Curiosity’s busy robotic arm sampling at Rocknest is captured in time lapse panorama showing turret with scoop down near sand dune (center) then elevated to pour sample into rover. A mosaic stitching flaw caused arm/shoulder separation at bottom. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo

CuriousMars: Martian Science Detectives Aid Curiosity and Opportunity

By Craig Covault and A.J.S. Rayl
Posted December 5, 2012 3:45 PM

Mysteries on opposite sides of Mars are drawing the Curiosity and Opportunity rover science teams closer together in a search for habitable environments that could have supported Martian life early in the planet’s history.

Curiosity is on the move this week as Mars recedes beyond 200 million miles (~321 million km) from Earth. The $2.5 billion rover is heading 300 ft. (~91m) down a slope to Yellowknife Bay while the rover’s cameras and the eyes of its science team scan the terrain for the best rock and outcrop drilling targets to first test the drill then obtain subsurface samples.

As it goes, the Curiosity science team is pondering the mystery behind the complex chemistry and a whiff of organics of undetermined origin found by the remarkable Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument in its first assessment of Martian sand.

About 5,600 miles (~9012km) away, Opportunity’s cameras have also been scanning just as intently for its science team trying to lay eyes on outcrops or rocks that may be harboring ancient mineral laden clays, a type of hydrous phyllosilicate that presumably would have formed in non-acidic, more Earth-like water. The mystery is – where are they? Although data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates they are somewhere right beneath the rover’s wheels, the science team is hampered because Opportunity’s mineral detecting spectrometers are no longer functioning. So, like detectives, the team is sleuthing through the terrain.

The recent brouhaha about Curiosity’s findings, and the overwhelming response to Spirit and Opportunity before the large new rover came on the scene, clearly show the public has a real interest in Mars – and most of all life on Mars.

But help is on the way to accelerate the search for evidence of alien life forms.

Read more: CuriousMars: Martian Science Detectives Aid Curiosity and Opportunity – SpaceRef.

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