Science will rule on July 28 when friends of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory will join together for a fun-filled day to celebrate the upcoming Mars landing of the Curiosity rover, the most advanced robot ever sent to another world.
The free, family-friendly event called Summer Science Saturday will include activities, displays and lectures at the UA Kuiper Space Sciences Building from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Curiosity rover on the Mars Science Laboratory mission is the largest, most advanced rover commissioned by NASA to date. It will carry laboratory instruments to analyze samples of rocks, soil and atmosphere and will investigate whether Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
The landing is scheduled for Aug. 5. The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Lab, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which also designed, developed and assembled the rover.
Two UA professors are part of the diverse international team contributing to the instrumentation of Curiosity:
Robert Downs, professor of geosciences, is co-principal investigator working on the chemistry and mineralogy instrument that will analyze powdered rock and soil samples delivered by Curiosity’s robotic arm.
William V. Boynton of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is working on the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument, known as DAN, which will shoot neutrons into the ground and measure how they are scattered. Neutrons that collide with hydrogen atoms bounce off with a characteristic decrease in energy, like one billiard ball hitting another. By measuring the energies of the reflected neutrons, DAN can detect the fraction that was slowed in these collisions and therefore can detect the amount of hydrogen present.
At the Saturday event, attendees will have an array of free activities to choose from including the Physics Factory, fun with robotics and meteorite displays. Those who attend also will have an opportunity to make simulated comets, learn impact cratering dynamics, discover the principles behind Newton's cradle, enjoy optical illusions and learn about spectrograms and the science behind paper airplanes.
There also will be displays and information about Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory and the OSIRIS-REx mission and lectures in Kuiper Room 308 by some of the UA’s finest faculty members.
The lectures are scheduled as follows:
- 1-1:45 p.m.: Professor Alfred McEwen: "HiRISE Imaging of Mars Landing Sites, Landers and Rovers." The HiRISE camera images Mars at scales as small as 25 to 30 centemeters (about 1 foot) per pixel, a scale needed to resolve meter-scale features such as boulders, which can damage a lander or rover landing on top of it. Its scales have made HiRISE essential to choosing the safest landing sites for the Phoenix Mars Lander and Mars Science Laboratory Rover. HiRISE also can help plan rover traverses, as has been done with the Mars Exploration Rover Missions, Spirit and Opportunity. HiRISE also takes pictures of lander and rover hardware on the Martian surface, including the Viking 1 and 2 landers and the Mars Pathfinder. The HiRISE camera also captured the Phoenix Mars Lander mission in May 2008 as it descended on its parachute and will try to do this again for Mars Science Laboratory.
- 2-2:45 p.m.: Veronica Bray, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory associate staff scientist: "The Dramatic Formation of Gale Crater: What Happens When a Meteor Hits a Planet?" The 96-mile wide Gale Crater formed when a meteor hit the surface of Mars, releasing more energy than thousands of atomic bombs combined. Bray will take the audience through a look at what effects large impacts like Gale have had on the Earth in the past and how the size and speed of the meteor influenced the final shape of the crater.
- 3-3:45 p.m.: Shane Byrne, assistant professor of planetary sciences: "Wet Clay on Ancient Mars." Much like rocky layers in the Grand Canyon tell us about Arizona's history, the layers in Gale Crater have a story to tell about ancient Mars and how it turned into the present.
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory