THE CURIOSITY ROVER IS SEARCHING FOR EVIDENCE THAT LIFE MIGHT HAVE EXISTED ON THE RED PLANET. HERE ARE FOUR KEY QUESTIONS THE INTREPID MACHINE, CURIOSITY, IS INVESTIGATING AND THE TOOLS IT'S USING TO GET ANSWERS.
WHICH ROCKS SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED?
INSTRUMENT USED: CHEMCAM
There's nothing better than sending a robot to Mars - only thing better is sending a robot to Mars that is capable of shooting lasers. ChemCam can vaporize bits of rock from a distance and analyze the resultant plasma with three spectrometers to determine the target's chamical makeup. The tool helps researchers determine if the rover should use other instruments to learn more about the rock.
HOW LONG DID WATER EXIST ON THE SURFACE OF MARS?
INSTRUMENT USED: CHEMIN
Curiosity's robotic arm drops rocks into CheMin's X-ray chamber; the way the rays scatter confirms the presence of clay deposits and sulfate salts. Liquid water creates these minerals. If conditions allowed water to exist on the surface for a long enough time, the chance that life existed on Mars increases dramatically.
CALCULATING THE AMOUNT OF ICE UNDER THE SURFACE OF MARS
INSTRUMENT USED: DYNAMIC ALBEDO OF NEUTRONS (DAN)
If water is key to life, then knowing how much is still there is vital. Curiosity has a particle-beam generator that is capable of detecting subsurface water-ice. The beam shoots 2.6 ft off the ground, and cuts 6 feet deep below the surface. How the neutrons are reflected towards the surface shows us how much ice is present.
COULD MARS EVER HAVE HOSTED LIFE?
INSTRUMENT USED: SAMPLE ANALYSIS AT MARS (SAM)
SAM's gas chromatograph heats samples of rock and soil until they vaporize and then separates the gases into a variety of components so it can undergo analysis. This has the possibility to produce direct proof of organic compounds trapped inside the rock sampled - components essential to forming life.