Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — One year ago this week, NASA’s rover “Curiosity” landed on Mars. Its discoveries are already changing science books.
Alex DeMetrick reports still more discoveries lie ahead.
Animators visualized how the rover called Curiosity was supposed to land on Mars. When it actually worked and touched down in one piece in August 2012, controllers in California celebrated, and so did scientists in Maryland.
At the Goddard Space Flight Center, a portable chemistry lab had been built to sit inside the rover, which has spent the past year slowly moving along.
“We have only driven about a mile, but within this mile fairly close to the landing site, we’ve found some very interesting environments,” said Dr. Jennifer Stern, NASA scientist.
Drilling down into some promising rocks, the powder that was left behind was brought inside and a first of its kind chemical analysis was made–200 million miles from Earth.
“And we found evidence of clay minerals and sulfate minerals,” Stern said.
What came out of those little holes was big news.
“We now learn that Mars was a blue planet, much like the Earth, billions of years ago. It had an extensive amount of water. It had an extensive atmosphere and clouds and it rained on Mars,” said Dr. Jim Green, NASA scientist.
Curiosity begins its second year with its main mission still ahead. It will travel another five miles to its primary target–the foothills of an immense mountain where layers of ground are revealed. Each layer has a different era of Mars’ past.
It will sample and look for signs of organic chemistry.
“And then the question is: Did that organic chemistry lead to life or something else?” said Stern.
It’s an answer worth the “curiosity.”
Curiosity also made an important discovery on the way to Mars. Radiation along the way is far higher than expected, creating a new set of problems for a manned mission to the planet.