Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mars Rover Scientist John Grotzinger Explains What It Is All About

Science Friday hosted Mars Rover Project Scientist John Grotzinger. He explained with clarity the instruments on board and what the mission is about:

From the transcript:

But from orbit, we could already tell that as we approached this mountain in the middle of Gale Crater that we informally refer to as Mount Sharp, that there's a succession of layers that are five kilometers thick, so that's a bit over three miles. And it's almost three times as deep as the Grand Canyon. And what we learned ever since the time of John Wesley Powell's pioneering trip down the Grand Canyon, staring up at the walls of the canyon and wondering what those layers preserved, I think we're doing the same thing.

We look up at this, and we can only imagine that this represents a tremendous swath through the geologic history of Mars, its early environmental evolution of what might be tens, hundreds, maybe even a billion years, hundreds of millions of years to a billion years. And that interval of time that we're sampling occurred somewhere between three and four billion years ago.

So we're for the first time really probing the next dimension of Mars exploration, which is the dimension of deep time.

Fascinating....Curiosity is not equipped to directly sense any signature of life like microbial respiration. It's all about doing as thorough a job of documenting the mineralogy and geochemistry of the rocks and piecing together a story of the geological evolution of the sampled terrain. In doing so, the hope is to identify habitable environments, a place that had or has water.

Back on earth, life in the Pasadena diner called Conrad's frequented by Mars mission scientists just got a lot busy. From the recent Nature News article :

Grotzinger was a regular at Conrad’s in 2004, before and after his working days on the rover Opportunity, which landed that year along with Spirit, its twin, comprising the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Because the rovers were positioned on opposite sides of Mars, one team would be having breakfast while the other would be eating dinner. “The waitresses were always confused,” he recalls. This time there is only one rover, but still no standard working day. Adapting to ‘Mars time’ requires starting each Earth day 40 minutes later than the last to match Martian daylight, inducing a state of perpetual jet lag.

Also, Mars Rover Curiosity is tweeting. You can follow the mission @MarsCuriosity. What a great way to engage the public in this mission and get them excited about science.

I am the 1,001,964th follower! Looking forward to at least two years of updates from the mobile geology lab on Mars...

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