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Tens of thousands of people stared at screens waiting for the confirmation that the seemingly insane landing of the Curiosity rover was a success. Since then, the SUV-sized robot has been driving around the surface of Mars performing experiments and collecting samples. Later today, NASA plans to reveal some of the results of the experiments done on the Martian soil in a live webcast.
Rumors surfaced last week that NASA had some news regarding the work being done on Mars so far. Since one of the primary missions of the Curiosity rover is to determine whether or not the red planet is capable of supporting microbial life, the rumor grew wings quickly. It intensified to the point that NASA had to release a statement that their announcement was nothing life-changing. The purpose of the webcast today is to discuss the work being done so far, and to comment on the work that has not been done on Curiosity’s full compliment of instruments on the surface of Mars.
Currently, Curiosity is conducting experiments in an ancient streambed that was discovered recently. Since it appears that water was flowing on the surface at some point, this location is a great spot for searching for evidence of life. The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer will be able to perform experiments on the surface and transmit the results back to NASA, the first of which will be discussed later today. Principal investigators for both the SAM and the X-Ray Spectrometer will discuss their preliminary findings, as well as discuss the next steps in investigating this streambed.
A second separate webcast will be held today to discuss the progress of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, and announce findings from the now 45 year old craft designed for deep space exploration. The twin Voyager craft have traveled farther than anything else NASA has ever deployed, and recently the first of these two craft has delivered information to be announced in the webcast.
NASA’s Curiosity webcast is set to start at 12PM EST, with the Voyager webcast following at 2PM EST. Both webcasts can be seen on Local Access television or on NASA’s UStream account.
Update: The purpose of the samples that have been grabbed by Curiosity so far has been to capture samples that are similar to those that have been captured by previous rovers. Curiosity’s journey thus far has been to travel from the initial landing site to the riverbed. Basic organic compounds have been discovered, but the team has not been able to determine yet whether or not the organic compounds are indigenous to Mars. What made this initial test so important was the methods used to identify the samples so far. All of the analysis tools on Curiosity have been used on the samples that have been gathered at this site.
The important milestone with this sample gathering is that all of the equipment that was added to Curiosity has been tested and proven functional. Simply landing the craft on Mars wasn’t enough if, for example, things like the SAM instrument ceased to function when it arrived. Now that all of the individual pieces of Curiosity have been tested, the team can begin to capture more exotic samples from different points in the riverbed and conduct more interesting tests with the primary mission in mind. Curiosity will leave the riverbed after the holidays and move to Mount Sharp, which is the point at the center of the crater that the rover is currently occupying.