23 eyes ex­plore the ter­rain

Science Illustrated - - SPACE -

With a to­tal of 23 cam­eras, Mars 2020 has more eyes than any other rover. The cam­eras will film the land­ing, keep a steady course, and re­veal the ex­act con­tents of dust, rock, and at­mos­phere.

are un­der con­struc­tion is to find out if there was ever life on Mars. Mea­sure­ments car­ried out by pre­vi­ous rovers and satel­lites have shown that Mars was once both warmer and wet­ter, and now, sci­en­tists aim to find out if liv­ing or­gan­isms orig­i­nated. If so, life could still ex­ist on the planet. Un­like the old rovers, the new gen­er­a­tion brings so­phis­ti­cated equip­ment de­vel­oped to iden­tify the very mol­e­cules that

must stem from life. More­over, sci­en­tists will an­a­lyse drill sam­ples from depths of up to 2 m in­stead of just scratch­ing the sur­face. A long series of in­stru­ments – such as ra­man spec­trom­e­ters, which are good at search­ing for molec­u­lar fin­ger­prints of or­ganic mol­e­cules – are to an­a­lyse the rocks and re­search their shapes and chem­i­cal make-up in un­prece­dented de­tail. The in­stru­ments will also come closer than ever, so even the tini­est of ev­i­dence of life can be re­vealed. De­tails of rocks the size of salt grains will be stud­ied by de­tec­tors that can re­veal the ex­act min­eral con­tent. Data from the many sen­sors will tell the sci­en­tists if the rocks were formed or

180 m per hour is the top speed of any Mars rover. The record was set by the Spirit and Op­por­tu­nity twins.

changed in wa­ter and whether there is the slight­est of ev­i­dence of fos­silized life or car­bon­con­tain­ing mol­e­cules com­ing from pre­his­toric or mod­ern life.

The Mars rovers are also go­ing to search for biosig­na­tures, which can be ob­served di­rectly by cam­eras. Large colonies of micro­organ­isms could af­fect the way in which crum­bled rock is held to­gether in de­posits at the bot­tom of a lake. The or­gan­isms pro­duce unique struc­tures such as stro­ma­to­lites – fos­silized mats of mi­crobes – on Earth. Sci­en­tists hope to find ev­i­dence of sim­i­lar struc­tures in close-ups of rocks on Mars or that the rovers' so­phis­ti­cated in­stru­ments can iden­tify their chem­i­cal ev­i­dence.

Con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence of life would be quite a sen­sa­tion. If life orig­i­nated on Mars in­de­pen­dently of life on Earth, it prob­a­bly proves that life orig­i­nates as soon as there is liq­uid wa­ter on a world. If so, life will prob­a­bly ex­ist in count­less places of the uni­verse. In our own galaxy alone, there are bil­lions of Earth-like plan­ets, which could in prin­ci­ple in­clude wa­ter on their sur­faces. If life found its way to Mars, it prob­a­bly also orig­i­nated in many other places.

The con­tin­u­ing ex­plo­ration of Mars is also to pave the way for manned mis­sions and in the long term for a base on the planet. The ques­tion is where on Mars it would be most ad­van­ta­geous for hu­mans to set­tle and how the re­sources can be used. It would be a ma­jor ad­van­tage if as­tro­nauts had easy ac­cess to wa­ter in the shape of ice, and if it were pos­si­ble to split the car­bon diox­ide of the air on Mars and ex­tract the oxy­gen.

The Mar­tian at­mos­phere is made up of 96 % car­bon diox­ide and only 0.13 % oxy­gen, i.e. far from the 21 % oxy­gen that Earth’s at­mos­phere in­cludes. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover brings an in­stru­ment, MOXIE, which is to find out, whether the thin air on Mars can be con­verted into oxy­gen, which peo­ple could breathe. The de­vice is to have the same role as plants have on Earth, only by means of elec­trol­y­sis in­stead of pho­to­syn­the­sis. Sci­en­tists hope that the de­vice will be able to pro­duce 10 g of oxy­gen per hour. That is not enough to sup­ply a hu­man be­ing with oxy­gen, but we

In a ster­ile room in Den­ver, NASA en­gi­neers test, if In­Sight's so­lar cells open the way they are sup­posed to.

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