Curiosity completes first test of Martian soil

4 December 2012
By Rachael Fergusson
Mobile version
Share |
Scoop marks in the sand at ‘Rocknest’

Scoop marks in the sand at ‘Rocknest’

Credit: Nasa

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has completed its first test of Martian soil but found no definitive evidence of signs that the red planet could support life.

Nasa said Curiosity used its full array of instruments to analyse Martian soil for the first time and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulphur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in the samples.

The soil at Curiosity's landing site appeared similar to that found in regions visited by other Mars spacecraft, Nasa said.

Curiosity, a one-tonne, six-wheeled vehicle, landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator in August. Its two-year mission is aimed at determining whether or not the planet, most like Earth, could have hosted microbial life. Curiosity’s main destination is Mount Sharp, a towering mound of layered rock rising from the floor of Gale Crater.

Nasa said the soil sample analysed by Curiosity came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called “Rocknest.” The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale Crater.

Curiosity’s laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyse gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds – carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The rover did find a simple carbon compound, but scientists have yet to determine whether it is native to the red planet, or came from elsewhere.

Scientists think the best chance of finding complex carbon is at Mount Sharp. Curiosity will not trek there until early next year.

The latest findings were reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Nasa also reported at the meeting an update on Nasa’s Voyager 1 spacecraft. The spacecraft has entered a new region at the edge of the solar system and is close to leaving it forever.

Scientists have dubbed this region the "magnetic highway" and it is the last stop before interstellar space, or the space between stars.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 launched 35 years ago on a tour of the outer planets. Afterwards, both spacecraft continued to hurtle toward the fringes of the solar system.

Mission chief scientist Ed Stone says it is unknown when Voyager 1 will finally break through to interstellar space. Once that happens, it will be the first manmade object to leave the solar system.

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1604

"Should the UK's engineers be in or out of Europe? The IET sets out its official position on the EU referendum this week - will you agree?"

->

E&T jobs

  • Solutions Engineer

    Bristol Water
    • United Kingdom
    • £41,000 - 49,000

    We serve a population of over one million people and all the associated businesses in an area of 1,000 square miles centered on Bristol.

    • Recruiter: Bristol Water

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Mechanical Engineer

    Bristol Water
    • United Kingdom
    • £41,000 - 49,000

    We serve a population of over one million people and all the associated businesses in an area of 1,000 square miles centered on Bristol.

    • Recruiter: Bristol Water

    Apply for this job

  • Software Renewals Manager

    BAE Systems
    • Preston, Lancashire, England
    • Negotiable

    Software Renewals Manager Would you like to work in a resourceful and developing role within IT Services? We currently have a vacancy for a Software Renewals Manager at our site in Preston Channel Way. As a Software Renewals Manager, you will be responsi

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Technical Manager

    Aggregate Industries
    • Hulland Ward, Ashbourne
    • Attractive salary plus comprehensive benefits

    A key Technical Manager role driving product improvement and compliance with Aggregate Industries, market leader in Construction Solutions.

    • Recruiter: Aggregate Industries

    Apply for this job

  • Field Application Engineer

    Intel
    • Madrid

    Responsible for giving product presentations to the customer describing how Intel products provide the optimum solution to their application.

    • Recruiter: Intel

    Apply for this job

  • Engineers and Scientists

    European Patent Office
    • Munich and The Hague
    • See job description

    We are looking for Engineers and scientists in various technical fields for our locations in Munich and The Hague.

    • Recruiter: European Patent Office

    Apply for this job

  • Director of Product Management

    EMS Recruitment Group
    • West Yorkshire
    • Circa £70,000 PA + car allowance, excellent benefits including lucrative bonus scheme

    Our client is the undoubted world leader in their field. A highly innovative and progressive specialist electro-mechanical product manufacturer....

    • Recruiter: EMS Recruitment Group

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Engineer

    Premium job

    Scottish Prison Service
    • Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh
    • £40,654 to £48,579 plus annual supplement of £10,000

    Build Your Engineering Career. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is an Agency of the Scottish Government, working in partnership.....

    • Recruiter: Scottish Prison Service

    Apply for this job

  • Sales Electronics Engineer

    Premium job

    Precision Microdrives
    • London (Greater)
    • £25,000 - £30,000 starting salary, inclusive of on-target commissions.

    Precision Microdrives (PMD) is a fast growing technology company that designs, produces and trades miniature electro-mechanical mechanisms

    • Recruiter: Precision Microdrives

    Apply for this job

  • Installation and Commissioning Engineer

    Premium job

    Crest Solutions
    • Corby
    • Competitive

    You will be involved in installation, commissioning & servicing of printing and machine vision related solutions.

    • Recruiter: Crest Solutions

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T