Le 30 mars 2021, Curiosity — le rover de la Nasa qui explore la surface de Mars depuis 2012 — prenait un selfie devant le mont Mercou, un rocher de six mètres de haut posé dans le cratère Gale. Dans les semaines et les mois qui viennent, les chercheurs attendent de lui qu’il leur renvoie des informations précises sur la composition chimique des strates qui composent le mont Sharp qui se dresse au centre du cratère. Objectif : comprendre les changements climatiques martiens. © Nasa, JPL-Caltech, MSSS

“For the first time, we can track the evolution of climate over several million years.”

When it landed on Mars in February, Perseverance kind of stole the show from another rover: Curiosity. It’s been nearly ten years now that the latter cleared the Gale Crater. Thanks to the ChemCam telescope, a French-American team just discovered that, in the past, the Martian climate alternated between droughts and wetter periods. William Rabin, National Center for Scientific Research researcher explains.

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 mission captured stunning photos of its rover landing in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. © Nasa / JPL-Caltech

In 2012 , Rover curiosity Landed on Mars. Heavy machine about 900 strength Kilograms. It aims to explore a giant crater, 150 kilometers in diameter, Gale Crater. “In the middle of this hole, we find the remains of its filling Sediments. to Sedimentary rocks Partially eroded, forming a mountain five kilometers high – Mount Sharp or Aiolis Mons Who recorded a part of Mars’ history.William Rabin, a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, explains in the introduction.

“AgoOrbitWe already have an idea of ​​the mineral composition of the slopes of Mount Sharp. But to find out more, we had to go there. This is done now. We were able to produce images that reveal in detail the organization of the sedimentary layers and the conditions in which they were formed. “ These change drastically over hundreds of meters of depth in the terrain explored. betrayal weather changes Happened in the past.

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William Rapin is part of the Franco-American team working with Rover Curiosity of. It is more specialized inChemCam Instrument – to Chemistry camera completed. “ The peculiarity of this tool – other than the fact that it was made in France – is that it is equipped with telescope. In principle, this is used for concentration The laser To analyze rocks near the rover. But this time, we switched over to using this telescope for image recording and analysis Protrusions In the landscape as Curiosity approached Mount Sharp. “

Climate change on Mars

Thanks to the high-resolution images, the telescope ChemCam So I gave to Researchers A first glimpse of this region. “We noticed new structures there. Above the clay formation, at least at the bottom of the formation with sulfates, we detected sediments that were not deposited by the lakes. These are likely arid deposits during a prolonged dry spell in the Martian past. Long-awaited evidence that sulfate from the Gale Crater is linked to environmental change, alteration in the weather »William Rabin explains.

At an altitude of several hundred meters, the ChemCam telescope still shows various structures. Which this time seems to correspond to a wet environment. “For the first time, we can track the evolution of the Martian climate over several million years. But the reason is behind weather changes Recorded in Mount Sharp is still elusive. “

This is where the Curiosity cart comes into the picture again. We kind of gave him a road map. Now it’s up to him to take a closer look. To search for clues that would allow us to understand what happened on Mars to allow for such climate change.As William Rabin says. By conducting chemical analyzes that will allow the researchers to accurately determine the composition of these deposits. ” The Curiosity drilling rig It is a valuable tool for us. The powder it produces is analyzed by deviationto me X ray . » Enough to uncover the secrets that Mars still has in these ridges.

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“Curiosity has just arrived at the sulfate transfer.”William Rabin tells us. “The bumps we presented in our study are a few meters higher. The excitement builds when you climb up the rover. Foothills The Mont Sharp. We will be able to begin our class analysis. We are talking about thickness stringsAbout 500 meters. It will take us years to cover this fish. We don’t know if Curiosity will survive this. But our goal is to collect as much data as possible to understand the cause of the climate changes that occurred on Mars more than three billion years ago.CNRS researcher concludes.

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