Can you believe it's been a full year since the Mars Curiosity rover made its absolutely spectacular red, dusty landing? Millions watched with bated breath the day that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory began its historical journey. It may have taken everyone's favorite interplanetary robot a little while to get up and running, but once it did, the discoveries kept on coming. Here's a look back at some the more fun, mind-blowing, and all around spectacular of Curiosity's finds in honor of its first martian anniversary.
Mars Had an Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere 4 Billion Years Ago.
In the middle of June, we got the pleasant little surprise of finding out that Mar's atmosphere had once been nearly identical to Earth's in its oxygen content, making it all the more likely that Mars had once held life long ago. More incredibly, this had all happened nearly one billion years before Earth's own atmosphere formed. So not only were we able to deduce that Mars once had a similar atmosphere to Earth's, but we also got a potential glance into our own planet's red, dusty future. [More]
Ancient Life Could Have Survived on Mars
After analyzing rock samples, NASA discovered a grey part of Mars that proved to once contain conditions that were "favorable for life." The samples contained sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon. Plus, the clay minerals it contained would like have had to be created by fresh water reacting to igneous rock (also found in the sample). The resulting minerals were a mix of oxidized, less-oxidized, and non-oxidized. This suggested to Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the Sample Analysis at Mars, they they could have been "a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms." We might not be such an anomaly after all. [More]
Mars Found Carbon Compounds, But Don't Get Too Excited—Yet
As soon as Curiosity analyzed its first soil sample, the internet went nuts over the news that the sample contained carbon compounds. Because carbon=life, right? Well, no, not really. An important point in this story is that the samples were tested in the onboard equipment of Curiosity. In fact, they're heated up in something akin to a miniature oven—and it's not clear whether the carbon found in the samples was actually from the surface of Mars, or simply residue in the device from back here on Earth. Even, thinking positively for a moment, if the carbon was from the surface of Mars, it's not enough to suggest there was life on the planet, because the element could be present in inorganic sources, too, like carbonate rocks. Now, this is in no way definitively saying that life couldn't have existed on Mars. But all that tweeting in the heat of the moment was a bit premature. [More]
Radiation Would Make a Manned Trip to Mars Using Current Tech Impossible
Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) was able to measure the radiation of Mars from inside the spacecraft and found data that forced NASA reconsider the effectiveness of current radiation shielding. Exposure to radiation, which is measured in units of Sievert (Sv), increases the risk of cancer. We know that. Exposure to 1 Sv over time is associated with a five percent increase in risk of developing cancer. NASA's acceptable limit for its astronauts is a three percent increase in risk. Curiosity's RAD instruments measured an average of 1.8milliSv per day on its trip to Mars. The accumulated dose of the trip, according to Cary Zeitlin, lead paper in the findings and a principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, would be equivalent to "getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days". And right now, spacecrafts don't do a great job shielding us from galactic cosmic rays. Looks like we're going to need to wrok on that. [More]
What the Hell Was That Weird Shiny Object on Mars?
Back in February, Curiosity was enjoying its tween months and snapping all the selfies it could manage. In the process, though, it discovered a weird bright and shiny object that sparked the internet into an excited frenzy. It could be anything! Except that, unfortunately, it wasn't. Turns out that that wild new find was actually just a wind-eroded rock... or so says NASA. The truth is out there. [More]
Giant Martian Penis!
The more you learn, the less you realize you know. And so it was with awe that the world peered upon this giant space penis for the first time. Where did it come from? Where will Curiosity ever find an outlet for his(her?) sexual frustration? Why is NASA allowing frat pledges to control the steering wheel? Some questions aren't meant to be answered. [More]