Curiosity, the first robotic rover sent to another planet capable of scooping up and analyzing rock and dust samples, has been hard at work on the surface of Mars since last August. On Wednesday (April 24), a scientist involved in the NASA project will tell about his most recent interpretation of the data and discuss future plans.
As a “primary data downlink leader” designated by NASA, Robert Downs of the UA is part of a team of scientists tasked with the identification of rocks that Curiosity will encounter during its mission. Downs is a co-investigator for the science team in charge of the CheMin instrument. CheMin, short for chemistry and mineralogy, is the first X-ray diffractometer ever sent to space.
“It works by shooting X-rays at a rock sample, which interact with the electrons in the rock and send back signals that are like fingerprints,” Downs explains. “It’s the standard for identifying minerals, just as you would do in a lab here on Earth.”
The six-wheeled car-sized rover weighs almost a ton and carries a collection of 10 advanced scientific instruments.
“The Curiosity rover is the next best thing to sending a geologist to Mars,” said Downs. “It carries all the necessary equipment that we would use here on Earth when we study rocks and minerals.”
Submitted by Drew Potter, Academy Village Volunteer