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Curiosity shows Mars ‘could support life’

The latest pictures beamed from the space rover on the Red Planet include rounded pebbles, probably created by the action of a river.

The space rover on the Martian surface. Picture courtesy of NASA

The Curiosity space rover on the Martian surface – picture courtesy of NASA

There are also sedimentary ‘mudstones’ which may have once formed the bed of a shallow lake. Professor Sanjeev Gupta, leading the NASA geology team in London, says this evidence that there was water on the Martian surface in the past shows that the planet “was habitable“. Digital images sent from Curiosity’s cameras to Gupta’s geologists¬† at Imperial College are hugely magnified and displayed in a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.

NASA diagram

The thirteen-metre-wide Mars Window offers a unique view to visitors. Standing in front of the moving image you can look out for tyre-tracks left by Curiosity and the earlier rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, in the pinkish dusty surface of Mars. Captions appear on the screen, triggered by stepping on crosses marked on the floor. So visitors can identify features such as the Gale Crater and Yellow Knife Bay, and experience the shifting light and shadows over the desert landscape. Professor Sanjeev Gupta says he is excited to see familiar images displayed on such a big screen. “There’s a lot of rock” he told FI. “It’s difficult to know which rock we should choose for the rover to examine more closely”. Sanjeev Gupta

Mars windowStar-Cluster-Pismis24-NASA-371

The Mars window is the centrepiece of a unique collection of images showing the history of astronomical pictures and photographs. The Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula explains that some of the pictures mark turning points in scientific discovery. Galileo and English scientist James Harriott depicted the Moon seen through a telescope, challenging the orthodox beliefs about the nearest heavenly body to Earth. Another picture shows a solar eclipse in 1919 which depicts how physicist Arthur Eddington set out to prove or disprove Einstein’s theory of relativity.
All the images in the visions of the Universe are scientifically significant and accurate. They show too how space and the stars inspire artists and musicians. In the Middle Ages scholars believed that space was not silent but filled with the sound of stars and planets moving across the firmament. Composers have been working with the Public Astronomer at Greenwich to create a contemporary version of this, the ‘music of the spheres’.

Universe Soundtrack Marek Kukula
Visions of the Universe is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, until September 15th 2013.