SJAA Ephemeris December 2012 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next

Early Report from Curiosity

Paul Kohlmiller


The Mars rover Curiosity is helping scientists understand why Mars lost its atmosphere. The carbon found in the carbon dioxide on the planet has a higher ratio of heavy isotopes (i.e. the carbon atoms have extra neutrons more often than expected). The increase in heavy isotopes is found in argon. This suggests that the top of the atmosphere was lost into space. The next Mars spacecraft, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) will study the upper atmosphere starting in 2014.

Curiosity has also been looking for methane, a gas that would possibly suggest extant life forms. So far Gale Crater seems to be methane-free. But scientists are thrilled just to be able to do this kind of research. “We ... can see the power of having a complex chemical laboratory like SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars instruments ) on the surface of Mars” says SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy (NASA Goddard).

Curiosity will make its first analysis of solid material in the next few weeks, looking for organics, water-bearing minerals, and carbonates. For more information on the Curiosity mission see


Previous | Contents | Next