Scientists have not found any signs of life on Mars yet, but they say a robotic vehicle called “Curiosity” is helping them learn a lot about the planet’s history and climate.
Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 after travelling through space for more than eight months.
It was sent to Mars by scientists from NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the United States.
Curiosity is a motorized vehicle called a “rover” which is controlled by scientists back on Earth.
It is about the size of a car and has six wheels that allow it to travel across the planet’s surface and climb over sand and rocks.
It also has a robotic arm, cameras, and instruments such as a scoop, drill and microscope that allow it to examine things it finds on the surface. Then it transmits the information back to Earth.
The main purpose of Curiosity’s mission is to find out if anything could live on Mars, either now or in the past. On Nov. 2, NASA scientists held a press conference to discuss what Curiosity had found in its first two months on Mars.
The rover has found soil that is similar to the sand formed by volcanoes on Earth. Scientists say that studying the minerals in Martian soil will help them understand what conditions were like on the planet in the past.
Curiosity also found smooth, flat stones like the ones found on river beds and seashores on Earth, where their rough edges have been worn down by water. Mars is very cold and dry now, but scientists say the smooth stones tell them that a river used to run through the place where they were found. The size and shapes of the stones will provide clues to how fast and deep that river was.
Curiosity has been testing the atmosphere around Mars for a type of gas called methane, but so far it has not found any. On Earth, most methane is produced by plants or animals. Methane on Mars might indicate that some type of micro-organisms – tiny plants or animals – lived there.
Curiosity is the fourth rover to be sent to Mars. It will continue to explore the planet for about two years.
By Kathleen Tilly
Why do you think so much time and money is being invested into space exploration? What could be the implications of Curiosity’s findings? How might these discoveries affect us on earth?
Reading Prompt: Demonstrating Understanding
What did you know about Mars before you read this article? What did you learn about Mars and the rover, Curiosity, after reading the article? Summarize the main ideas and give support from the article.
Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by identifying important ideas and some supporting details (OME, Reading: 1.4).
Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by summarizing important ideas and citing supporting details (OME, Reading: 1.4).
Demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex texts by summarizing important ideas and citing a variety of details that support the main idea (OME, Reading: 1.4).
Grammar Feature: Verbs
Curiosity is a very busy robot! What are all of the verbs (action words) that you can connect to Curiosity’s work on Mars?