“We have covered a little more than 28 km in ten years” on Mars, explained Friday, August 5 on franceinfo Olivier Gasnault. He is the scientific director in France of the Franco-American ChemCam instrument, one of the ten instruments on the Rover Curiosity, which arrived on Mars ten years ago, on August 6, 2012.
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The activity of the Mars discovery robot has once again been extended by NASA until September 2025. Curiosity will head towards a new area of the red planet to continue its explorations.
franceinfo: Curiosity’s mission was supposed to last two years, but in the end ten years have passed and it will continue until 2025. What’s next?
Olivier Gasnault: It is a significant investment and we are pleased to be able to use it for so many years and continue to explore the surface of Mars. The advantage of extending the mission is especially that we are at the foot of a mountain that is 5,000 m high and there is no question of going to the top, but the first layers tell us about the evolution of the environment on Mars surface. . We are trying to understand the transition to a dry passage.
Is this what is likely to happen to Earth with global warming?
We are on very different geological time scales, the land problem is much more immediate. The transformations on Mars go back much further in the past and took place over many years, we are talking about millions of years. It is a more global change of the planet, including the magnetic field of the atmosphere and therefore the presence of water on the surface.
How do you explain the lifespan of this robot?
We have teams of engineers who have developed amazing tools both on the Rover and on instruments like ChemCam. The target of two years was the minimum, and to achieve it we are committed to developing more robust techniques that allow this longevity. We will now pay attention to how we use these instruments to preserve them as long as possible. This is a gain for the entire scientific return of society.
What does the ChemCam instrument on Curiosity do?
It is a chemical camera that, around the American Rover, maps the chemical composition of the rocks that make up the Martian soil in order to understand this geological context. This helps to understand how rocks were transformed by water more than three billion years ago, when life appeared on Earth and there was liquid water on the surface of Mars. ChemCam’s vision will be to understand the chemical composition of these rocks, what is their origin from a magmatic point of view, their transformation with water. We have been able to show that there were multiple episodes of liquid water on the surface of Mars which transformed these rocks.
How did you decide on the research area?
This is work that was done before the selection of the landing site to find a place where we had the best chance to get interesting results on the fact that there was water, the place could have been habitable and on the organization of the geological layers that make it possible to establish a chronology.
Then we have limited travel capacity, there is no road, we are very far away and we make a lot of observations as we go. We have covered a little more than 28 km in ten years, and there is no question of going to completely different places on Mars. We continue our ascent of this mountain, which allows us to advance in the history of Mars. We hope to explore a few million years through these few kilometers.
What have we learned in ten years?
The first result was to show the habitability of this region 3.6 billion years ago. If there had been a very simple, single-celled life form, it could have survived under these conditions for a few million years. It has been shown that these environmental conditions have developed into a dry climate, that the water has moved underground. We are now studying this transition, we have also been able to show that we might have had the emergence of a continent on the surface of Mars.
Finally, there are studies of the modern atmosphere being done with a Spanish climate study instrument to see how it compares to the past climate on Mars and what the radiation conditions are on the surface.