ASU astrogeologist will discuss the impact of rovers on Mars
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Soon after NASA landed its first remote-controlled rover on Mars in 1997, an avalanche of data fired back 94 million miles to Earth quickly began to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the storied Red Planet.
Today, after nearly two decades of collecting stunning photos of the planet’s landscape, along with a treasure trove of chemical analysis of Mars’ rocky soil, scientists have drawn such a sharp picture of Mars’ true nature that it sets the stage for a manned mission to the planet that NASA is planning to launch sometime in the 2030s.
Exactly what the Mars rovers (there have been four deployed so far) accomplished in their missions is the subject of a presentation by a leading Mars researcher on March 24 at the Challenger Learning Center’s IMAX Theater. James Rice, an astrogeologist from the Mars Spaceflight Facility at Arizona State University, will present “Wheels on Mars: The Adventures and Discoveries of the Mars Rovers” beginning at 7 that evening.
The program is the second event in the 2016 HORIZONS Spring Speaker Series sponsored by the Tallahassee Scientific Society, a local nonprofit organization. The series has run from February through May each year since 2012.
Rice is a specialist in the geology of both the moon and Mars. He’s spent more than 25 years conducting geological research for both NASA and other government agencies and often at some of the most remote places on Earth (including, as a diver, beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica).
At ASU, he leads the Mars program’s geology team that since 2004 has studied more than 100,000 images captured by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity and analyzed hundreds of samples of rocks and soil collected from both the planet’s surface and from underground.
“Our discoveries have rewritten the scientific book on Mars,” Rice said. “We’ve found abundant evidence for past water activity in the form of ancient lake beds, hot springs and geysers, streams and rivers. All of this information paves the way for astronauts to explore Mars.”
Only two of the Mars rovers are still working. After 12 years, Opportunity is still climbing steep Martian slopes while the $2.5 billion Curiosity, which landed in 2012 and is by far the largest and most sophisticated rover of them all, fires a steady stream of high-resolution images and data almost daily to NASA headquarters.
Doors to the Challenger Center will open at 6 p.m. and tickets will be on sale in the lobby. Tickets also may be purchased in advance by visiting the Society’s website at www.TallySci.org. Cost is $8 for members and $15 for non-members.
The series resumes in April with a presentation by acclaimed honeybee biologist Tom Seeley of Cornell University. Seeley, author of three books on the behavior and social life of bees, will present “The Amazing Swarm: How Honeybees Get Smart” on April 28.