WASHINGTON – Since its dramatic touch down on Aug. 6, the Mars Science Laboratory –better known as “Curiosity” – has been checked out by its operators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory before embarking on an unprecedented two-year exploration of Gale Crater in search of signs of past microbial life on Mars.
For the past six weeks, Curiosity array of sensors, instruments and mobile laboratory have been probing the Martian surface and sniffing its thin atmosphere to determine whether the Red Planet ever provided the conditions required for life to exist.
For example, Curiosity’s Sample Analysis of Mars (SAM) suite recently analyzed the Martian atmosphere to determine the concentration of methane. The initial results were a disappointment, with Curiosity’s sensors detecting only trace amounts that could be attributed to factors other than methane-producing microbes.
SAM also found that the Martian atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide (95.9 percent), with oxygen accounting for only 0.14 percent.
Still, Curiosity’s cameras have already found unmistakable signs that water once flowed in Gale Crater. And where there is water, there once could have been life.
As Curiosity continues to move slowly across Gale Crater to it ultimate destination, the crater’s central peak, Mount Sharp, we offer a road show of what this remarkable machine has so far uncovered about Mars.