NASA Patches Curiosity Rover’s Chem Cam from 235 Million Miles Away

As if the people at NASA haven’t been doing enough awesome stuff lately they just did one insanely long distance software upgrade. The Curiosity rover just got the auto-focus of its “Chem Cam” improved with an update while it is wandering around Mars.

In case you forgot Mars is currently 2.53au (astronomical units) away, which translates into 235.1 million miles away. The scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory previously took nine pictures of each sample at a different focus in attempt to get one usable photo. All of those nine pictures of the soil and rocks would be transmitted back to NASA. Now after the update the rover actually still takes the same amount of photos, but now it will self-analyze those nine photos for the one with the best focus. This update that brings about a very useful new feature, as it only comes in at 40 kilobytes. Engadget points out that that is lighter than the last Android Gmail update.

It is great to see NASA continuing to amaze us with the Curiosity rover’s journey across the surface of Mars. The mission to find out if Mars can support life has been very interesting to watch, but they still have so much more work to do.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Curiosity Rover Finds Nitrogen, Vital for Life, on Mars

Analysis of samples from the SAM instrument suite on NASA’s Curiosity rover – the vehicle currently trundling its way across the surface of Mars – has found nitrogen within Martian sediments. The nitrogen was found in the form of nitrous oxide and may have been released through heat-induced nitrate breakdown.

Nitrogen is key to all known forms of biological life since it is a major component of DNA and RNA, the genetic base code of life, and proteins, which regulate chemical reactions and cell growth.

Dr. Jennifer Stern, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, said, “Finding a biochemically accessible form of nitrogen is more support for the ancient Martian environment at Gale Crater being habitable.”

The samples analysed came from three different sites on the surface of Mars, meaning that nitrogen deposits were not confined to certain area. The sites were a deviation from the primary mission to explore a 3-mile mound named Mt. Sharp, and the detour was considered a risk, though one that has paid off.

“The rock samples were cooked in SAM’s oven and the resulting gases were analyzed. The researchers found a significant amount of nitric oxide, a compound that, before it was cooked, probably came from nitrates,” according to the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The nitrate levels found on Mars by the Curiosity rover’s SAM instruments were comparable to arid areas on Earth, such as the Atacama Desert in South America.

Source: Thenomad