An animated rendering shows some of the Curiosity Rover's instruments. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-CalTech
After hurtling through space for 8 1/2 months, deploying a supersonic parachute to slow from 13,000 mph to 900 mph, and being lowered to the surface by a rocket powered sky crane, the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars on Aug. 5.
It is the largest and most sophisticated rover to explore Mars. It contains 10 scientific instruments, enough for NASA to call the rover by another name, a mobile Mars Science Laboratory.
Lunar and Planetary Sciences Professor William Boynton and geosciences Professor Robert Downs witnessed the landing from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Over the course of the mission, the two University of Arizona scientists will analyze data from two instruments on board.
The UA’s Department of Lunar and Planetary Sciences has been involved in every Mars mission “ever since NASA started going to Mars,” Boynton says.
In the past, instruments such as a gamma ray spectrometer, which helped discover large amounts of ice under the Martian surface, were built on campus, unusual for a university.
For Boynton, that sets the university apart, because many space-bound instruments are built by private firms.
This time around, the Lunar and Planetary Lab did not build any of the instruments, but as Downs and Boynton interpret data they collect, they hope to learn more about Mars’ geochemical past.
What will the planet's geochemical past reveal?
See UA scientists explain the Curiosity Rover's instruments and the purpose of the mission.
Producer: Heather Wodrich | Videographers: Santiago Bahti, Heather Wodrich | Editors: Yashmine Anderson, Lauren Bays, Matt Ehrichs