Curiosity rover’s biggest achievements so far as it celebrates 10 years on Mars

Today marks precisely 10 years since NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars.

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

Since then, Curiosity has pushed almost 18 miles (29 kilometres) and ascended 2,050 ft (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 collection of science devices to be taught what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling.

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

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

But 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 tens of millions of years in Gale Crater. 

Today, Curiosity’s Twitter account wrote: ‘Happy 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. In the years forward, I’ll research a area wealthy in salty minerals referred to as sulfates.’

Here, MailOnline seems to be again at among 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 moment: Today marks exactly 10 years since NASA's Curiosity rover (pictured) touched down on the Red Planet

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

1. Detection of natural compounds 

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

In 2018, Curiosity offered probably the most compelling proof but of the existence of life on the Red 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 measurement over time, and the presence of the natural materials suggests Mars may have supported life, if it ever was current.

Organic molecules include carbon and hydrogen, as properly nitrogen and different parts. These molecules are sometimes related to life on Earth, however may also be created by non-biological processes. 

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

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

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

‘So these particular molecules usually are not proof of life.’

Instead, the researcher defined, these molecules could possibly be traced to non-life sources, reminiscent of meteorites.

Scientists additionally stated that whereas the isotopes in carbon dioxide and methane measured throughout among the analyses could possibly be in step with historical organic exercise producing the organics noticed, importantly there are additionally non-life-based explanations.

For instance, the isotopic sign could possibly be a results of an interplay between ultraviolet gentle from the solar and carbon dioxide in Mars’s ambiance 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 neighborhood, as nearly all the fuel on Earth is produced by life.

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

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

It wasn’t till six years later that each Curiosity and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft confirmed the presence of methane.

The rover detected fluctuations within the abundance of methane within the near-surface ambiance 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 exhibiting 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 ambiance, 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 elements per billion of methane within the air, thrice what was discovered throughout a 2013 measurement.

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

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

Other sources embody termites, rice paddies, swamps and pure fuel leakage and photosynthetic crops.

Methane will be produced by each organic and geological processes, so its presence just isn’t a definitive signal of life. But, it might level scientists in the best route for the place they need to look.

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

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

Martian clouds are very faint within the ambiance, 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 a bit of 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. 

‘Here they had been buried and have become sedimentary rocks,’ stated Amy McAdam, Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument deputy principal investigator. 

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

‘Apart from offering perception into Mars’s erosion charges, realizing how lengthy a pattern was uncovered permits scientists to think about attainable radiation-induced adjustments 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

Wish 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 Red 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 ambiance.

Orbital interval: 687 days

Surface space: 144.8 million km²

Distance from Sun: 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 finally dried out. 

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

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 lot of tens of millions 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 atmosphere, extending the interval of habitability for any Martian microbes that may have existed.

In addition, analyses by SAM offered perception into the lack of Mars’s ambiance 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 will be swapped for a heavier type of itself, referred to as deuterium. 

Through 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 most organic processes to utilize it, the nitrogen atoms should first be ‘fastened’: free of their sturdy tendency to work together solely with themselves. 

‘Fixed 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 fastened 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.

‘While this nitrate may have been produced early in Martian historical past by thermal shocks from meteor impacts,’ McAdam stated, ‘it’s attainable that some could possibly be forming within the Martian ambiance right this moment.’

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

Curiosity has previously snapped a spectacular 360-degree selfie of the Red Planet using a camera on its robotic arm

Curiosity has beforehand snapped a spectacular 360-degree selfie of the Red Planet utilizing a digital camera on its robotic arm

What’s subsequent for Curiosity?

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

However, consultants have admitted that the 10-year-old rover does ‘have a bit of little bit of arthritis, a bit of little bit of aches and pains within the joints’.

Next up, it can look into what occurred to the once-habitable local weather of Mars.

Curiosity will goal 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 automobile increased up — to Mount Sharp.

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

‘We see from orbit that it has a distinct texture, a distinct mineralogy, and we expect that is going to characterize 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 file, and what meaning 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 Force 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 automobile 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 entire 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 gas supply. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) lengthy by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) huge 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 meant to be a two-year mission to assemble 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 meant to be a two-year mission to assemble info to assist reply if the planet may help life, has liquid water, research the local weather and the geology of Mars.  

Due to 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 photographs and movies in actual color. 

So far on the journey of the car-sized robotic it has encountered an historical streambed the place liquid water used to stream, not lengthy after it additionally found that billions of years in the past, a close-by space often known as Yellowknife Bay was a part of a lake that would have supported microbial life.