The Union Recorder

Columns

February 12, 2013

Space rocks a hot topic this month

MILLEDGEVILLE —  

Our new best friend on Mars, the Curiosity rover, is currently testing its power drill for a first sample gathering task. Since the rover landed on the Red Planet, all of its equipment and tools have been checked out and passed with flying colors. Now things get serious for Curiosity’s rock-boring device.

The idea is to not only drill a hole (been there, done that with other rovers) but to actually catch some of the dust created by the drilling. The dust will then be loaded into one of Curiosity’s on board laboratories for proper analysis.

You can imagine how nerve-wracking it is when your drill operator is on another planet, and you don’t actually find out until 20 minutes later, when your radio signal has traveled to Mars and back, that it’s actually done anything — and done it in the right place! So during the actual drilling procedure, the rover is pretty much on its own, relying on its programming to complete the task. Fortunately Curiosity has a lot of artificial brain power under the hood; after all, it was designed to be smart enough to do this job.

Still, engineers have no idea how this adventure will turn out. So far Curiosity’s track record has been a long line of successes. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the newest dentist in the solar system rocks at drilling!

Rock No. 2 making the news is actually an asteroid coming uncomfortably close to Earth. As you might know, space rocks cross the Earth’s path all the time — most of them are just grains of dust, lighting up the night sky as meteors or shooting stars. Some are big enough to survive until they hit the ground as meteorites, and they may become prized collectibles. And some are so big they can literally wipe out life as we know it.

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