Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frosting on the rover Curiosity Martian environment

From mid-September during the day just frosting on the rover Curiosity Martian environment. REMS mediambiental Station, Spanish production, has been a 'nice' day temperature of 6 ° C and atmospheric pressure is also rising slightly. Of course, at night it is very cold: below -70 ° C, according to data presented this week at the European Planetary Science Congress.

The average air temperature has reached at 6 ° C during the day in the Gale Crater on Mars, where last August 6 vehicles landed on NASA's Curiosity. So what has been the leading Spanish instrument onboard REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station).

"The longer we are seeing day temperatures as ‘warm’ are a surprise and very interesting," said Felipe Gomez, a researcher at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB, INTA-CSIC) which has developed the instrument. REMS the first data is presented this week at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC2012) which was held in Madrid.

The environmental station data, which are available in English and Castilian in a web, confirm that since 13 September temperatures have been at or above 0 ° C during the day. In fact it has frozen in half the days recorded while the sun shone in the southern hemisphere of Mars, where Curiosity-but close to Ecuador-spring approaches, and scientists are eager to learn how to evolve the temperatures until midsummer.

"We are still at an early stage and testing our models, but if this trend continues 'warm' during the summer and is not timely, we could even predict temperatures around 20," said Gomez. "And this would be very exciting from the point of view of the habitability (the goal of the mission's rover MSL), and we could have daytime temperatures high enough for the formation of liquid water. "

Frigid nights

At night, however, dramatically lower registers below -70 ° C. Since the Martian atmosphere is much thinner than Earth's and much drier surface, the effects of solar heating in the air and soil are much more pronounced than on Earth.

REMS has also found that the pressure has increased from a daily average of about 730 Pascals during the first three weeks after landing until about 750 pascals-less than one hundredth of earth pressure. The figure of 685 is minimum and 780 maximum pascals, slightly higher values ​​than expected. Most of the variation is due to the 'tidal' Martian, there are related to the sun's energy rather than the influence of the Moon as on Earth.

"The tides are affected by the distribution of clouds and dust in the atmosphere, and the pattern of large-scale wind," says Javier Gomez-Elvira, the principal investigator and director of the CAB REMS.

Concerning the two units REMS wind, Gomez-Elvira explained to SINC that was damaged "probably for some small stone that crashed during landing, although the ultimate reason we do not know yet." Regarding the other, located on the second boom, "and we have a collection of data that we are processing and expect to be operational in the coming weeks."

"The rest of the sensors are working properly," confirms the researcher, "but the humidity is in a period of 'characterization' and is checking in collaboration with the team of the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI, Finland) that has developed”.

Both Gomez and Gomez-Elvira have highlighted the announcement made yesterday by NASA of the discovery of rocks that confirm the presence of past water on Mars, but it is a visual observation in which REMS Curiosity has not intervened.

A crater drier than expected

During the presentation at the conference of the preliminary data of the Spanish season, have also released the first results of another instrument: DAN (Dynamic Albedo Neutrons). It is a device that analyzes the presence in the subsoil water through the effect of one of its two elements, hydrogen, on the neutrons.

The information provided by DAN far suggests that the environment could be drier Curiosity than expected. "The prediction based on previous measurements with data from the Mars Odyssey orbiter was that the crater floor would have about 6% water, but the data show that only a fraction of that," said Maxim Mokrousov, Space Research Institute Russia and principal designer of the instrument.

One possible explanation for this discrepancy could be that the water content varies considerably along the surface of Mars. The Polar Regions are those with more water, but there may be significant local variations, including at specific regions, such as Gale crater.

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