Kill Curiosity?

As you know, the much hyped Curiosity rover is nearing its final approach to Mars. After a harrowing descent, it will begin using its powerful sensors to look for traces of life. However, troubling news may kill it. Not the rover itself, but rather its mission.

Cosmic rays are of little concern on Earth. We have a thick atmosphere and a good magnetic field, which tends to keep us safe from radiation. Mars has neither of these things, so it is bathed in radiation. Ultraviolet life sterilizes the surface (this may be why the Viking probes never found any organic molecules). Cosmic rays can penetrate deep into the soil, wrecking and breaking molecules as they go. This presents a potential problem for curiosity.

Curiosity is not equipped for subsurface sampling. It has a small drill, but this only goes 5cm into the soil, which is insufficient. Instead, it will have to look for a site where geology has bored a hole for it. A rock-slide might have exposed fresh sediments beneath. Perhaps a recent meteorite crater will stir things up. It's also possible Curiosity could use its wheels to kick up dust and move a little soil away.

Whatever the method, the boys at NASA had better figure this out. It's rather pointless to put the most able robot ever on a distant world if it can't get to what its looking for.

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