The New Mars Rover is Also an Interplanetary Climate Science Lab

climate mars curiosityNASA/Public Domain

When NASA scientists successfully landed its new rover on Mars, the world (and a bunch of weirdos in Times Square) applauded. That car-sized rover, after all, is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology; lasers, robotic arms, digital cameras, and other bells and whistles that it will employ to expand our knowledge of the red planet. Just look at this photo of the Curiosity's descent—that's real-life sci-fi right there.

climate lab roverNASA/Public Domain

The Curiosity will gather geologic data, test for radiation, renew the search for Martian life, and, yes, study Mars' climate. In fact, some of the rover's instruments were designed specifically to gather data that will be used to help scientists better understand climate change here on Earth.

James West, writing for the Climate Desk, reports that the Curiosity

will give scientists a rare chance to test their assumptions about how climate change works on Earth. It will hunt the surface of Mars for sediment to pick up and drop into its sophisticated onboard machinery, then send back critical insights into how the climate of Mars—once warmer, with rain, rivers, and deltas—has changed over billions of years, lashed by solar winds.

"You learn about how to understand an atmosphere by seeing different atmospheres," said Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist from Texas A&M University who is part of Curiosity's climate team. "And the more we know about Mars' atmosphere, the better we can really understand our own."

Predictably, they're interested in carbon. Paul Niles, a geochemist working with NASA, laid out the big questions: "
How does carbon cycle through the system? Where does it go? Where does it end up? Does it ever come back again? Is it ever buried deep enough that it come back again from volcanoes?

"Even though Mars' atmosphere is completely different from Earth's, the answers to these questions could shed light on how carbon cycles are now contributing to climate change on Earth. After initial rounds of analysis, "we might be in a better position to make direct comparisons with what happens on Earth."

West notes that scientists have already gleaned useful information about Earth's atmosphere from studying Venus; new data could help make current climate models even more effective.

I have to wonder what dyed-in-the-wool climate naysayers think when they read about efforts like this—that part of NASA's $2.5 billion investment went towards elaborating upon the global warming hoax? That scientists will somehow "spin" this data too? That they can somehow safely land a Cadillac-sized probe on a planet millions of miles away but still be wrong about basic physics?

Nonsense—if anything, it's further evidence of the scruples and impressive drive propelling the climate science community. I'm piqued, for one. Now let's see what the most advanced Mars explorer ever flung into space will dig up.

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