Social Media Sidebar


Please sign up, comment on articles and bring your friends!

Current poll

PlanetTech is asking:

What do you think about our new web site?

Love it, indeed
Really good solution
Same as old one
The old one was better
This is a new option

Quote of the day

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.


Thomas Edison

Why Europe's New Mission to Mars is Such a Big Deal

Posted in Science on 12th Mar, 2016 08:40 PM by AlexMuller

NASA gets all the glory when it comes to Martian exploration, but two other space agencies are now hoping to change that. Early next week, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos are launching the first phase of their joint ExoMars mission, a major new scientific effort to discover signs of life on the Red Planet.

At 8:30 am local time on March 14th, two robotic probes, a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing demonstrator, will blast off together aboard a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Thanks to the close proximity of Earth and Mars at the time of launch, it should only take the ExoMars vehicles seven months to reach the Red Planet, on October 19th.
The mission: to search for evidence of biologic and geologic activity on Mars and to test technologies for the second phase of ExoMars. Exploration will involve an autonomous rover that’ll trundle about the surface drilling holes, collecting samples, and searching for Martian life forms.
“This is really quite a significant mission for us,” Hakan Svedhem, the ESA’s mission scientist for the TGO, told Gizmodo. “It is certainly a possibility that life exists on Mars today, and we are going there to find out.”
So as you might imagine, there’s quite a bit of pride staked on the success of ExoMars. But more exciting still are this mission’s science goals. The TGO is equipped with a suite of instruments that’ll allow scientists to sniff the Red Planet’s lower atmosphere at parts-per-trillion sensitivity. It’ll be looking for chemicals that could signal activity on the surface. Chief among those chemical clues is methane, which remote surveys and NASA’s Curiosity rover have found sporadic evidence for over the past few years.
“Methane is particularly interesting because it can be broken apart by sunlight very quickly,” said Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado Boulder, who heads NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission. “If methane is present in the atmosphere at all means it must be resupplied to the atmosphere. That can come about from geologic and biological processes.”
How would we know where the methane is coming from? For starters, we’d have to see what other trace gases are present. Methane in conjunction with sulphur dioxide, for instance, is often taken as a sign of volcanic activity. If methane on Mars is found alongside other hydrocarbons, that could point to a biological source. The TGO is also capable of looking at the ratio of different carbon isotopes present in methane which can help elucidate its origin. But none of these indicators is a silver bullet for alien life.
“Even if methane is from life, it doesn’t mean life is there today,” Svedhem notes. “It could have been stored underground by various processes and is only being released now.”
We’ll need a suite of follow-up analyses to learn the truth. If the TGO sniffs anything interesting, it’ll be able to document the area using a high-res camera and probe the ground for water ice with its on-board neutron detector. If it finds something really interesting, ESA might eventually follow up with a lander.
Jakosky, for one, is excited to see another spacecraft joining MAVEN in the effort to study Mars’s atmosphere. “One of the things we’ve found over the last several decades of exploring Mars is that it’s a very complex system,” he said. “MAVEN is studying the upper atmosphere and TGO will study the lower. If we’re trying to understand the environment as a whole we need measurements from both.”
We’ll also need to continue doing ground-based exploration which is why the ExoMars 2016 payload includes a small robotic lander. Sciaparelli will touch down on Martian soil on October 19th, after which the ESA reckons it’ll have two to eight days of battery life to collect some basic meteorological data.
But mostly, this lander is a proof of concept. The ESA wants to make sure the lander’s heat shield, parachute and thrusters deliver Sciaparelli gently to the surface, because it’s counting on that same technology to bring a large rover to Mars in 2018.
“We’ve never done this full landing concept in the past,” Svedhem said. “There’s a whole sequence of things we need to demonstrate.”
But first things first, these intrepid space probes need to get off the ground. The ExoMars launch will be taking place on March 14th at 8:30 GMT.

Tags: MarsspaceESARoscosmosExoMarschemistrybiologylifeplanet

Read original article » Back to category



Recent headlines

  • Posted in Business on 2018-05-21 16:28:10
    Anti-nuclear policies increased global carbon by more
    Posted in Medicine on 2018-05-21 16:22:31
    Magic mushroom treatment improves emotional more
    Posted in Medicine on 2018-05-21 16:18:57
    Antioxidant found to wind back the clock on blood more
    Posted in Software on 2018-05-21 16:14:32
    3 key artificial intelligence benefits for the future more
    Posted in Medicine on 2018-05-20 11:05:43
    Cannabidiol significantly reduces seizures in more
Posted in Business on 2013-10-10 01:33
China is working towards a manned lunar mission in more
Posted in Business on 2013-10-20 07:17
Spacex says China is their main competitor for more
Posted in Software on 2013-10-20 06:43
Pirate Bay Browser Clocks 1,000,000 more
Posted in Medicine on 2013-10-10 02:10
Google reportedly investing hundreds of millions into more
Posted in Medicine on 2013-10-14 03:13
Endothelial Cells Can Repair and Regenerate Organs, more
Posted in Science on 01.01.2010
Spacex says China is their main competitor for more
Posted in Science on 01.01.2010
Staring at Your Phone Could Be Making You Short more
Posted in Science on 01.01.2010
Oculus Rift virtual reality headset coming to mobile, more
Posted in Science on 01.01.2010
China is working towards a manned lunar mission in more
Posted in Science on 01.01.2010
Delivering drugs via nanoparticles to target more

Recent Blog Posts

  • Posted by AlexMuller
    In five years quantum computing will be more
    Posted by AlexMuller
    Google partners with Johnson and Johnson to make lower more
    Posted by AlexMuller
    Electron holography microscope with spatial resolution down more
    Posted by AlexMuller
    Lower cost advanced Nuclear power could dominate future US more
    Posted by AlexMuller
    Why Hasn’t AI Mastered Language Translation? more

Login to your Account

Login to your PlanetTech Account here

Remember me

Create a New Account

You just need username and password

The following errors occured:
Verify password:
Remember me