U of G Physicists, Mars Research In the News

December 10, 2013 - In the News

In a CBC news story today, physics professor Ralf Gellert discusses a new discovery on Mars, courtesy of the Curiosity rover and University of Guelph technology.

A series of papers published Monday in the journal Science includes a detailed analysis of the chemistry and geology of an area of Mars called Yellowknife Bay. The papers confirm that the red planet once had conditions suitable for life, including a lake that resembled habitats on Earth.

Gellert was among a number of scientists who presented the findings during the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Monday.

Among dozens of Science paper authors were U of G researchers: retired physics professor Iain Campbell; post-doc Irina Pradler; and graduate students Glynis Perrett and Scott VanBommel.

The U of G team is part of an international group of scientists led by Gellert that developed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) mounted on Curiosity, a minivan-sized rover now roaming Mars.

About the size of a soda pop can, the APXS measures which chemical elements — and how much of each — are in Martian rock or soil.

Data from the device winds up at U of G, where day-to-day APXS operations and analysis occur in a specially equipped room in the MacNaughton Building.

Gellert was involved in designing and building an earlier version of the instrument for twin rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. One APXS on the Opportunity rover still sends data to Earth.

Gellert joined U of G in 2005.

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