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18.03.2013

"Kyuriositi" was the most important result of his mission.



"Kyuriositi" on Mars
NASA / JPL-Caltech

A team of scientists and engineers, managers' Kyuriositi ", told a news conference in Washington that ancient Mars was suitable for life. In fact, it means that the rover down on the surface of the Red Planet in August last year, has already fulfilled its mission.

Immediately should stipulate that "Kyuriositi" is not going to stop there. In April, he goes into a forced "vacation" caused by the fact that Mars will be obscured by the sun and the connection to the Earth will become impossible. Then, in May, the scientists are going to repeat the drilling of sedimentary rocks (the same "John Klein", stone, selected for its unusual bright streaks) and re-analyze the samples. Perhaps "Kyuriositi" to hold even more of these drillings, but sooner or later it will continue its journey to the foot of Mount Sharp, in the center of Gale Crater. In the meantime, the second phase of the research mission does not start, it makes sense to take stock of stay rover on the surface of the Red Planet and think about what the results mean.

Historical background

From the outset, the Mars exploration scientists' interest was confined to the possible existence of life on it. This is understandable: Mars than all the other planets like Earth, and in the past, before the Red Planet has had time to cool down, the resemblance was even more significant.

Search for traces of life still held by "Viking" — the very first vehicles that successfully descended to the surface of Mars. They, like "Kyuriositi" were equipped with similar devices: the mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. However, the names do not have to be confusing, because modern instruments similar to those used in the seventies of the last century, except that the principle of work and name.

With all the success of the "Viking", search through them life was still in some ways a false start. The surface of Mars was sterile, and the analysis of organic compounds gave contradictory results. Researchers at the Red Planet have decided to take a step back and do not biology, and geology.


The lander "Viking" on Mars
NASA

The logic that guided the researchers, is simple: life requires liquid water, and before you look for traces of life, it is necessary to find traces of water. It is these objectives were set in front of the next generation of landers — "Sojourner", "spiritualists", "Opportunity" and "Phoenix." A huge role in the search for water played an orbiter — "Odyssey" and MRO. All of these studies revealed that the planet has large reserves of water, and previously was covered by vast seas and had a full-fledged system of rivers.

However, skeptics have rightly argued, is in itself a large amount of water is not to say that it could be suitable for life. The possibility of its existence in the water depends on the chemical composition of the latter. If the water is, for example, a saturated salt solution, it is hoped to detect any micro-organisms in such a solution is not necessary. Therefore, the study aimed at investigating the composition of the water that once covered Mars, became one of the most important tasks "Kyuriositi."

Geologist on nuclear fuel

How can you determine the composition of the water that once covered Mars? Scientists use this elegant indirect way — the study of sedimentary rocks. Although it is the surface of the planet is lifeless, covered with iron oxides and exposed to cosmic radiation, within the sedimentary rocks can catch such a planet, where it was when these rocks were formed only.

All previous phones could not do it, because they were not equipped with the tools, able to penetrate beneath the surface of the stone. Closest to the study of the internal structure of the Martian rocks approached "Spirit", equipped with special brushes — RAT. "Kyuriositi" is also the first device that has a full brown and is able to penetrate into the rock to a depth of five centimeters.


Travel map "Kyuriositi" on Mars
NASA / JPL-Caltech

It should be mentioned that this depth is impressive not all scientists. Strong cosmic radiation on Mars penetrates the rock and to a depth of four inches is capable of destroying almost any organic material. If engineers were able to drill a longer, could be a better reason to hope for the discovery of interesting compounds.


Landing place "Kyuriositi" was once a Martian river estuary.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

The way in which the "Kyuriositi" explores the ancient Martian water, related to the mechanism of formation of sedimentary rocks. Therefore, the position intended for landing the rover was chosen precisely for this task.

Gale Crater, which dropped "Kyuriositi", is a collection of rocks that were deposited on the bottom of the recess, many millions of years. It is believed that at least some of this time, deposits from the water formed, filled the crater. How long it lasted — a controversial issue, but in the end the water in the crater was gone, and in its center due to the strong weathering a mountain of Sharp. It is actually a layer cake of sediment and therefore contains information on millions of years of history of Mars. The foot of the mountain should be the end point of travel "Kyuriositi."

The place itself is planting the device in Gale Crater, too, was not chosen by chance, but was defined during the long debate. It is not just a convenient place, and is of scientific interest: at the point where the Mars rover down, formerly a river estuary leading down from the dais of the crater. As on Earth, the river was to bring mud and slurry, which can tell a lot about the nature and composition of the river water. Even if during the descent is something wrong with the machine, and he was not able to go to Mount Sharp, "Kyuriositi" could productively spend enough time there, where it originally appeared. Fortunately, the landing was successful and resort to the backup script was not necessary — the rover hit the road.

