February 1, 2014
Categories: Mars, NASA, Russia, Science

RIA Novosti – Russian scientists have proposed an instrument for an upcoming NASA Mars rover to search for underground water that could support life on the Red Planet, a lead scientist at the institute that submitted the project said Thursday.

“On the surface everything looks the same, just layers of dust and rock, but our instrument can see minerals of scientific interest underground,” Igor Mitrofanov told RIA Novosti.

The NORD instrument designed by Russia’s Space Research Institute was one of 58 proposals submitted to NASA earlier this month for inclusion on the agency’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover. NASA is due to announce the chosen experiments in March.

The Russian instrument would build on earlier water-scanning devices built by the institute for a series of NASA probes.

One of those devices, the High Energy Neutron Detector on the Mars Odyssey orbiter, helped detect huge quantities of frozen underground water on the Red Planet in 2002. A later NASA mission, the Phoenix lander, confirmed that finding.

Last year, a similar device aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered that some regions of Martian soil contain as much water – six percent by weight – as soil in deserts on Earth where microbes are known to live.

That instrument works by beaming high-energy neutrons deep into the ground. Hydrogen atoms trapped in water molecules absorb some of the neutrons.

The new detector will instead look for gamma radiation produced when cosmic rays crash into the Martian surface.

“With gamma rays we can see the elemental composition of the soil. The spectral lines that are emitted by the soil when bombarded by cosmic rays indicate how much iron, silicon, calcium, etc. are present under the surface,” Mitrofanov said.

The rover is planned to be able to dig up soil during its journey across the Red Planet and store it on board. Ultimately it could be offloaded onto a future lander and launched back to Earth for laboratory analysis.

“The most favorable conditions for life on Mars existed 3 billion years ago, which is why detecting it is so difficult. It cannot be done with a relatively simple and compact device that can be placed on a Mars rover,” Mitrofanov said.

Russia’s sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos failed to leave Earth’s orbit and burned up in the atmosphere two years ago, but the head of the Lavochkin company that built the craft said Tuesday that a similar mission could be ready to transport Martian soil to Earth by 2024.

Image – a sketch of the NORD rover designed by Russia’s Space Research Institute, credit – NASA

More from this category:
March 3, 2015

Russia plans to launch 12 boosters in the next three months, – spokesman for Rocket and Space industry reports. According to him spring program will…

full story
April 9, 2019

9 launches of “Soyuz” rockets with OneWeb space satellites will be performed from the Baikonur cosmodrome, 8 launches – from the Vostochny cosmodrome. Previously it…

full story
April 2, 2014

Progress M-23M cargo vehicle launch to the ISS was scheduled for April 9. The vehicle will be launched from Baikonur spaceport, – Roscosmos reports. The…

full story
November 10, 2021

The Fregat upper stage, meant to launch the Russian Luna-25 spacecraft, was dispatched from NPO Lavochkin (part of Roscosmos) on November 9, 2021 to be…

full story
May 22, 2019

A final assembly of the “Proton-M” space launch vehicle started at the Baikonur cosmodrome. It will launch the Russian communications and television satellite “Yamal-601” in…

full story
May 22, 2019

The spacecraft “Meteor-M” № 2-2 and equipment for its assembly and testing arrived at the Ignatievo Airport of the Amur Region. On May 21, the…

full story
November 22, 2013

“Rokot” booster with 3 European Swarm satellites designed to study earth’s magnetic field was launched from Plesetsk spaceport, representative of Russian Defense Ministry press-office for…

full story
May 24, 2019

The ceremony of presenting of State awards of the Russian Federation took place on May 23 in the Catherine Hall of the Kremlin. Outstanding Russians,…

full story