Talking Mars in Montréal

Sandy Selfie Sent from NASA Mars Rover (Photo Credit: NASA)

From July 17-19, three members of Prof. John Moores’ Planetary Volatiles Laboratory – PDF Dr. Christina Smith, MSc. Candidate Charissa Campbell and Undergraduate Researcher Brittney Cooper – attended the semi-annual Science Team Meeting of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (better known as Curiosity). For the first time since Curiosity’s successful landing in August of 2012 the meeting was back on Canadian soil at the CSA’s headquarters in St. Hubert, just outside of Montréal. Over 400 scientists work on the $2.5 Billion mission, supporting daily operations, designing experiments using the spacecraft’s 10 primary instruments (plus 12 engineering cameras) and analyzing the data returned. More than 100 of these researchers from around the world made the trek out to the CSA to attend in person.

While the majority of the scientists who work on the mission have a geological focus, there are a few of us who specialize in the modern Martian environment. The particular speciality of the PVL group is atmospheric imaging using the rover’s Engineering Cameras.  Presentations by the York-based group on our results discussing clouds, dust, winds and the chemistry of the atmosphere were well received by other members of the Team. We also identified ways in which the atmospheric scientists and the geologists can work together to enhance our understanding of Martian processes, past and present.

Five years and 17 km into its mission, the rover remains healthy despite some dents, tears and a patina of dust. While the robot is showing its age, with that age comes wisdom. To date, we have published nearly 300 papers including several dozen in high impact venues such as Science, Nature and Geophysical Research Letters. For a sampling of these results, click here. Even as these results continue to pour in, there are still important discoveries that await us as we climb higher still along the flank of Aeolus Mons.

By: John Moores