NASA’s Researchers Measured the Gravity and Rock Density by Re-purposing Curiosity’s Sensors

Engineers working on NASA’s Curiosity rover repurposed the rover’s navigation to determine the gravitational pull of the Red Planet. In a new study in Science, researchers explain how they reused sensors to drive the Curiosity rover and turned them into gravimeters. The newly discovered technique allowed the researchers to perceive how the giant Martian mountain base formed. NASA’s Mars probe landed on the floor of the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater previously, in August 2012. Curiosity explored the Red Land which resulted in fruitful results. The observations show that in ancient times, Gale Crater harbored a lake-like-stream for an extended period. On the other hand, Gale Crater is fascinating for other reasons as well. It contains a mountain which is 5.5 km tall present in the center of the crater.

Researchers say the hill is a notable geological abnormality that has no close parallel on our planet. There are many mountains within craters on the Red Planet, but only some of them are similar to Mount Sharp. Researchers still are unsure about the development of hill inside the Gale Crater. They theorize that once the crater contained residue and debris. But the consideration is that many years of storm and erosion mined the mountain. Scientists made a way to measure the gravity of the surface. Currently, there are no scientific tools on the rover to measure the gravitational pull. But the scientists discovered by taking data from engineering sensor present on Curiosity. The system used is similar to our smartphones accelerometer which detects the location. Researchers used the accelerometers and gyroscopes present on the rover.

Study’s lead author, Kevin Lewis, said the navigational system is not as sensitive as a gravimeter, but they managed to make it. The researchers can track the movement of rover across the Martian surface via its sensor. The same sensors measure the gravity when the rover is standing in one place. Lewis said the lower levels of Mount Sharp are spongy and porous. Researchers thought that the lower levels could be compact and hard. The new technique allowed them to measure the average density of rocks. Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada, says still there are many questions about the Mount Sharp. But the paper adds an essential piece to the puzzle. He is thrilled that NASA’s creative researchers and engineers are still finding revolutionary ways to make new scientific discoveries with the rover.

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