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Curiosity was able to make a lot of discoveries: it discovered organic compounds, learned about the unusual properties of methane, and also got more information about water on Mars.
August 5, 2022 marks exactly 10 years since the Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars. The spacecraft went on its flight aboard the Atlas-5 rocket on November 26, 2011, and after 8 months and 10 days was already in the Gale crater on Mars. For 10 years, the Curiosity rover has had many problems: failures in the computer system, in the operation of devices for drilling soil, problems with navigation and wheels. But this spacecraft continues its work. The Phys edition has compiled the top 5 most important discoveries that the Curiosity rover has made over these 10 years.
Just like the newer Perseverance rover, Curiosity is looking for signs of potential life on Mars, exploring the surface and near-surface atmosphere of Mars. This data helped scientists learn a lot more about what processes are taking place on the Red Planet, and what happened there in the distant past. The special instruments of the rover allow it to carry out important scientific research, the data about which it sends to Earth for further processing by scientists.
Detection of organic compounds on Mars
NASA scientists consider one of the main discoveries of the Curiosity rover to be able to detect organic molecules in rock samples collected in Gale Crater. Organic molecules that contain carbon can be both building blocks and “food” for potential life. That these compounds exist on Mars suggests that the planet had the conditions to support life, if it ever existed there.
But at the same time, scientists have found another explanation for the existence of organic molecules on Mars. They may be the result of an interaction between the sun's ultraviolet light and carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. And life has nothing to do with it at all.
But NASA scientists believe that the search should continue and perhaps signs of microbial life on the planet will still be discovered. By the way, the Perseverance rover is also doing this, which, as Focus already wrote, collected another sample of rock, in which, according to NASA, there may be signs of life. Although we will not know about this until 2033.
Using its instruments, the Curiosity rover found that the methane content in the near-surface atmosphere changes. On Earth, most of the methane present in the atmosphere enters there through biological processes and its composition also changes due to them. But whether the same thing happens on Mars, scientists do not yet know.
Rock formation and age in the Gale craterJust a year after its arrival on Mars, the Curiosity rover found out that the rocks in the Gale crater were formed about 4 billion years ago. Scientists also learned that about 70 million years ago, local rocks were weathered and eroded, due to which the rocks changed.
The new information helped scientists learn more about the geological processes on Mars, as well as how such changes in rocks could affect the rover's ability to detect signs of potential life.
History of water on Mars
Thanks to NASA's Curiosity rover has given scientists more insight into what Mars was like before it became an arid desert planet. It is believed that in the distant past there were seas and rivers on Mars, and Gale Crater, as it was discovered, also once had water.
The presence of water is indicated by some minerals that are formed only in the aquatic environment. And most importantly, scientists have found that water remained on Mars hundreds of millions of years later than thought.
Scientists have concluded that even when the Gale crater turned into a desert, there was still a small amount of water under the surface. This means that potential Martian microbes could live millions of years longer than expected.
Biologically useful nitrogen
On Earth Nitrogen is an essential ingredient for the existence of life. Nitrogen is essential for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and proteins. These are the building blocks of life as we know it. The Curiosity rover discovered a special type of nitrogen that may be involved in the formation of life in 2015. Scientists have found that biologically useful nitrogen existed on Mars 3.5 billion years ago.
So far, Curiosity has not provided evidence of the existence of life on Mars in the past, but its findings indicate that this life on the planet is all could have been. The rover, according to NASA's plan, will work on Mars before 2025.
Focus already wrote that the Curiosity rover discovered a stone on Mars that resembles the popular emoji. The size of the stone is equivalent to the size of an SUV, but its appearance and shape cause mixed reactions.