August 10, 2022

At the moment marks precisely 10 years since NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars.

The one-tonne car launched from Earth in November 2011 and – after an arduous nine-month journey which included the ‘seven minutes of terror’ right down to the Martian floor – it got down to search for proof that the Purple Planet might as soon as have supported life.

Since then, Curiosity has pushed practically 18 miles (29 kilometres) and ascended 2,050 toes (625 metres) because it explores Gale Crater and the foothills of Mount Sharp inside it. 

The rover has analysed 41 rock and soil samples, counting on a set of science devices to study what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling.

Such has been its success, what was initially supposed to be a two-year mission was later prolonged indefinitely, resulting in a reasonably busy decade.

Curiosity has studied the Purple Planet’s skies – capturing photos of shining clouds and drifting moons – whereas the rover’s radiation sensor has allowed scientists to measure the quantity future astronauts could be uncovered to on the Martian floor, serving to NASA determine tips on how to maintain them protected. 

However most significantly, Curiosity has decided that liquid water in addition to the chemical constructing blocks and vitamins wanted for supporting life had been current for at the least tens of hundreds of thousands of years in Gale Crater. 

At the moment, Curiosity’s Twitter account wrote: ‘Glad 10-year landiversary to me! It’s been a decade of discoveries. 

‘I’ve explored Gale Crater and Mount Sharp, analysed rock samples, and studied the Martian clouds and sky. Within the years forward, I’ll research a area wealthy in salty minerals referred to as sulfates.’

Right here, MailOnline seems again at a number of the rover’s greatest achievements throughout its decade on Mars, together with what it may but uncover because it powers into the long run.

Milestone second: At the moment marks precisely 10 years since NASA’s Curiosity rover (pictured) touched down on the Purple Planet

1. Detection of natural compounds 

Natural molecules are the constructing blocks and ‘meals’ for all times. 

In 2018, Curiosity offered essentially the most compelling proof but of the existence of life on the Purple Planet when it detected natural molecules preserved in 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rock. 

The rock samples had been collected from Gale crater, which as soon as held a lake that waxed and waned in dimension over time, and the presence of the natural materials suggests Mars may have supported life, if it ever was current.

Natural molecules include carbon and hydrogen, as properly nitrogen and different components. These molecules are usually related to life on Earth, however can be created by way of non-biological processes. 

The rover extracted and heated samples from Mojave and Confidence Hills within the Gale Crater — each of that are identified to include mudstones courting again roughly three billion years.

This revealed the presence of molecules that resembled organic-rich sedimentary rock discovered on Earth, in response to scientists, together with thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, corresponding to propane or butene.

‘These natural molecules may have come from life,’ astrobiologist Dr Jennifer L. Eigenbrode stated on the time, ‘however we don’t know that there was ever life on Mars.

‘So these particular molecules aren’t proof of life.’

As an alternative, the researcher defined, these molecules may very well be traced to non-life sources, corresponding to meteorites.

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Scientists additionally stated that whereas the isotopes in carbon dioxide and methane measured throughout a number of the analyses may very well be according to historical organic exercise producing the organics noticed, importantly there are additionally non-life-based explanations.

For instance, the isotopic sign may very well be a results of an interplay between ultraviolet gentle from the solar and carbon dioxide in Mars’s environment producing organics that fall to the floor, so no life required.

2. Methane variability

The 2019 revelation that methane had been discovered on Mars despatched shockwaves all through the scientific group, as nearly the entire fuel on Earth is produced by life.

Methane is alleged to be a promising clue within the seek for life as a result of its hyperlinks to organic exercise on our planet. 

NASA’s Curiosity rover first measured a ‘robust sign’ of the molecule on 15 June, 2013, however some specialists questioned the reliability of the invention. 

It wasn’t till six years later that each Curiosity and the European Area Company’s Mars Categorical spacecraft confirmed the presence of methane.

The rover detected fluctuations within the abundance of methane within the near-surface environment the place the rover gathers samples. 

