Curiosity on vacation

Curiosity has been on the red planet for little more than 1 Martian year now, heroically travelling and exploring its rocky surface.

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Self-portrait of Curiosity

She found rounded pebbles, mud stones and clay minerals – evidence that “water once coursed vigorously over the surface” (1) … more than 3 billion years ago.

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Extremely good news if you are looking for life, as Curiosity is.

“Follow the water” astrobiologists say (2).

Curious_Myths_p_81_rodIn fact Curiosity’s main mission is to answer the question: Was Mars ever capable of supporting (microbial) life. And if it was, in what form?

Our equals? Creatures that fit in our tree of life? A tree that spreads its branches far beyond our planet?

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Charles Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree (1837)

Or aliens… life that does not fit in our tree? A second genesis?

little green manBig questions for Curiosity to answer.

When I think about her, far away in that cold, dusty and lifeless (still waiting for the prove) desert, I cannot help it, but feel some pitty.

We make her work hard.
After she has traveled for 2 Earth years on the red planet’s hostile surface where temperatures may drop to -150 °C and dust storms reign, we want her to move on and climb Mount Sharp which rises more than 5 kilometers above the crater floor in which she landed.

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At the base of Mount Sharp

And as if this isn’t enough, she is also a robot, created with the utmost care by a highly specialized NASA team of experts, but still a creature of metal, screws, software and the like.

Which, of course, is also what saves her. At least, as far as we know now, screws and software are not animated, nor susceptible to tiredness, loneliness … nor curiosity.

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Curiosity’s Facebook profile picture

It’s us humans that have sent her out there. Out of our curiosity, which has definitely brought us excitingly far.

Still I am afraid Curiosity’s mission will become as infinite as our curiosity.
For sure without a day of vacation.

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A day at the beach on Mars, more than 3 billion years ago?

Of course I am writing this lying on the beach, being on vacation.

I had been looking forward to this moment for months… I would just lay infinitely on the pebbles, float infinitely on the sea surface. No computer screen, no daily choirs, no distractions whatsoever and, as far as possible, no thoughts: curiosity on vacation.

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Conero beach in Le Marche, Italy, Earth

Already the first day it did not work out this way.

After I had been staring for a couple of hours at the incoming waves and the rounded pebbles that rolled backwards when the sea withdrew, making the tinkling sound of a trembling cupboard full of delicate porcelain tableware, I started to help my daughter who was collecting “only the red pebbles” to create a piece of red beach.

And while I was doing this, I started thinking – I could not help it! (I heard the cupboard shake frighteningly on the background) –  about the red planet and Curiosity who was looking tirelessly for water. Not entirely my fault, it was also the beach with its Martian traits.

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martian rocks

I took a quick dive into the sea to wash Curiosity out of my head, but I could not get rid of her, she must have disposed over suction cups, like the round goby fish does, and be completely water resistant – that is, the miniature version of her in my head.

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Round goby with a suction cup on its belly

But since I am not a robot, I did not resist the temptation and looked her up on my iphone.

The more I read about her journey, the more I got worried and frightening questions arose – Was it a travel into the future? Would Earth look the same 3 billion years from now? Would a rounded pebble found on Earth evoke the same sensation by some sort of living beings from another planet, one day? Was Curiosity our archaeologist of the future?

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What will future archaeologists find on Earth?

Luckily the tree of life in my immediate surroundings was that present, exuberant and convincing that I was able to land quickly and smoothly on Earth again without losing too much precious vacation time: Earth still had its life, no digging necessary, and its sea, it lay in front of my nose and actually touched my toes.

The rest of my vacation I explored the bottom of the sea infinitely – thanks to Curiosity.

exploring bottom of the sea

As I had not only learned, once again, that you need to appreciate what you have,

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Blue marble

but especially that exploring is in the details.

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Rounded pebbles in sea water and signs of life, i.e. shells

 

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Resources

(1) National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity (NASA Facts)
(2) Life Beyond the Earth: Christopher McKay (video)

 

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Image credits

(1) NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Julian Herzog [Public domain], url 
(2) NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS (Link to a Watery Past) [Public domain], url
(3) Sabine Baring-Gould [Public domain], url
(4) Charles Darwin [Public domain or Public domain], url
(5) Drawerofshadows [Public domain], url
(6) NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS [Public domain], url
(7) NASA [Public domain], url
(8) The ScienceChannel, NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity: Historic Landing (Youtube video), url
(9) Klearchos Kapoutsis (Flickr: Red Beach) [CC-BY-2.0], url
(10-12) Beyond the Frontier [CC-BY-2.0]
(13) Peter van der Sluijs [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], url
(14) Zinneke [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, url
(15) Beyond the Frontier [CC-BY-2.0]
(16) NASA [Public domain], url

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