Sunday , March 7 2021

Mars is more porous than we thought, NASA's Curiosity rover finds in a revolutionary study

Mars is more porous and less compressed than we thought, scientists found in an innovative study that used data from NASA's Curiosity rover in unusual ways.

The researchers used non-scientific engineering data to understand the surface of the red planet and measure the density of the rocks at the 96-kilometer wide Gale crater.

The discovery is not only a breakthrough in our understanding of the surface of Mars, but gives researchers who study it a new way to explore the planet while the Curiosity rover continues to bypass it.

Scientists made the discovery by taking data from engineering sensors that are aboard the Curiosity. They are accelerometers and gyros, the type used to tell a smartphone where it is pointing.

The Curiosity sensor also allows it to understand how it is oriented and where it is moving, with great precision, allowing its engineers to follow it as it moves across the Martian surface.

When the rover is stopped, however, these same sensors measure gravity at that point. That means scientists could take all that data – related to 700 different places – and combine them to understand surface gravity.

As the vehicle began to climb a hill on the surface, gravity increased. But it did not rise as much as expected.

"Lower levels of Mount Sharp are surprisingly porous," says lead researcher Kevin Lewis of Johns Hopkins University. "We know that the lower layers of the mountain have been buried over time, and it compacts them, making them denser, but this finding suggests that they were not buried with as much material as we thought."

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Scientists could use the findings to help understand where such places came from as Mount Sharp and how the Martian surface evolved.

"There's still a lot of doubt about how Mount Sharp has developed, but this article adds an important piece to the puzzle," said Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. mission. "I'm thrilled that scientists and creative engineers are still finding innovative ways to make new scientific discoveries with the rover.

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