This is  “Curiosity”, the Mars Science Laboratory…

A nuclear-powered rover, that has been sent to Mars to try and find out if, in the planet’s dim and distant past, it was a place where life might have been capable of existing, or even actually HAVE existed. Its mission is not to look FOR life, but there’s an outside chance it might find evidence that Mars once *had* life – not in the form of bodies, or even fossils, but as traces of chemicals in the dirt and rocks, “stains” of life, if you want to think of it that way. If Curiosity does find such a thing it will rank as one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever, possibly the greatest. But even if it doesn’t, it will revolutionise our understanding of Mars, and help us to understand better the prospects for life on Mars and elsewhere.

As I write this, Curiosity is now less than twelve hours away from landing on Mars. Rather than explain how it’s going to do that – or how it DID that, if you’re reading this after the expected landing time! – I’m going to ask you to follow the link below, which will take you to a truly breathtaking animation of the “7 Minutes of Terror” of Entry, Desent and Landing…


Here’s a rather gorgeous 3D view of the rover. You’ll need a pair of red/blue 3D glasses to see the 3D effect – no, those “sunglasses” you, um, forgot to give back after your latest trip to the cinema to see a 3D film won’t work, sorry…

How big is Curiosity? This will help you understand that…

Curiosity is absolutely weighed-down and packed full of scientific instruments. One of the coolest is a laser which it will fire at rocks on Mars.

No, it won’t blow them into a billion bits, ike Captain Kirk going mad with a phaser – the laser isn’t powerful enough to do that. What it will do is vapourise a very small area of the surface of a rock, and then analyse the gas of see what it is made of. This means it doesn’t have to drive right up to a rock to study it, it can do it from a distance. Very useful! But Curiosity has other tools it will use to study rocks up close and personal. It will drive up to them reach out with its robot arm, and then place instruments upon the rocks to study them in great detail. Among these are a powerful microscope, and a drill. The rover will drill into the rocks, extracting a small “core” sample, and then drop the sample into a laboratory contained in its own body, to analyse in breathtaking detail. This is the way the rover will look for those traces of past martian life.

The rover is also covered in cameras, of different powers, sizes and designs. In fact it has 17 different cameras. Together they will give us a spectacular view of Gale Crater, its landing site. We’re all looking forward to the first views from the rover, which might come back mere minutes after landing, but more likely an hour or so later. And what we’re really looking forward to is our first view of Mt Sharp, the mountain which stands in the crater’s centre. That will be a historic and wonderful moment!

For more about Gale Crater, see the page dedicated to it, elsewhere on this blog.

One thought on ““Curiosity”

  1. Dawson Deuermeyer says:

    Love your blogs! Suggestion: Opportunity -> Oppy so Curiosity -> Curi Take it or leave it. 🙂

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