The presence of the University of Malaga in research related to the possible existence of habitable environments on the red planet is not new.
His participation in the ‘MARS 2020’ mission, where he performed the characterization of the calibration set of one of the instruments -the SuperCam- of the seven from NASA’s ‘Perseverance’ rover, an advanced vehicle to analyze the habitability conditions of Mars, currently in space in the cruise phase, positioned it at the forefront of space research, a place that maintains and has added a planetary experimentation infrastructure unique in Spain and one of the largest in the world.
It is a ‘Martian chamber’ 12 meters long, two meters in diameter and almost 20 tons in weight, capable of simulating the atmosphere of Mars. Located in the ‘UMA LASERLAB’, on the Teatinos campus, it allows you to experiment under the same conditions of this planet: atmospheric composition, pressure, temperature, wind and solar irradiation.
This camera seeks to facilitate a better understanding of the surface of Mars and serve as a platform for testing space-related research, as well as for the calibration of instruments and sensors according to planetary atmospheres.
Under the scientific direction of the professor of Analytical Chemistry at the UMA Javier Laserna, it has been financed through the Infrastructure Funds of the Ministry of Science and Innovation. “This chamber supports our participation in MARS 2020 and allows us to continue advancing in other lines of fundamental and applied research in space science”, affirms this professor, who clarifies that this infrastructure of the UMA is at the service of any researcher in the world who requests it.
Currently, the ‘UMA LASERLAB’ scientific team is working on the only instrument of the SuperCam – it is made up of a total of six – of the rover that has not yet visited Mars on the MARS2020 mission: a microphone. The researchers aim to locate biosignatures of alien life through sound, specifically, from the shock wave produced by laser-induced plasmas.
The shock wave in atmospheric conditions of the Earth has a characteristic sound that depends on the nature of the material, however, what would this sound be according to the atmospheric properties of Mars, whose carbon dioxide composition is totally different and the pressure one hundred times minor, something, as Laserna points out, much less known. “We are analyzing the sounds that the instrument could pick up on this planet so that when we receive the information, after the rover landed in February 2021, we can interpret them and contribute to the success of the mission“, Explain.
The UMA researcher adds that, in addition to comparing Earth’s atmosphere with that of Mars, experiments related to asteroids, the Moon or any other celestial body in the Solar System.
In addition to its large volume, another advantage of the UMA chamber is that it works under vacuum and at low temperatures, specifically at minus 80 degrees Celsius. Based on a cylindrical design, It has a length of 12 meters, which is the distance that the SuperCam measures.