Dept News: Science

Posted on: 13/05/2019

On the 15th of March, a classmate and I attended a lecture, revolving around the Martian Rover and the technologies used to get to Mars by a Ph.D student from the department of electronic engineering, Eleni Bohacek. She began by looking into the different methods of exploring space and put them in order of simple and cheap, to complex and expensive. These methods in order were Earth-based telescopes, Space telescopes, Fly-by missions, Orbiters, Landers, Rovers, Sample returns and finally manned missions. She also described the early ventures into space such as the Sputnik satellite launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union and talked about different countries and their gradual involvement into the ‘space race.’ We were informed of the Mariner 4, which was the first successful fly-by mission of Mars by NASA in 1965. Whilst on this topic, Bohacek also touched upon the concept of radio occultation which is when radio waves passing through planet’s atmosphere are refracted.

Next, she described the current known observations of Mars, heavily cratered with no signs of water and low atmospheric pressure. A great contribution to most of these observations was made by the Mariner 9, which was an unmanned NASA space probe launched in 1971. It became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet and within 349 days, it sent back 7329 images, covering 100% of the surface of Mars. It showed that the planet was engulfed in a dust storm.

After, Bohacek showed us several images that have been taken of the surface of Mars and explained the features that they displaced. We saw images showing proof of existence of ice, clouds, active weather, volcanoes, canyons, channels and dendritic networks. All these features prove the early existence of water and Mars and serve to prove that the planet has undergone heavy climate change. We learnt about interesting natural phenomenon such as volcano Olympus Mons which is two and a half the size of Mount Everest, becoming the largest known mountain in the solar system.

She continued to introduce the first lander, Pathfinder, and the first rover, Sojourner on Mars that were sent in 1997. Pathfinder was the first to use airbags to cushion the landing and Sojourner was the first to trundle on Mars and went on to explore Ares Vallis. Bohacek explained how over time the rovers on Mars are getting incrementally larger, more powerful and more sophisticated over the last 15 years, with the latest being the Curiosity rover weighing in at 899kg. We also observed a simulated version of the landing of the curiosity rover and the detachment of extra components in the space orbit. We saw the path that Curiosity travelled through the Mars terrain. The next big project concerning Mars is planned to launch in 2020 which is the ExoMars, which is the first joint mission between the European space agency and Roscosmos. It will enable scientists to drill 2m down into the surface of Mars and will contain a suite of analytical instruments.

Finally, she ended off the lecture by recommending certain programmes regarding space for anyone wanting to learn more. The examples were Stellarium, Celestia and JMars. Overall, the lecture was very interesting and has developed our understanding of Mars. The future project will be one to look out for!

Vaibhavi Canacari (6HMe)

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