“We have covered more than 28 km in ten years” on Mars, explained Friday August 5 by franceinfo Olivier Gasnault. He is the scientific manager in France of the Franco-American ChemCam instrument, one of the ten instruments of the Rover Curiosity that arrived on Mars ten years ago, on August 6, 2012.
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The activity of the Martian explorer robot has been extended by NASA until September 2025. Curiosity will go to a new place on the red planet to continue its exploration.
franceinfo: The Curiosity 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: This is an important investment and we are happy to use it for many years and continue to explore the surface of Mars. The advantage of expanding the mission is mainly that we are at the foot of a mountain 5,000 m high and there is no question of going to the top but the first layer tells us about the evolution around the surface of Mars. . We try to understand the transition to a dry path.
Is this what could happen to Earth with global warming?
We are on very different geological time scales, the earth problem is much easier. The changes on Mars go back much further than the past and have been happening for many years, we are talking about millions of years. This is a more global change on the planet, including the magnetic field of the atmosphere and therefore the presence of water on the surface.
How do you explain the longevity of this robot?
We have teams of engineers who have developed great tools on the Rover and on instruments like ChemCam. The goal of two years is the minimum and to reach it we are obliged to create more stable methods that allow this longevity. We want to pay attention to how we use these instruments to preserve them as much as possible. This is a profit for the scientific return of the whole community.
What does Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument do?
It is a chemical camera that orbits the American Rover on the chemical composition of the rocks that make up the Martian soil in order to understand its geological context. This helps to understand how water rocks changed more than three billion years ago when life appeared on Earth and there was liquid water on the surface of Mars. ChemCam’s vision is to understand the chemical composition of these rocks, what their origin is from a magmatic point of view, their water transformation. We have shown that there were several episodes with liquid water on the surface of Mars that changed these rocks.
How do you decide on the area of exploration?
This is the work done before choosing the landing site to find a place where we have the best chance to have interesting results in the fact that there is water, the place could have been sheltered and the organization of geological layers that make it. it is possible to establish a chronology.
Then, our travel capacity was limited, there was no road, we were very far away and we made many observations as we walked. We have covered more than 28 km in ten years and there is no question of going completely elsewhere on Mars. We continue our ascent of this mountain that allows us to continue the history of Mars. We hope to explore several million years through these few kilometers.
What have we learned in ten years?
The first result is to show the habitability of this region 3.6 billion years ago. If there was a very simple, single-celled life form, it could survive under these conditions for several million years. It has been shown that these environmental conditions turned into a dry climate, with water moving underground. We have studied this transition, we have also shown that a continent may have formed on the surface of Mars.
Finally, there are studies of the modern atmosphere carried out with a Spanish climate study instrument to see how it compares to the past climate of Mars and what the radiation conditions are on the surface.