Monday, 6 August 2012

Life on Mars?

by Daniel Rollins

Early this morning, while most of the world was waiting for what the 10th day of the London Olympic Games would bring, a hard-core group of nerds and astro-geeks (the sort that prefer Space Oddity or Life on Mars to Heroes when it comes to David Bowie songswere celebrating something even more amazing than Usain Bolt's second 100m Olympic gold medal, longer anticipated than Jess Ennis’s triumph and more powerful than team GB’s cyclists’ legs: the landing of the latest Mars Rover.

Around 155 million miles from the Olympic Park in East London, NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, landed on the red planet. It is the first rover to land on Mars in over 9 years, joining Opportunity Mars Explorer in advancing human knowledge of Earth's nearest planetary neighbour. This nuclear powered mobile research lab with 6 wheels around the size of a Mini Cooper was lowered onto the surface of the planet on three nylon strings suspended on a “sky crane” supported by rockets.

During its 23 month mission (one Martian year) it will use 80kg of the most advanced scientific equipment ever sent to Mars, including 17 cameras and a laser, to try and discover whether it could have ever supported life and to help plan for a future manned mission to the planet. It will study the climate of Mars as well as exploring the geology and chemistry of rocks and dust on the surface of the planet for the building blocks of life.

The first images sent back from Curiosity showed its shadow on the barren Martian landscape but as it begins its mission of discovery in the next few days and weeks you can be sure that it will give us an amazing picture of the most captivating planet in the solar system.

 You can keep up with Curiosity on its mission by following it on twitter @MarsCuriosity

First picture from Curiosity

The British astronomer and physicist, Sir Bernard Lovell, whose development of the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory helped revolutionise astronomy, died, aged 98, on Monday, 6th August, 2012. 

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