Six methane spikes had been found by Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS), which is ready to discover small quantities of methane at lower than one-half half per billion (ppb).

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky showing clouds drifting overhead was captured by NASA's Curiosity rover this year

Mesmerising footage of the Martian sky displaying clouds drifting overhead was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover this yr

Martian clouds are very faint in the atmosphere, so special imaging techniques are needed to see them and produce footage like these two eight-second clips

Martian clouds are very faint within the environment, so particular imaging methods are wanted to see them and produce footage like these two eight-second clips

One particular detection of about 15 ppb was found, whereas the others registered round 10 ppb.

The measurement from Curiosity discovered 21 components per billion of methane within the air, 3 times what was discovered throughout a 2013 measurement.

NASA made certain that the methane was not from the rover itself, with the crew working it checking extensively.

Between 90 and 95 p.c of the methane in Earth’s environment is ‘organic in origin,’ with a lot of it stemming from cows, goats and yak burps.

Different sources embrace termites, rice paddies, swamps and pure fuel leakage and photosynthetic crops.

Methane might be produced by way of each organic and geological processes, so its presence will not be a definitive signal of life. However, it may possibly level scientists in the suitable path for the place they need to look.

Curiosity isn’t geared up to find out whether or not or not the methane it has detected originates from organic processes, however the host of Purple Planet missions proceed to piece collectively the tantalizing puzzle.

Earlier this yr, the rover additionally captured mesmerising footage of the Martian sky displaying clouds drifting overhead.

Martian clouds are very faint within the environment, so particular imaging methods are wanted to see them and produce such footage.

3. Rock formation and publicity age in Gale Crater

Curiosity had solely been on Mars for slightly greater than a yr when scientists decided each the formation age and the publicity age of a rock on the floor of one other planet for the primary time.

The rocks across the rim of Gale Crater had been fashioned about 4 billion years in the past, then transported as sediments to Yellowknife Bay. 

‘Right here they had been buried and have become sedimentary rocks,’ stated Amy McAdam, Curiosity’s Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) instrument deputy principal investigator. 

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‘From there, weathering and erosion slowly broke down and uncovered the rocks to floor radiation about 70 million years in the past. 

‘Aside from offering perception into Mars’s erosion charges, figuring out how lengthy a pattern was uncovered permits scientists to contemplate potential radiation-induced modifications to natural compounds which may have an effect on the power to determine potential biosignatures.’

Wish you were here! NASA's Curiosity rover marked the 10th anniversary of its launch to Mars by sending back a spectacular 'picture postcard' from the Red Planet in November last year

Want you had been right here! NASA’s Curiosity rover marked the tenth anniversary of its launch to Mars by sending again a spectacular ‘image postcard’ from the Purple Planet in November final yr

4. Homing in on the historical past of water on Mars

MARS: THE BASICS 

Mars is the fourth planet from the solar, with a ‘near-dead’ dusty, chilly, desert world with a really skinny environment.

Orbital interval: 687 days

Floor space: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Solar: 227.9 million km

Gravity: 3.721 m/s²

Radius: 3,389.5 km

Moons: Phobos, Deimos

Curiosity has additionally make clear Mars’s wetter previous and the way the planet in the end dried out. 

Water is vitally vital to life as we all know it, and ‘a number of traces of proof point out that the rocks of Gale Crater report a wealthy historical past of water,’ stated Charles Malespin, SAM’s principal investigator at Goddard. 

A part of that proof is the presence of jarosite, a ruddy-yellow mineral solely fashioned in watery environments, McAdam added. 

An age-dating experiment with SAM and one other Curiosity instrument (APXS) discovered jarosite a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of years youthful than anticipated.

This discovering means that whilst a lot of the floor of Mars was turning into dry, some liquid water remained beneath the floor within the Gale Crater surroundings, extending the interval of habitability for any Martian microbes that may have existed.

As well as, analyses by SAM offered perception into the lack of Mars’s environment that led its long-term evolution from the early heat and moist state to the present chilly and arid state. 

