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There’s a lot riding on the Mars Science Lab

If Curiosity survives its harrowing descent early next month in one functional piece, it will bring an alien world into focus like no other probe has done before.

HouChron – Five times the size of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers already on Mars, Curiosity is packed with scientific equipment: HD-resolution cameras that can also capture video; a laser than can ignite a spark on rocks 20 feet away to determine what they’re made of; and other high-tech tools including an X-ray diffraction setup, a mass spectrometer, and a gas chromatograph.

For me the most exciting instrument is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHL). Between the lens and viewing options, the MAHL will be able to magnify samples to near microscopic resolution, roughly 5 to 50 times if my math is right and depending on how the technology actually performs. That’s nowhere near enough to image the average individual bacteria, but clumps of them and by-products from extant or ancient metabolic processes, could be visible at that resolution.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict Curiousity will find tantalizing hints of relatively recent life on Mars. I say that because 1) Mars and earth have exchanged material for eons, 2) at one time Mars had large oceans that would have been quite habitable by the hardy denizens of our own Archeon Eon , and 3) some of that water is preserved as ice and probably as interstatial liquid today. To find life in the solar system, follow the water.

Comments

  1. anubisprime says

    Yes a bold landing concept for sure.
    I have always considered that Mars is or even has been, the home of bacteriological life.
    Viking was not speaking with forked diodes when the original analysis indicated a carbon based signature.

    Just that folks back then did not expect it therefore rejected it as an anomaly in the experimentm

    The fairly recent revelation that atmospheric methane content blooms on an annular basis seems to signify a seasonal emergence of a possibly temperature induced stasis of sub-surface cellular life!

    But time will indeed tell…I do not hope it is so, but rather expect it is so!
    Interesting times watching the Mormons v the katoliks’ vying to induct Et into their insanity! even if Et was a has been and a is no more critter!

  2. StevoR says

    Yes indeed! I can’t wait til it lands – less than a month to go now! – and deeply hoping that landing is smooth and successful.

    Curiosity will be the biggest and best Mars rover yet – and the Opportunity rover is still going an astounding eight or so years since it landed in 2004.

    If Curiosity lasts as long maybe it will see another rover join it too – although given NASA’s axing of a co-operative rover mission with the ESA that sadly, seems a lot less likely than it did a few years ago.

  3. The Lorax says

    High-def images and video, on-board sample analysis, and a frickin’ laser… seriously, how much cooler can you get?

    If Curiosity touches down safely, it’s going to be the Cassini of Mars. The data we’re going to get back from it will be incredible.

    I personally don’t think they’re going to find life; between the radiation, low temperature, and low pressure, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than exotic chemical processes can take place… far too exotic for humble hydrocarbons. But then, those odd color-changing lineations reminiscent of flowing water, what might be polar vents, the deep volcanic caverns, the fact that we know there is water-ice below the surface… so much has surprised us, so who knows what’s left to discover.

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