Mission du robot Curiosity sur Mars : “On a parcouru un peu plus de 28 km en dix ans”, explique un scientifique

Mission du robot Curiosity sur Mars : "On a parcouru un peu plus de 28 km en dix ans", explique un scientifique

“We have traveled a little over 28 km in ten years” on Mars, explained on Friday August 5 on franceinfo Olivier Gasnault. He is the scientific director in France of the French-American ChemCam instrument, one of the ten instruments on the Curiosity Rover that reached Mars ten years ago on August 6, 2012.

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The activity of the Martian rover has been extended again by NASA until September 2025. Curiosity will go to 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 it’s been ten years and it will continue until 2025. What’s next?

Olivier Gasnault: It is a significant investment and we are happy 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 in particular that we are at the foot of a 5,000 m high mountain and it is not about reaching the top, but the first strata tell us about the evolution of the environment on the surface of Mars. . We try to understand the transition to an arid passage.

Is this what is likely to happen to the Earth with global warming?

We are in very different geological time scales, the problem of the earth is much more immediate. The transformations on Mars go back much further in the past and took place over many years, we’re talking 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 longevity of this robot?

We have teams of engineers who have developed great tools both on the Rover and on instruments like ChemCam. The goal of two years was the minimum and to achieve it we are forced to develop more robust techniques that allow this longevity. Now we want to pay attention to how we use these instruments to preserve them as long as possible. This is a gain for the scientific return of the entire community.

What does the ChemCam instrument do on Curiosity?

It is a chemical camera that maps around the American Rover the chemical composition of the rocks that make up the Martian soil to understand this geological context. This helps to understand how water changed rocks 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 their origins are from the magmatic point of view, their transformation with water. We have been able to show that there were several episodes with liquid water on the surface of Mars that transformed these rocks.

How did you decide the exploration area?

This is work that was done before we selected the landing site to find a site where we would have the best chance of getting interesting results about the fact that there was water, the place might have been habitable, and about the organization of the geological layers that they do. timeline can be established.

So we have limited travel capabilities, there is no road, we are very far away, and we make a lot of observations as we go. We have traveled a little more than 28 km in ten years and it is not about going to another part of Mars entirely. We continue our ascent of this mountain that 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 in these conditions for a few million years. It has been shown that these environmental conditions have evolved towards a drier climate, that water has moved underground. Now we are studying this transition, we have also been able to show that maybe we had the emergence of a continent on the surface of Mars.

Finally, there are studies of the modern atmosphere that are being done with a Spanish climate study instrument to see how it compares with the past climate of Mars and what the radiation conditions are on the surface.

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