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Rover will attempt to answer questions about life on Mars

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Aug. 1, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — A new rover landing on Mars may bring us closer to answering one of life's great questions: are we alone in the Universe, or do we have neighbors?

A robot rover is landing Sunday on Mars. NASA is hoping the rover can answer some of the real mysteries about the red planet.

Clark Planetarium director Seth Jarvis doesn't expect a direct answer to that question from the latest Mars mission.

"Me, personally, I think the odds are very good that there's life on mars," he said.

But some major clues may emerge if the rover named Curiosity survives it's complex and exciting wild ride through the martian skies and is lowered safely onto our neighboring planet.

It's much bigger than previous rovers and carries ten times the scientific payload.

"Curiosity, first of all, is huge," Jarvis said. "It weighs a ton. It's the size of a car. It is a kind of fully equipped biological laboratory with six nuclear- powered wheels."

Mars-related programming/activities
Clark Planetarium

Dateline Mars

Clark's Mike Murray will explore Mars and the many missions to the red planet.
Hansen Dome Theatre
Dates, July 28, 31 and August 2, 7, 9
Time: 6:45-7:25pm

Gateway to the Stars

This monthly lecture series will focus on Mars and other happenings in the night sky during August. Hansen Dome Theatre
Date: August 4
Time: 6:45-7:25pm

Snapshots with the Rover

Say cheese and get your own Mars landing souvenir, featuring you alongside Curiosity.

Marsscape Exhibit
Date: August 4
Time: 3:00-6:00pm

It will land inside a 100-mile wide crater, next to a mountain three miles high.

"It's very much like being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where you can look up and you can see all those different layers of sandstone," Jarvis said.

Curiosity is equipped with drills and a powerful laser- blaster for shattering Martian rocks. It can bring samples inside its own laboratory for chemical analysis.

It's well known that Mars is an inhospitable desert with an incredibly thin atmosphere — the average temperature is about 60 below zero — but scientists hope the rover can determine if Mars was ever a hospitable place for life.

"How recently was there liquid water on mars?" Jarvis said. "Did any organic compounds form in the presence of water on Mars? Is there any interesting chemistry going on in the rocks right now that might cause you to believe that maybe there's some kind of surviving life on Mars?"

Curiosity will land Sunday night shortly before midnight. Large viewing screens will be set up at the University of Utah Language and Communications Building for those interested in watching the landing.

Why Mars again?
Why Mars again?
  • Scientists want to know if any form of life ever existed there.

What will Curiosity do?

  • Curiosity will hunt for basic ingredients of life, including carbon-based compounds, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen.

How did Curiosity get its name?

  • NASA held a naming contest in 2008 open to students and selected Curiosity, proposed by a sixth-grader from Lenexa, Kansas.

What does this mission cost?

  • $2.5 billion, which is $1 billion over its original budget.

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John Hollenhorst

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