The Martian Chronicles

The first goal of his trip was the area of the crater, known as Glenelg. As shown by pictures with the orbiter MRO, intersect here three types of geological Martian soil. The area is located just 400 meters from the landing site, but the path to it, "Kyuriositi" made periodic stops and has already managed to get some interesting results.

The first significant discovery after only managed to make two-month stay on Mars. September 27, it became known that the unit found the dried bed of the stream. Of course, the water channels have been found on Mars long before that, however, it is "Kyuriositi" managed to find the first real pebbles — it almost does not differ from the earth. The scientists were even able to estimate the speed of the water in a stream — as they said, it was about one meter per second. The discovery has once again confirmed the selection of the landing site, but, of course, did not say anything about the chemical composition of Martian water.


The bed of the dried-up stream on Mars (left) and on Earth (right)
NASA / JPL-Caltech

In early October, the team "Kyuriositi" reported on a study that fell on the way to Glenelg stone "Jake Matievich." This small boulder was the first object that the rover has studied two devices simultaneously — ChemCam and APXS. First, the most futuristic of all the impressive set of tools allows you to vaporize with a laser beam and a piece of rock to determine the chemical composition of the image of the glow. APXS allows a more detailed study of the structure of the mineral, bombarding it with alpha particles and watching their reflection.

"Jake" was an interesting object — it consisted mainly of feldspar and had reduced levels of magnesium and iron — properties that previously did not find any "Spirit" or "Opportunity." However, the study "Jake" yielded nothing for the study of water, as this stone had a volcanic origin.

The next important stage of "Kyuriositi" was a study of Martian soil pulverized in X-ray spectrometer CheMin. This device provides more information about the minerals have been investigates not only their chemical compositions but also the crystal structure.


"Jake Matievich" in terms of laser irradiation.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

The analysis showed that about half of the soil consists of an amorphous volcanic sand and the other half of the volume occupied by the crystallized products of the weathering of volcanic rocks — feldspar, pyroxene and olivine. In his message, the researchers compared this with earth ground volcanic rocks, which are found in Hawaii. We can not say that these results were unexpected, rather the opposite. More important was the fact that the rover experienced in one of the most powerful of its equipments, by and large, especially for the analysis of the products of drilling.

Until the end of 2012 approaching Glenelg rover on Earth took a strange story associated with its data. First scientific mission leader John Grottsinger said in a radio interview about some data that "will enter the history books," and then the head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, subdivision NASA), bypassing official channels told reporters that "Kyuriositi" (as he , Grottsingera, opinion) found on Mars organics. In the end, the story ended with the safe was only prove the presence of perchlorate — a simple compound of chlorine and oxygen. Those compounds of carbon, which were initially detected were perchlorate reaction products with carbon Earth.

Drilling

Finally, in mid-January 2013, six months after the start of work, "Kyuriositi" chose the target for the first drilling. She was stone called by researchers "John Klein" in the name of one of the leaders of the mission, who died in 2011. Even on the first photographs of stone, it was clear that the target is selected unusual. "John Klein" contained a large amount of white streaks, which, according to geologists, almost certainly represent a calcium sulfate, or, more simply, gypsum. Exactly the same veins are found in terrestrial minerals — they are formed by the movement of water in the cracks.


Ten years of progress: a study of rocks "Spirit" (left) and "Kyuriositi" (right)
NASA / JPL-Caltech

February 4 rover drilled surface of the "John Klein" and received samples from the bottom of the stone. Rock powder obtained during drilling, went into the spectrometer CheMin and the largest rover unit — gas analyzer SAM (Sample Analisys at Mars). The analysis results were known only a month later.


Clay minerals are formed in the beds of rivers persohshih
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Researchers found that about 20 percent of the studied rock is composed of fine-grained sedimentary rock, with the rest occupied by volcanic minerals. This part of the fine-structure is actually compacted clay, which is almost indistinguishable from that which can be found on Earth in the beds of dried-up rivers. It is formed as a result of the gradual deposition of suspended matter from the water.


Delivery of products in the domestic drilling equipment rover
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Composition studied sawmills said that water from which they are precipitated, was quite normal, neutral and relatively non-saline. Perhaps it could even drink. But the most interesting is that in sediments sulfur present in various chemical forms, which could serve as an energy source for the bacteria. Such microorganisms are well known in the world — are transferred one substance to another and this recovered energy. Studies have shown that they could exist on Mars.

Not so fast

It should be emphasized that the detection of conditions suitable for life, of course, does not mean the presence of life itself (though the ease of meteorites travel from planet to planet makes us think about this). Similarly, the presence of microorganisms does not say anything to them the existence of a source of energy — is still "Kyuriositi" received no unambiguous evidence for their existence. However, so far the results look very promising and in this case sounds like a resounding "maybe."


Alexander Yershov

 

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