Press release archive: 2012

Curiosity rover landed successfully on Mars – carrying FMI's research instruments

7.8.2012 12:04

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed successfully on Mars on 6 August at about 08:31 a.m. Finnish time. The laboratory is carrying instruments made by the Finnish Meteorological Institute for measuring pressure and humidity in the Martian atmosphere.

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

Also known as Curiosity rover, the mobile laboratory reached its destination on Mars on 6 August at about 08:31 a.m. Finnish time. The landing exceeded all expectations, and the first data from Mars indicate that Curiosity is intact and has started to check its technical systems. The rover is the size of a car and weighs about 900 kilograms. It arrived at Mars after a journey of nearly nine months. The rover landed in Gale crater near the equator of Mars. There it is expected to move and explore the area for at least one Mars year, or about 680 Earth days. At the same time, the rover will make observations, for instance, about the geology of the area, the structure of the surface layer, and environmental conditions. If the rover works without problems, its operating lifespan can be extended.

Instruments for pressure and humidity measurements from Finland

The Finnish Meteorological Institute has provided the MSL rover with instruments for pressure and humidity measurements (REMS-P and REMS-H) in the Martian atmosphere. The instruments are part of the REMS instrument package for environmental monitoring, supplied for the rover by INTA-CAB of Spain. The biggest advantage of the REMS-P and REMS-H instruments is their excellent accuracy and small size, as they weigh only 15 grams (REMS-H) and 35 grams (REMS-P).

The Meteorological Institute’s REMS-H and REMS-P instruments will give accurate readings of pressure and humidity in the Martian atmosphere. The intention is to compile time series on pressure and humidity for the duration of the entire MSL programme (one Mars year). After the Viking landers (1976–1982), this would be the second measurement series covering a full Mars year. The observations help explore the behaviour of the Martian atmosphere over a wide scale: from seconds to seasonal variation. The fact that the laboratory will move during the research programme will introduce local variation and may take the rover to areas showing variation in the water content of the ground and the humidity of the atmosphere.

The MSL will also look for residues and evidence of water that may have filled Gale crater in the past. The MSL will not try to find life on Mars, but it may well show whether Mars has sometimes had conditions favourable to life.

The pressure instrument delivered by the Meteorological Institute is based on sensor technology developed by Vaisala Corporation. The following Finnish companies have also participated in the project: Selmic Oy, Micro Analog Systems Oy, Optomekaniikka Oy and Ideal Engineering Oy.The Meteorological Institute has previously built similar devices for several interplanetary spacecraft, such as the Huygens probe (ESA/NASA), which landed successfully on Titan, a moon of Saturn, in January 2005. Corresponding equipment was also involved in NASA’s Mars Phoenix spacecraft in 2008.

The atmosphere of Mars resembles that of Earth

Consisting of carbon dioxide, the Martian atmosphere is dry and cold and has a density of about one hundredth of that of the Earth atmosphere. Since the axial tilt and the length of the solar day are almost the same on Mars and on Earth, the Martian and Earth atmospheres behave in the same way. The similar features of the Martian and Earth atmospheres give rise to comparative planetary research: by exploring Mars, we can also learn something new about Earth and its atmosphere, which is why this is an important object of study for the Meteorological Institute. The similarity of the atmospheres has made it possible for the Meteorological Institute and the University of Helsinki to transfer the weather forecast model (HIRLAM), used for instance in the Nordic countries, for research use on Mars.


Additional information:

Maria Genzer, Senior Research Scientist, tel. 040 533 3760, maria.genzer@fmi.fi (NASA/JPL, Pasadena, California. NB. A time difference of 10 hours)

Ari-Matti Harri, Head of Group, tel. 050 337 5623, ari-matti.harri@fmi.fi
Jouni Polkko, Senior Research Scientist, tel. 029 539 4653, jouni.polkko@fmi.fi
Walter Schmidt, Research Manager, tel. 050 324 3107, walter.schmidt@fmi.fi
Harri Haukka, Research Scientist, tel. 044 6510, harri.haukka@fmi.fi

Website of the Mars Science Laboratory:
http://space.fmi.fi/msl

 

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