Sunday, November 27, 2011

Curiosity - life on Mars?

We all wish luck to the Mars Science Lab (MSL) nicknamed Curiosity on its way to the Red Planet. Because a central goal of this scientific space mission is the search for signs of microbial life it is also of exceptional theological interest.

Nov. 26, 2011: NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).

"We are very excited about sending the world's most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we'll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we've never been."
Quoted from NASA science page

The estimated landing of the rover on Mars is 6 August 2012 - after eight and half months of 10 km/second flight in our Solar system.

For an overview of the mission I recommend a well-written news article by BBC Science Journalist Jonathan Amos.

Gale Crater
The 2.500.000.000 dollar mission uses the latest technologies and scientific instruments in a car-sized one tonne vehicle. The research concentrates on a geological paradise, the Grand Canyon of Mars, called the 154 km in diameter Gale crater named after the Australian banker Walter Frederick Gale (1865-1945). He is the man who looked at the Red Planet and suggested that there are canals on the surface of Mars and thus intelligent life, Martians.

Picture from NASA

Gale crater is a deep scar on the surface of Mars assumed to be over two billion years old. The crater allows the examination of very deep layers of clay minerals and sulphite salts observed at the bottom. Scientists have assumed that these deposits were possibly formed as sediments in an ancient body of water. Nobody is sure - until Curiosity brings us some hard facts from the hot spot!

Interior of Mars

Earliest evidence of life on Earth has been found in pre-Cambrian granite that formed some two-three billion years when the surface of our planet was cooling and God created the lithosphere. 

Apparently Mars has no granite or basalt sphere at all. In the picture is one recent model (2003) taken from a nice description of recent theories of the inner structure of Mars by Courtney Seligman.

Astrobiologist's wet dream
The fundamental assumption of Astrobiology is that where there is water there is possibly also life as we know it. So examining 2-3 billion year old sediments formed in another planet of our Solar system... an astrobiologist's wet dream come true.

Out of the way, Cassini-Huygens and those dead frozen surfaces of Titan!

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