Danes providing the eyes to discover ‘Is there life on Mars?’

DTU Space’s super-camera will determine whether there are fossils or bacteria lurking under the Red Planet’s rocky surface

“Is [or was] their life on Mars?” is the question on everyone’s lips at NASA, and make no mistake, the contribution of DTU Space to the space administration’s mission to assess the Red Planet’s suitability for human habitation has been no “god-awful small affair”!

READ MORE: Technology from Aarhus part of space mission to Mars

Indeed, following the selection of their super-camera Pixl to provide the eyes for NASA’s new Mars Rover, the 30 technicians and scientists on the Danish team are waxing lyrical about the forthcoming mission in a way that David Bowie would have been proud of.

The Holy Grail of science
David Pedersen, a postdoc at DTU Space and one of the developers of the super-camera, told Videnskab that “if we found signs of life, it would be like finding the Holy Grail and confirming Jesus’ existence”.

His colleague Professor John Leif Jørgensen then upped the rhetoric stakes.

“You send a rocket out to answer some of the deepest questions we have: What is life all about? How did it begin? Where are we going?” he told Videnskab. Cue the chorus.

55.7 km to 3 cm in 20 minutes
Pixl, which was selected by NASA from a field of 58 competing cameras, will provide images so detailed they will look like they are 3 cm away – not bad for a camera 55.7 million km from Earth on a 20-minute delay.

READ MORE: Danes contribute to Mars oxygen machine project

Pixl will map the geology of Mars using red laser beams and x-rays to assess soil composition for any evidence of fossils and bacteria in the last 3.5 billion years.

“Pixl shoot x-rays against the stones, which are reflected back in certain ways, depending on which elements are in the stones,” explained Pedersen.