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Did you know that Galileo Galilei was the first person to watch the planet Mars with his telescope? Well, look how far we have come since then. Now, we have entire organizations dedicated to colonize the red planet. The curiosity about universe and what lies beyond has brought us here.
Till date NASA, Russia, the European Space Agency, China, Japan and the Soviet Union have launched many exploratory missions to Mars. Some of them have failed. A recent example includes ESA's Schiaparelli test lander in the year 2016.
Private organizations have come forward with the technology and ideas of sending everyday people to mars. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX is one of them. Apart from Elon, other countries like China and Russia also aspire to send humans to Mars in the near future. In this article, we will take a look at top 5 scientific instruments developed with the aim of understanding Mar’s geology, atmosphere, environmental conditions, and potential biosignatures.
Mast-mounted Camera System (Mastcam-Z)
Mastcam-Z is the mast-mounted camera system that will be installed on the Perseverance rover. It comes equipped with cameras that will allow you to zoom in and out, focus and take 3D pictures and video at high speed of distant objects on Mars. According to Professor Jim Bell, the principle investigator for the Mastcam-Z cameras, Mastcam-Z would be the main eyes of NASA's next Mars rover.
This instrument will be mounted on the rover mast at the eye level of a six and a half-foot-tall person. Once set on Mars, its main job would be to take high-definition video and 3D images of the Martian surface and features in the atmosphere with a zoom lens to magnify distant targets.
Scientists will benefit a lot from this tool as it would to help them find signs of ancient lakes, streams, and other water-related features on Mars. It would also help them understand the terrain around the Perseverance rover, such as rock and soil textures. Information like this would help the scientists understand whether Mars could have previously supported tiny life forms.
Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA)
This instrument is specifically designed to make weather measurements like wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity. It can also measure the amount and size of dust particles in the Martian atmosphere. The sensors of this instrument will be located on the rover's mast "neck" and on the deck, front and interior of the rover's body.
With a mass of approximately 12 pounds and power upto 17 watts, this technological innovation would help scientists understand how radiation from the sun and space can alter traces of any past life in Mars rocks. Further, its humidity sensor would inform them how water vapour is exchanged between the soil and atmosphere of the red planet.
According to Jose A. Rodriguez Manfredi, the Principal Investigator of MEDA, this instrument would help prepare the scientists for human exploration by providing daily weather report and information on the radiation and wind patterns on Mars.
Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE)
Next, we move on to another interesting piece of scientific instrument developed by NASA for their Mars mission. This instrument is prepared to ensure unhindered oxygen supply during the Mars mission. It will be located on the front and right side of the rover’s interior body.
The main job of MOXIE is to produce oxygen from the Martian carbon-dioxide atmosphere. Liquid oxygen propellant would be necessary to lift off the rocket from the planet. MOXIE is developed under the observation and skill of principal investigator Michael Hecht.
There are certain important facts related to MOXIE which NASA have published on their website. It is going to be a great source of homemade liquid oxygen of Mars which is deemed to be three fourth of the propellant humans need for exploration on the red planet.
Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL)
The acronym PIXL sounds similar to “pixel” which refers to the smallest digital point in an image. The word ‘pixel’ was first used in the research papers written by Frederic C. Billingsley, a digital imaging pioneer. He worked in Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Interestingly, the tool PIXL is also being developed at JPL.
PIXL will be used to detect signs of biofilms made by microbes in the Martian environment. Biofilms is a surface formed by a group of microbes when they stick close to each other. PIXL is engineered to run on a power of about 25 watts. It has a caliberation target of about 0.033 pounds and will ensure a data return of approximately 16 megabits per experiment.
It is designed like a compact lunch box for ease of use. It features an X-ray beam and tiny motors. The X-ray beam works as a laser pointer to find any small traces of life that microbes maybe left behind and the motors give it the flexibility to move in any direction.
Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX)
The mars exploration won’t be restricted to just the top of the surface. The secrets hidden beneath would also be uncovered. RIMFAX is developed exactly for that. It will help scientists to discover the signs of life hidden beneath the surface of Mars.
With an ability to detect ice, water or salty brines of more than 30 feet beneath the surface of Mars, this instrument is sure to help uncover important answers pertaining to the possibility of life on Mars. Its radar would penetrate the underground layers of rock and ice on Mars surface to discover hidden unknown secrets.
According to NASA, this is the first radar tool that would be sent to the surface of Mars. The world awaits to know whether Mars could actually become a home they have always dreamed it to be. These incredible scientific instruments developed by the team of scientists will help give us a definitive answer to that.