Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mars: Curiosity's DAN instrument suggests Gale Crater drier than expected

Date:
September 28, 2012
Source:
Europlanet Media Centre
Summary:
Preliminary data from the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory indicate that the Gale Crater landing site might be drier than expected. The Curiosity rover is designed to carry out research into whether Mars was ever able to support life, and a key element of this search is the hunt for water.Although Mars has many features on its surface that suggest a distant past in which the planet had abundant liquid water in the form of rivers and lakes, the only water known to be abundant on Mars today is frozen, embedded in the soil, and in large ice caps at both poles.

Detecting water on Mars using the DAN instrument The DAN instrument works by firing a pulse of neutrons at the ground beneath the Curiosity rover. If they hit hydrogen (as a component of water ice) the neutrons’ kinetic energy is significantly reduced, while other materials in the ground affect the neutrons far less.
Credit: Russian Federal Space Agency/NASA.JPL-Caltech

Preliminary data from the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, presented at the European Planetary Science Conference on 28 September, indicate that the Gale Crater landing site might be drier than expected.

The Curiosity rover is designed to carry out research into whether Mars was ever able to support life, and a key element of this search is the hunt for water. Although Mars has many features on its surface that suggest a distant past in which the planet had abundant liquid water in the form of rivers and lakes, the only water known to be abundant on Mars today is frozen, embedded in the soil, and in large ice caps at both poles.

The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument on board Curiosity is designed to detect the location and abundance of water thanks to the way hydrogen (one of water's components) reflects neutrons. When neutrons hit heavy particles, they bounce off with little loss in energy, but when they hit hydrogen atoms (which are much lighter and have approximately the same mass as neutrons), they lose half of their energy.

The DAN instrument works by firing a pulse of neutrons at the ground beneath the rover and detecting the way it is reflected. The intensity of the reflection depends on the proportion of water in the ground, while the time the pulse takes to reach the detector is a function of the depth at which the water is located.

"The prediction based on previous measurements using the Mars Odyssey orbiter was that the soil in Gale Crater would be around 6% water. But the preliminary results from Curiosity show only a fraction of this," said Maxim Mokrousov (Russian Space Research Institute), the lead designer of the instrument.

One possible explanation of the discrepancy lies in the variability of water content across the surface of Mars. There are large-scale variations, with polar regions in particular having high abundances of water, but also substantial local differences even within individual regions on Mars.

The Mars Odyssey spacecraft is only able to measure water abundance for an area around 300 by 300 kilometres -- it cannot make high resolution maps. It may therefore be that Odyssey's figure for Gale Crater is an accurate (but somewhat misleading) average of significantly varying hydrogen abundances in different parts the crater.

Indeed, over the small distance that the rover has already covered, DAN has observed variations in the detector counting rates that may indicate different levels of hydrogen in the ground, hinting that this is likely to be the case.

Curiosity's ability to probe the water content in the martian soil in specific locations, rather than averages of broad regions, allows for a far more precise and detailed understanding of the distribution of water ice on Mars.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Europlanet Media Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Europlanet Media Centre. "Mars: Curiosity's DAN instrument suggests Gale Crater drier than expected." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120928085214.htm>.
Europlanet Media Centre. (2012, September 28). Mars: Curiosity's DAN instrument suggests Gale Crater drier than expected. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120928085214.htm
Europlanet Media Centre. "Mars: Curiosity's DAN instrument suggests Gale Crater drier than expected." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120928085214.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

Newsy (July 25, 2014) Researchers say if Earth had been a week earlier in its orbit around the sun, it would have taken a direct hit from a 2012 coronal mass ejection. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins