Mars research receives FNU grant – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

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13 February 2014

Mars research receives FNU grant

Morten Bo Madsen, who leads the Mars Group in Astrophysics and Science at the Niels Bohr Institute, has received a grant of just over 3.8 million kroner from FNU, the Danish Council for Independent Research | Natural Sciences. The grant was awarded for the exploration of Mars with the Mars rover Curiosity.

Morten Bo Madsen, who leads the Mars Group in Astrophysics and Science at the Niels Bohr Institute, has received a grant of just over 3.8 million kroner from FNU, the Danish Council for Independent Research | Natural Sciences. The grant was awarded for the exploration of Mars with the Mars rover Curiosity.

The Danish Mars group at the Niels Bohr Institute participate in NASA’s mission Mars Science Laboratory, which was launched in November 2011 and landed the rover Curiosity in a large crater, Gale, in August 2012. It will conduct experiments on the surface of Mars for at least two years. It is a very exciting project that aims to study the planet’s habitability for life in the form of microorganisms.

The research has already shown that there has been flowing water on Mars and that there has been at least one place on Mars where the environment has been favourable for life. Though no clear traces of organic chemistry have been found yet. But as the exploration continues and now that it has been shown that the environment was habitable, the goal is now to find sites where organic chemistry might be preserved.

“Curiosity is now on its way to the foot of the mountain, Mount Sharp, where we will investigate whether there is preserved organic chemistry, i.e. elements associated with living organisms. Curiosity drives 0.2 km per hour - equivalent to the speed of a turtle and it will take approximately a year to get there. It has just passed and exciting area with dunes where it managed to cross a large dune, Dingo Gap, where it made a short stop to investigate the dune, exciting rocks in the area and the subsoil,” explains Morten Bo Madsen, who welcomes the grant which enables the Danish Mars group at the Niels Bohr Institute can continue to participate in the international Mars research.

The Mars rover Curiosity passed over an approximately 1 meter high dune, Dingo Gap, through a ravine between two rocky outcrops. It is controlled remotely from Earth and is investigating rocks and the subsoil. But only non time-consuming studies are done, because Curiosity is busy driving towards Mount Sharp. (NASA)

The grant from FNU is for three years and allows him to hire a PhD student and postdoc Kjartan Kinch for 2 years.

In addition, the group has received a grant of 70,000 kroner from the TICRA Foundation. This grant will contribute to the purchase of an Aryelle 200 spectrometer, which will be used for studying rock samples here on Earth to compare with similar studies of soil and rocks on Mars.