Page 6

CIM32

Spotlight | L w 6 ive from the Labs cnrs I international magazine Astronomy For over a year, the rover Curiosity has been exploring the surface of Mars for possible prebiotic chemistry, making remarkable discoveries in the process. Life on Mars: New Clues Surface by Mathieu Grousson In its distant past, Mars could indeed have harbored life—and this over a longer period than previously believed. Announced throughout 2013, the first conclusions and findings of NASA’s Curiosity investigations on the Red Planet were published in Science last December. Yet it is much too early to give a definitive answer as to whether or not life, however rudimentary, ever existed on the Red Planet. After a year and a half on Mars, Curiosity, two of whose ten scientific instruments involved significant French participation, is bound to make even more remarkable discoveries. Remotely controlled from Earth, NASA’s latest Mars rover is a technological tour de force. Curiosity is a 900-kg giant loaded with no less than 80 kg of scientific equipment. Enough to comb a 20-km area around Gale crater, near the Martian equator, over a minimum period of two years. “It’s the first time we have a rover with such powerful capabilities,” says an enthusiastic Sylvestre Maurice from IRAP1 in Toulouse, and co-principal investigator for the ChemCam scientific instrument. Up and running After Curiosity’s successful landing in 2012, the mission’s 500 engineers and scientists watching it from Earth—including those in Toulouse and Paris—initiated a 90-day program to get it up and running. On the tenth day, the rover issued its first weather report, announcing temperatures ranging from –11 to – 71 °C, a pressure of 7 hectopascals, and a north-west wind. Then on day 14, the ChemCam instrument analyzed its very first rock. This crucial piece of equipment, which was developed by the French Space Agency (CNES) and several French laboratories coordinated by IRAP, can determine the chemical composition of rocks up to seven meters away. To achieve this, it fires a laser at a sample of rock before recording and analyzing the light emitted by the resulting plasma, which is characteristic of the elements it contains. “From that moment on, we started doing science,” Maurice explains. Since then, the rover has fired over 100,000 laser shots. On the morning of day 27, Curiosity set off for its first destination, the Glenelg 01 © NASA/JPL-Cal tech


CIM32
To see the actual publication please follow the link above