Thu, August 23, 2012
Technology > U.S. Mars Rover Curiosity Lands

Backgrounder: Mars rover Curiosity's 10 science instruments

2012-08-06 01:39:48 GMT2012-08-06 09:39:48(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is set to touch down in the Gale Crater area of Mars early Monday. The mission will study whether the Red Planet has evidence of past and present habitable environments.

The following is basic information about 10 science instruments onboard Curiosity, the most sophisticated mobile science laboratory ever sent to another world.

MAST CAMERA

Mast Camera, mounted at about human-eye height, will image the rover's surroundings in high-resolution stereo and color, with the capability to take and store high-definition video sequences. It will also be used for viewing materials collected or treated by the arm.

CHEMISTRY AND CAMERA

Chemistry and Camera is a combination of a rock-vaporizing laser and a telescope which both sit on the rover's mast. This instrument can target a rock up to seven meters away, and will share with the Mast Camera the role of informing researchers' choices about which objects in the area make the best targets for approaching to examine with other instruments.

ALPHA PARTICLE X-RAY SPECTROMETER

Also on the robotic arm, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer will determine the relative abundances of different elements in rocks and soils.

MARS HAND LENS IMAGER

Mounted on the arm, the Mars Hand Lens Imager will take extreme close-up pictures of rocks, soil and, if present, ice, revealing details smaller than the width of a human hair. It will also be able to focus on hard-to-reach objects more than an arm's length away.

CHEMISTRY AND MINERALOGY

An X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument called Chemistry and Mineralogy will examine samples gathered by the robotic arm. It is designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils, and to measure bulk composition.

SAMPLE ANALYSIS AT MARS

The Sample Analysis at Mars investigation will use a suite of three analytical tools to check for carbon-based compounds that on Earth are molecular building blocks of life, examine the chemical state of other elements important for life, and search for clues about planetary change and ongoing processes.

ROVER ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING STATION

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station will record information about daily and seasonal changes in Martian weather. Operational plans call for taking measurements for at least five minutes every hour of the full-Martian-year (98-week) mission.

Spain provided this instrument for Curiosity.

RADIATION ASSESSMENT DETECTOR

The Radiation Assessment Detector will characterize the radiation environment at the surface of Mars. This information is necessary for planning human exploration of Mars and is relevant to assessing the planet's ability to harbor life.

DYNAMIC ALBEDO OF NEUTRONS

The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons investigation, or DAN, can detect water bound into shallow underground minerals along Curiosity's path. The instrument shoots neutrons into the ground and measures how they are scattered, giving it a high sensitivity for finding any hydrogen to a depth of about 20 inches (50 centimeters) directly beneath the rover.

The Russian Federal Space Agency contributed DAN to NASA as part of a broad collaboration between the United States and Russia in the exploration of space.

MARS DESCENT IMAGER

The Mars Descent Imager will record a full-color video of the final few minutes of Curiosity's descent onto Mars surface. This will provide the Mars Science Laboratory team with information about the landing site and its surroundings, to aid interpretation of the rover's ground-level views and planning of initial drives. Hundreds of the images taken by the camera will show features smaller than what can be discerned in images taken from orbit. Enditem

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