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Fall 2015

Monday, October 5 at 3:00 pm, 24-115
Nina Lanza, NASA engineer
Three years of exploration with the Curiosity Mars rover

Since her arrival at Mars on August 5, 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring the martian surface and providing exciting new insights about the geological history of that planet. The goal of this mission is to determine the past and present habitability of Mars. As such, the search for water, hydrated minerals, and organic molecules is particularly important. Over the past three years, Curiosity has discovered abundant evidence that her landing site, Gale crater, once contained persistent liquid water in the form of a lake and numerous stream systems. Additionally, the rover has also detected signs of variable methane in the atmosphere, indicating that a source of organic carbon is being produced in the present day environment by as-yet unknown processes. Curiosity has recently begun an ascent of Mt. Sharp, a mountain of sediments ~19,000 feet high in the center of the crater, to investigate what appear to be layers of clay, sulfate, and iron oxide minerals.

In this talk we will discuss recent scientific results from the mission, how to drive a rover, and some of the obstacles faced by Curiosity along her traverse. We will also discuss an ANS-relevant subset of the rover payload, including the neutron and energetic particle detectors (DAN and RAD), the plutonium RTG that powers the rover, and the ChemCam remote chemistry instrument (led by Los Alamos). To date ChemCam has obtained compositional information for ~300,000 locations on over 4,000 geological targets on Mars, an unprecedented amount of data for a single payload instrument. The knowledge gained from ChemCam on the Curiosity mission will be applied to the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, for which Los Alamos has been selected to build another instrument called SuperCam.

Bio: Nina Lanza is a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Space and Remote Sensing Sciences group. She is currently living her dream of working on a spaceship with lasers on Mars as part of the ChemCam instrument team on the Curiosity rover mission. Nina is broadly interested in understanding the history of water on the martian surface at a variety of scales. Her most recent work focuses on manganese concentration and deposition in the martian environment and its implications for habitability. Nina was born and raised in Boston, MA and was educated at Smith College (BA, Astronomy), Wesleyan University (MA, Earth and Environmental Sciences), and the University of New Mexico (Ph.D., Earth and Planetary Sciences).

An ANS Seminar

Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, 24-107, Cambridge, MA 02139

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