Are you curious about Curiosity?

Since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, it’s been very busy taking soil samples and working to analyze that soil.  Some of the findings of that analysis are coming back now.

Geologists had long suspected that Martian soil was partially made up of fine dust particles similar to volcanic rock on Earth, and they were right.  The first analysis shows that some of the super-fine dust on Mars is a lot like the basalt soil of Hawaii, which was formed through volcanic processes.

Mars soil:

Hawaiian soil:

Knowing what Martian soil is composed of gives us clues about earlier Martian activity, and possibly about clues to potential life on Mars.  But what is also exciting is the technology that’s been designed and used on Curiosity and is now already being used here on Earth. 

An X-ray diffraction machine is used to figure out specific properties of minerals (much like an x-ray machine we’re used to, x-rays are sent through an object and depending on how those x-rays return, we can see what is going on inside an object).  However, these machines are large—too large to send to Mars.  At NASA’s Ames Research Center, they developed a new and smaller x-ray diffraction machine that could fit onto the Curiosity rover and analyze soil there.  This smaller machine is already being used here for several different kinds of analysis, including screening counterfeit pharmaceuticals, for oil and gas exploration, and for archaeological object analysis.

archaeological analysis

In this photo, Giacomo Chiari, head of the science department at the Getty Conservation Institute, examines the  painting on the west wall in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. (Photo: Lori Wong (c) J. Paul Getty Trust)  The x-ray diffraction machine is mounted to a tripod, which is taken directly to the archaeological site.  Prior to this smaller technology, pieces of the tomb wall or other object would have to be removed and taken to a lab for analysis.  Now, this analysis, which could help determine the age and make-up of paint, statues, etc, can be done on site.

Thank you NASA for finding out about what is out there on Mars, and here on Earth!

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~ by alanotte on October 31, 2012.

One Response to “Are you curious about Curiosity?”

  1. Hi April, This is a very good article. They all are. Very interesting….. Love, Dad & Mom XOXO

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