Water, H2O, comprises two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. 

The hydrogen might be swapped for a heavier type of itself, referred to as deuterium. 

By measuring the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in its samples, Curiosity uncovered proof of a historical past of hydrogen escape and water loss on Mars.

5. Biologically helpful nitrogen

On Earth, nitrogen is a vital ingredient within the recipe for all times — however not simply any nitrogen will do. 

For many organic processes to utilize it, the nitrogen atoms should first be ‘mounted’: free of their robust tendency to work together solely with themselves. 

‘Fastened nitrogen is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins,’ Malespin stated. ‘These are the constructing blocks of life as we all know it.’

SAM detected mounted nitrogen within the type of nitrate in rock samples it analysed in 2015. The discovering indicated that biologically and chemically usable nitrogen was current on Mars 3.5 billion years in the past.

‘Whereas this nitrate may have been produced early in Martian historical past by thermal shocks from meteor impacts,’ McAdam stated, ‘it’s potential that some may very well be forming within the Martian environment as we speak.’

No discovering from SAM or Curiosity’s different devices can supply proof constructive for previous life on Mars, however importantly, these discoveries don’t rule it out.

What’s subsequent for Curiosity?

Earlier this yr, NASA prolonged Curiosity’s mission at the least into 2025, permitting the rover and its cellular SAM chemistry lab to remain centered on the tantalising matter of Mars’s habitability. 

Nonetheless, specialists have admitted that the 10-year-old rover does ‘have slightly little bit of arthritis, slightly little bit of aches and pains within the joints’.

Subsequent up, it’ll look into what occurred to the once-habitable local weather of Mars.

Curiosity will purpose to find out how lengthy the area it’s surveying remained liveable because the water started to dry up. 

And whereas the rover spent the previous decade exploring lake environments, scientists are actually sending the car increased up — to Mount Sharp.

‘We’re so near reaching what we name the Layered-Sulfate unit, which is a very totally different portion of Mount Sharp,’ Curiosity deputy undertaking scientist Abigail Fraeman instructed Area.com. 

‘We see from orbit that it has a unique texture, a unique mineralogy, and we expect that is going to symbolize a really totally different environmental time on Mars. 

‘We’re excited to see simply what this environmental change was, the way it’s mirrored within the rock report, and what which means for habitability.’

The explorer, which was launched to Mars 10 years ago, previously shared a panoramic view of its desolate surroundings

The explorer, which was launched to Mars 10 years in the past, beforehand shared a panoramic view of its desolate environment

THE NASA MARS CURIOSITY ROVER LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RED PLANET

The Mars Curiosity rover was initially launched from Cape Canaveral, an American Air Drive station in Florida on November 26, 2011. 

After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) analysis car touched down just one.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked touchdown spot.

After a profitable touchdown on August fifth, 2012, the rover has travelled about 11 miles (18 km). 

It launched on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and the rover constituted 23 per cent of the mass of the whole mission. 

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific devices on board, the rover weighs a complete of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium gasoline supply. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) lengthy by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) large by 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) in peak. 

The Mars curiosity rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars an has since been active for more than 2,000  days

The Mars curiosity rover was initially supposed to be a two-year mission to collect info to assist reply if the planet may help life, has liquid water, research the local weather and the geology of Mars an has since been lively for greater than 2,000  days

The rover was initially supposed to be a two-year mission to collect info to assist reply if the planet may help life, has liquid water, research the local weather and the geology of Mars.  

On account of its success, the mission has been prolonged indefinitely and has now been lively for over 3,500 days.

The rover has a number of scientific devices on board, together with the mastcam which consists of two cameras and may take high-resolution photos and movies in actual color. 

To this point on the journey of the car-sized robotic it has encountered an historical streambed the place liquid water used to movement, not lengthy after it additionally found that billions of years in the past, a close-by space often called Yellowknife Bay was a part of a lake that might have supported microbial life.