Parent Interventions: Headaches and online learning  |  Parent Interventions: E-cigarettes can be a ‘gateway’ to conventional cigarette smoking for teens   |  Parent Interventions: Thanksgiving meals for diabetic children  |  Technology Inceptions: Smart Speaker Determines Optimal Timing to Talk​  |  Teacher Insights: Teaching information literacy  |  Education Information: MISTI Global Seed Funds open for proposals after Covid pivot  |  Policy Indications: ‘Spill-over’ effects that improve the wider education system  |  Parent Interventions: Cambridge Dictionary names 'quarantine’ Word of the Year 2020   |  Policy Indications: Education Minister chairs a high-level review meeting on various schemes   |  Policy Indications: ‘Mitigation and Management of Covid-19: Practices from India’s States & UTs’  |  National Edu News: Cambridge University lauds National Education Policy of India  |  National Edu News: All Fixed to Mobile calls to be dialed with prefix ‘0’ from 15th January, 2021  |  National Edu News: Result of Combined Geo-Scientist (Main)Examination-2020  |  Policy Indications: Harvard Teacher Fellows provides new teachers, local impact  |  International Edu News: Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine offers a high level of protection  |  
August 17, 2017 Thursday 03:43:15 PM IST

Mars 2020 rover to trace signs of life

Science Innovations

Paris: NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission will use smart X-ray techniques originally developed to find the oldest life on Earth, according a mission scientist.

"Previous missions to Mars have used a relatively broad brush - analysing average chemistry over roughly the size of a postage stamp - to 'follow the water' and seek ancient habitable environments," said the mission's Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford. 

"Mars 2020 takes the next natural step in its direct search for evidence of ancient microbial life, focusing measurements to the microbial scale and producing high-resolution maps over similarly postage stamp-sized analytical areas," Williford said while speaking at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Paris where he presented the methods to be adopted.

Rather than using "bulk" geochemistry techniques that measure the average composition of a rock, Mars 2020 is developing new capabilities including X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy to map the elemental, mineral, and organic composition of rocks at high spatial resolution, with analytical spot sizes about the width of a human hair. 


Understanding the spatial distribution of chemical features preserved in ancient rocks is key to determining whether or not they were formed by life.

The instruments in development for Mars 2020 have roots in the search for the earliest signs of life on Earth, as well as life in extreme environments - deep underground, or in hydrothermal settings along ocean-floor ridges. 

When these methods have been applied on Earth they have enabled scientists to lower limits of detection or to better understand formerly ambiguous observations.

In addition, the Mars 2020 mission will use the knowledge gained from its scientific exploration to select and collect key samples that could one day be examined in laboratories back on Earth. 


About 30-40 rock and sediment core samples, each about 15 grams, will be hermetically sealed in titanium tubes and deposited in a safe location on the surface of Mars for possible retrieval by a future mission.

"Mars 2020 represents a crucial first step towards a possible Mars sample return. Our objective is to collect a diverse set of samples from our landing site with the best potential to preserve records of the evolution of Mars - including the presence of life if it was there," Williford said. 

"We'll use our onboard instruments to provide the critical field context that future scientists would need to understand the measurements made back on Earth," Williford added.


Comments