NASA has found a new way to use the Curiosity rover

The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since 2012, but only now have researchers realized that the apparatus on the rover can be used in a whole new way. After seven years, scientists have come up with an idea of how to use instruments installed on the rover to measure the density of Martian rock layers.

Like most smartphoneów, Curiosity has accelerometers and gyroscopes installed on board. Moving the smartphone allows sensors to determine its location and the direction it is facing. Curiosity’s sensors do basically the same thing, but with much greater precision. They play a key role in navigating the surface of Mars, and knowing the rover’s orientation allows engineers to conduct precise surveys with other instrumentsóin the scientific equipment on board the rover.

The researchers used the aforementioned sensors and converted them into gravimeters thatóre measure changes in gravitational pull. This, in turn, allowed them to study the density of the rock layers at the subnó¿a Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp), the central hill in Gale Crater where Curiosity resides. Results? It turns out that the density of these rock layers is much lower than expected.

Developing a new way to use an accelerometerów and gyroscopeów provides researchers with new capabilities that theyówhich they will be able to take advantage of in the future on this mission and on those not yet launched. Detailsóły of the new way and the information it yielded were published in the pages of the journal „Science”.

– Curiosity, six and pół year since its mission began, it has actually gained a new scientific instrument. With this, we can get new information about Mars and in a wayób, whichóry was not envisioned by the designeróin the rover’s – said Kevin Lewis of Johns Hopkins University's Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.

These are the first measurements of gravity made on another planet, but they are not the first thatóre made outside of Earth. In 1972, astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission used a gravimeterów to make gravity measurements on the Moon. Although Curiosity was not originally equipped with gravimeters, to measure theóIn gravity, its navigation systems were used.

Typically, gravity measurements are taken by probes in orbit. However, it is impossible to measure local changes with them. But a new wayób perfectly. Moreover, the rover, który has been wandering the Martian soil for nearly seven years, collecting this data all the time.

In their study, the researchers used more than 700 measurements of theów made by Curiosity. These data have been calibrated to filter out the „noise”, Such as the effect of temperature or the slope of the rover as it climbs the slope. The calculations were then porównane with p modelsól of Mars’ gravity to ensure greater accuracy. The results of the poróThe new method wasóalso with mineral density estimates obtained with the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, whichóry characterizes the minerals present in próbkach Martian rocks using X-ray beam.

With this approach, the scientists learned about the density of the rocks at the foot of theó¿a five-kilometer góry. Although there are many gór then only a few approach the scale of Mount Sharp. Scientists are still unsure how the góra formed inside the Gale crater. One of the ideasów is that the crater was once filled with sediment, from which theórych over millions of years winds, dust storms and frosts have shaped the góhand.

– Using the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, we estimated the density of the rock layers at 2,810 kg per cubic meter, but the density calculated during this study is much lower – 1,680 kg per cubic meter – said Travis Gabriel of Arizona State University.

– The lower levels of Mount Sharp are surprisingly porous. We know that the lower layers of the góry have been buried over time, making them appear denser, but this finding suggests that they were not buried by as much material as we thought – explained Lewis.