Sunday, August 5, 2012

University of Guelph Eyes on Weekend Mars Landing, Mars Researchers to be on CTV

GUELPH, Ontario August 03, 2012 - University of Guelph Campus Bulletin

This weekend, University of Guelph researchers will be looking and listening for signs of “life” from another planet.

Guelph researchers helped develop and fine-tune the rover’s alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) intended to measure chemical elements in soil and rock. The Guelph team is led by physics professor Ralf Gellert and includes physics professor Iain Campbell, research associate Nick Boyd, graduate students Glynis Perrett and Scott van Bommel, and post-doc Irina Pradler.

Gellert and Boyd are scheduled to appear on CTV's National News tonight at 11 p.m. talking about the research and scheduled landing. Gellert was also featured today in a story and video in the Globe and Mail about the rover and Mars mission. (Watch the video here).

Gellert and Boyd and other members of the team travelled to California earlier this week to await the scheduled landing on Mars of a rover complete with a Guelph-tested scientific instrument that is Canada’s mission contribution.

Launched last November, the robotic vehicle Curiosity – officially called the Mars Science Laboratory – is expected to touch down at the red planet’s Gale Crater Aug. 5 at 10:31 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time). The descent will involve a parachute and a “sky crane” to lower the rover on a tether to the surface.

Boyd, a research associate in the Department of Physics, will be among international scientists – including U of G researchers -- awaiting signals from the rover and orbiting satellites to confirm a safe landing. Referring to the planned gathering in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, he says,

“There will be a lot of nervous people.”

Team members will spend about three months at the JPL working on Mars time before returning to Guelph (a Mars day is 40 minutes longer than on Earth). Back at U of G, they will run day-to-day APXS operations and analysis from a specially equipped room in the MacNaughton Building.

Scientists hope the instrument will tell us about changes in soil and rock on Mars, and provide clues about the planet’s suitability for life.

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