Curiosity Finds Life-Crucial Carbon in Mars Rocks

Curiosity at Mt. Sharp, Gale Crater, Mars. To the left of the rover are two drill holes into the rocks "Aberlady" and "Kilmarie." Curiosity found high concentrations of clay in both rocks. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

We are carbon-based life forms. That means the basis for the chemical compounds that forms our life is the element carbon. It’s crucial because it bonds with other elements such as hydrogen and oxygen to create the complex molecules that are part of life. So, when we look for evidence of life elsewhere in the solar system, we look for carbon. That includes Mars.

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The “Doorway on Mars” is More Like a Dog Door

Mars Curiosity rover took a panorama of this rock cliff during its trip across Mount Sharp on Mars. Circled is the location of a so-called "doorway on Mars." Courtesy NASA/JPL/Mars Curiosity team.
Mars Curiosity rover took a panorama of this rock cliff during its trip across Mount Sharp on Mars. Circled is the location of a so-called “doorway on Mars.” Courtesy NASA/JPL/Mars Curiosity team.

Remember all the fuss about the “doorway on Mars” from just last week? Well, this week, NASA issued some more information about the rock mound where the Curiosity rover snapped a pic showing a fracture hole in the rock. It looks like a door, but it’s not.

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No, This Isn’t a Doorway on Mars

A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into a rock ledge. It was formed when layered rock cracked and eroded away.  Courtesy NASA Mars Curiosity Rover team.
A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into a rock ledge. It was formed when layered rock cracked and eroded away. Courtesy NASA Mars Curiosity Rover team.

The planet Mars has a lot of intriguing geological features, but a doorway in the side of some sedimentary rock on the flank of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) isn’t one of them. In fact, no such doorway on Mars (supposedly created by aliens) exists. But, there is a break in the rock that really, really does look like one. The fact that it isn’t a real doorway hasn’t stopped a lot of speculation over its appearance in an image snapped by the MastCam on the Curiosity rover on Sol 3466 (May 7, 2022). The plain truth is that the odd-looking feature is really a fracture in ancient layers of sand that have hardened into rock over millions of years. A combination of light, shadow and viewing angle makes it look like a door. But, it’s not.

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Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis

An artist's illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu with its sampling instrument extended. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.

One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.

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Curiosity Finds a Bizarre Rock on Mars that Looks Like a Flower

Curiosity rover obtained this 'Hand Lens' extreme close-up of one of the very small and rather unusual concretion features. This one has been called 'Blackthorn Salt'. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

The Curiosity rover took a picture of something pretty enticing this week on the surface of Mars. While the object in question looks like a tiny little flower or maybe even some type of organic feature, the rover team confirmed this object is a mineral formation, with delicate structures that formed by mineral precipitating from water. The size of this tiny object is just 1 centimeter.

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There are Natural Features on Mars That Could Serve as Radiation Shelters

An image of butte M9a in Murray Buttes on Mars, captured with MSL Curiosity's MastCam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars is bombarded with radiation. Without a protective magnetic shield and a thick atmosphere like Earth’s, radiation from space has a nearly unimpeded path to the Martian surface. Our machines can roam around on the surface and face all that radiation with impunity. But not humans. For humans, all that radiation is a deadly hazard.

How can any potential human explorers cope with that?

Well, they’ll need shelter. And they’ll either have to bring it along with them or build it there somehow.

Or maybe not. Maybe they could use natural features as part of their protection.

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Mont Mercou on Mars

Mont Mercou - MSL MastCam - Sols 3057 - 3061. Credit: NASA/JPL/ image processing by Kevin M. Gill.

Here are a few stunning views of the Curiosity Rover’s current location, Mont Mercou in Gale Crater on Mars. This towering outcrop provides a great look at layered sedimentary rock structures. On Earth, it’s common to find layered rock like the ones within this cliff face, especially where there were once lakes. The pancake-like layers of sediment are compressed and cemented to form a rock record of the planet’s history.

This color image is from one of our favorite image editors, Kevin Gill. He assembled 202 raw images taken by MSL’s MastCam between sols 3057 and 3061. You can see Kevin’s full mosaic on Flickr.

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Curiosity Finds Organic Molecules That Could Have Been Produced by Life on Mars

A computer generated view of Mars, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What do coal, crude oil, and truffles have in common? Go ahead. We’ll wait.

The answer is thiophenes, a molecule that behaves a lot like benzene. Crude oil, coal, and truffles all contain thiophenes. So do a few other substances. MSL Curiosity found thiophenes on Mars, and though that doesn’t conclusively prove that Mars once hosted life, its discovery is an important milestone for the rover. Especially since truffles are alive, and oil and coal used to be, sort of.

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Curiosity’s Latest Mars Panorama, Captured in 1.8 Billion Glorious Pixels

Curiosity's 1.8-Billion-Pixel Panorama Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The Curiosity rover on Mars has captured the most detailed panoramic image ever taken of the Red Planet’s surface. The image is made from over 1,000 images, containing 1.8 billion pixels of the Martian landscape, with 2.43 GB of high-resolution planetary goodness.

“This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

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A Glitch Caused Curiosity to Freeze in Place. But It’s Better Now

Image taken by the Curiosity rover's Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) on January 17, 2020, (Sol 2648). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Article updated at 3:40 pm CST, 1/24/20.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover experienced a technical glitch last week, causing it to temporarily lose its sense of direction and freeze in its tracks. But the talented rover repair team back on Earth enabled a fix, and Curiosity is now back in action.

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