As NASA’s Curiosity rover completes 10 years on Mars, here’s a look at its accomplishments

At 11:02 a.m. (IST) on August 6, the Curiosity rover became the fourth robotic explorer to land on Mars to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. Currently, NASA is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the landing of its rover which achieved significant achievements throughout its mission. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about Curiosity and its accomplishments over the years.

Curiosity features, instruments and objectives

Curiosity measures 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1 inch wide (3 m by 2.8 m) and weighs around 900 kilograms with a height of 7 feet (2.1 m). Designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the rover can travel up to 200 meters per day and is powered by converting the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 into electricity.

The rover was also equipped with a wide range of instruments, including three cameras: Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI). It also has four spectrometers to characterize the mineral composition of Martian rocks and two radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation that reaches the surface of the red planet.

The Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) is used by mission teams to monitor Martian weather and it also has atmospheric sensors called the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) that were used when the rover landed . As mentioned above, its goals are to find signs of ancient life and to characterize the planet’s climate and geology.

Curiosity’s achievements

The rover has been responsible for many firsts, including determining the formation and exposure age of a rock on the surface of another planet for the first time in 2013. This was possible thanks to to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. , one of four spectrometers, which helped scientists conclude that the rocks around the rim of Gale crater (Curiosity’s landing site) formed about 4 billion years ago and then transported as sediments to Yellowknife Bay.

Curiosity’s second achievement came in 2014 when it discovered evidence in minerals that form in aqueous environments that have a history of hydrogen escape and water loss. This helped NASA confirm that the habitability of Mars did not end as abruptly and as early as previously thought.

Just a year later, the rover made another groundbreaking discovery: finding fixed nitrogen in Martian rocks. Nitrogen is considered an essential element of life and in its “fixed” form, it interacts with other molecules to produce biomolecules such as proteins and DNA. Again in 2018, NASA announced the discovery of a type of carbon in rock samples that is used as building blocks and “food” for life on Earth. Although this did not confirm the presence of life on Mars, it did motivate scientists to continue their exploration, the agency said.

The following year, Curiosity confirmed fluctuations in the abundance of methane in the Red Planet’s near-surface atmosphere. “On Earth, most of the methane in the atmosphere gets there through life-derived processes and fluctuations may be linked to changes in biological processes,” NASA said in a statement.

As NASA’s Curiosity rover completes 10 years on Mars, here’s a look at its accomplishments

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