Russian neutron device will help discover water on Mars

Developed in Russia device — one of a dozen instruments, which will be equipped with an American rover Curiosity. It is intended to find its water and saturated with mineral high-energy neutrons.

The device, called "Dynamic neutron albedo" (DAN) was created in Lab space gamma spectroscopy of the Space Research Institute (IKI). Leading designer Igor Mitrofanov said that DAN — is the primary means of exploration, if it finds something interesting at a particular point, other devices will help to clarify the situation.


Fig. 1. Curiosity with fixed on board by a detector (Photo NASA / JPL-Caltech).

The device consists of two modules, weighing about 5 kg — neutron generator and detector block and supporting electronics. The generator is bombarding the Martian soil to a depth of 0.5-1 m pulses of neutrons by 10 million each. In all, he is able to produce 10 million pulses.

If the neutrons "bump" on the hydrogen atoms, they "bounce" with the reduced energy as detected by detectors. Excess hydrogen is indicative of water or its derivatives. Water, in turn, is one of the necessary conditions for the emergence of life. On Earth, similar technology is used to search for new hydrocarbon deposits.

Earlier Mitrofanov led the development of the neutron detector (HAND), which was installed on board the Mars probe Mars Odyssey. Space probe launched by NASA in 2001, brought together by HAND data on Mars emitted neutrons. Based on this information, supplemented by indications of other devices, it was concluded that the presence of underground water ice at high latitudes. In 2008, it was confirmed by the U.S. lander Phoenix Mars Lander.


Fig. 2. Block detectors and electronics DAN (here and below the photo SRI).

DAN modules will be mounted on the sides of the rover Curiosity about the rear wheels. The unit must go to the Red Planet between November 25 and December 18 and land on it in the future August. In addition to water, it will concentrate on searching the identification of organic molecules and their structures.


Fig. 3. Neutron generator.

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