NASA's Curiosity rover has completed six years on the Mars - the red planet. "I touched down on #Mars six years ago. Celebrating my 6th landing anniversary with the traditional gift of iron… oxide. (It puts the red in Red Planet.)," the rover's social media handle tweeted. Curiosity rover landed on Mars's Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 using a series of complicated landing manoeuvres never before attempted. Curiosity rover is currently facing massive dust storm on the red planet and it may take weeks, or even months, before skies would be clear enough to allow it to recharge its batteries.
What is Curiosity rover?
Curiosity is a car-sized rover equipped with 17 cameras and a robotic arm which contains a suite of specialised laboratory-like tools and instruments. It has been designed with the mission to determine whether the red planet ever was, or is, habitable to microbial life. Just month after landing on the red planet, its two-year mission was extended indefinitely which is why Curiosity celebrated its sixth year on Mars.
Let's have a look at some of the key findings of the Curiosity rover.
- In 2013, the Curiosity found that the ancient red planet had the right chemistry to support living microbes.
- Curiosity discovered evidence of sulphur, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus in the powder sample drilled from the 'Sheepbed' mudstone in Yellowknife Bay. All these were key ingredients necessary for life.
- Presence of clay minerals and not too much salt, suggested fresh and possibly drinkable water once flowed on the planet.
- Shortly after, smooth and rounded rocks were found by Curiosity, indicating that a steady knee-deep stream of water once flowed on the red planet.
- On the findings of Curiosity that generated a lot of interest was in 2014 when it detected a background level of atmospheric methane and observed a ten-fold increase in methane over a two-month period. It drew a lot of attention as methane can be produced by living organisms or by chemical reactions between rock and water.
- In 2015, organic molecules - the building blocks of life - were discovered on Mars after a long search by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument in a powdered rock sample from the "Sheepbed" mudstone in "Yellowknife Bay."
- The finding shows that raw ingredients existed for life to get started there at one time.