrument Mars Operation Center (FIMOC). It helps us to target the most interesting types of rock. Then, they will be sampled and analyzed by SAM.” This step of the Mars study has two objectives: “We want to identify the organic molecules that would have allowed the emergence of life a very long time ago”, expounds Francis Rocard. This very important mission is complemented by “the geological study of the Red Planet, of its evolution, and of the clues to understand how it lost its atmosphere,” adds Eric Lorigny. “Mars is Earth’s twin planet. Both appeared at the same time, have a similar size, and went through an almost identical development. Mars shows us what the Earth was like when it was younger.” Patrice Coll, head of the LISA team (Inter-University Laboratory for Atmospheric Systems), summarizes Curiosity’s mission in these few words: “to study the past, present and future habitability of Mars”.
The John Klein site has been selected for the rover Curiosity’s sampling debut.
Do Curiosity’s analyses reveal an environment fit for the emergence of life? Which elements were found in the rock of the John Klein site, named for one of the mission’s researchers who recently passed away? What happened to Mars’ atmosphere? Does it imply a risk for our own atmosphere? Where is Curiosity leading us? “Before the end of the year, we will reach the most promising areas on Mars”, Francis Rocard concludes excitedly.
Meanwhile, next Tuesday, the three experts will unveil the first results achieved, as well as the hopes placed on the rocks at the foot of Mount Sharp, among the clay and the sedimentary rocks. So, see you then, on Tuesday, April 2nd at the Café du Pont-Neuf at 7:30PM, or on Twitter via the hashtag #CNESTweetup.
* ChemCam stands for “Chemical Camera”
** SAM stands for “Sample Analysis on Mars”
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS