Danish scientists to analyse Mars rover data

After arriving on Mars after a nine-month journey, NASA’s Curiosity rover will beam data about the martian soil to a team of Danish scientists for analysis

Cheers erupted when the Mars Curiosity rover landed without a hitch on Monday morning, though the joy was not restricted to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California.

Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute is collaborating with the American space agency to analyse the data sent back from the rover, which may lead to a better understanding of the origins and history of the Red Planet.

The rover took nine months to get to Mars and landed flawlessly in the 154 kilometre-wide Gale Crater near the planet’s equator. The area is significant as the crater has some of the oldest sediments on the planet, dating back more than 3.5 billion years to a time when water is thought to have flowed on the planet’s surface.

The secret to understanding the planet lies in its soil – it is still uncertain whether it is actually red. While the larger magnetic iron particles in the soil do have a red hue, it is the smaller dust particles that give the planet its colour.

“The environment is dry and there is lots of dust," Kjartan Kinch, from the Niels Bohr Institute’s Mars Group, told Ingeniøren. "We want to know how the dust was created and what it is made of. We know that it is magnetic, but we have so far not identified the minerals that make the planet red.

“The dust and its origin is interesting because Mars bears many similarities with Earth. We could use it as a museum about how the Earth used to be before life arose.”

The rover, which weighs a tonne and is the size of a small car, can scoop up and analyse small samples of material using a range of onboard instruments.

Morten Bo Madsen, the head of the Niels Bohr Institute, is currently at the Jet Propulsion Lab where data from Curiosity is received and analysed.

A veteran NASA collaborator, Madsen has worked as a researcher on several other Mars missions and explained how Curiosity will make an initial analysis of promising soil by shooting the ground with a laser.

“By analysing the spectra of the light that is formed when you shoot a laser at the ground, you can determine the elemental composition, and this can tell us a lot of interesting things,” Madsen wrote in a press release.” We can then get the rover to drive over to the area and take a sample, which is placed in the x-ray diffractometer that sits inside the rover. It is a bit complicated to get a sample with a lot of the very finest dust, but we hope it succeeds.”

The Danish Mars group is comprised of seven researchers with different specialties, including a nano-geoscientist and experts in the study of organic molecules and minerals using x-ray diffractometry.





  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.