NASA rover “Curiosity”: Kiel measuring device delivers new results | – News

Status: 08/19/2022 05:00 a.m

Ten years ago, in August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. On board – a radiation meter from the University of Kiel. Now the researchers are presenting surprising results.

by Stella Kennedy

With a cap over your hair, a protective gown and plastic covers over your shoes – this is the only way you can enter the room. In the clean room of space research at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, there is a strict duty of cleanliness. “We work here with high electrical voltages, if a thread of dust gets into the electronics between two voltages, then there is a short circuit and all the work is gone,” says the Kiel physics professor Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, who is a member of the Mars NASA research teams. “That would be a shame”.

During the day there is more cosmic radiation on Mars

A little understatement: Here, in the astrophysical department of the University of Kiel, they are working on nothing less than Mars research. The radiation meter developed by the Kiel researchers, a handy metal device whose shape itself is reminiscent of a space rocket, was last on board the NASA rover “Curiosity”. The results it delivered are also surprising for the researchers from Kiel: “We found out that the cosmic radiation on Mars is much more variable than we had previously assumed,” reports Wimmer-Schweingruber.

The Kiel physics professor Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber is pleased with the findings that the radiation measuring device has provided.

For example, there is more radiation during the day than at night and the sun also plays an elementary role in the atmosphere on Mars, according to the Kiel physicist. “We see that during solar flares, the radiation increases.” Depending on the phase of the sun, the so-called solar cycle, the researchers determined very different radiation values. Overall, radiation exposure on Mars is about 100 times higher than on Earth. As a result, astronauts would have to shield themselves from the high radiation in caves or on slopes, according to Wimmer-Schweingruber. A space suit, on the other hand, offers little protection from the radiation “which penetrates the entire body and can cause damage everywhere”.

Was there life on Mars?

Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber says that Mars once had a magnetic field like Earth. Since such a shield from cosmic radiation, it could well be that Mars once had life, he says. “But we don’t know,” he states, “because the traces of this life are now being destroyed by the radiation.” Therefore, the new Mars probes would now have to be drilled deep to possibly find traces. “How deep you have to drill depends on our discovery,” says the researcher. You would now know that you would have to drill two meters deep to discover any traces. The NASA rover “Curiosity” managed just two inches, he says.

Protection in the water tank on the way to Mars

Scientists from a Kiel research team hold a video conference.  © NDR Photo: Stella Kennedy

The scientists of the Kiel research team hold a video conference with the international NASA Mars researchers.

The new findings on cosmic rays also bring more knowledge for manned flights to Mars: Since one can protect oneself from the radiation by shielding oneself, one will probably build a place on the probe that flies to Mars, which has a lot of shielding material, says Wimmer- Schweingruber. “For example, it could be a water tank that is built like a hollow cylinder. You then go into this water tank and are shielded from the radiation.” In order to predict the perfect time for such flights, other researchers are currently working on predicting solar flares. “It turns out to be incredibly difficult,” says the physicist. “You have to understand the inside of the sun from A to Z and we’re not that far yet.”

Houses with walls made of 80 cm thick Martian dirt

Regarding the question of whether it will be possible to live on Mars in the future, the physics professor is certain: “There are enough people who would pay to live on Mars.” How this life would then look like, however, is uncertain. According to Wimmer-Schweingruber, one could only live on Mars, if at all, in well-shielded rooms. In any case, the people not only need a thick skin, but above all houses with thick walls. Another result of the Kiel researchers is that the dwellings needed walls made of Martian dirt about 80 cm thick to shield the radiation.

It is possible that the isolated clean room at Kiel University, with its sterile atmosphere, is the perfect place to imagine such Mars houses. Anyone who is outside again and has taken off their smock and cap instinctively breathes a sigh of relief: Welcome back to earth.

Further information

Graphic representation of Mars

Cheers at NASA in the USA and at Kiel University: The “Curiosity” probe landed on Mars in the morning. Also on board: special equipment from Kiel scientists. more

A selfie of NASA's Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars in March 2013. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On August 6, 2012, the mini laboratory lands on the red planet – a reason for celebration for North German scientists too. more

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Schleswig-Holstein Magazine | 08/18/2022 | 19:30 o’clock

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