Scientists in Spain have engineered a man-made Mars in a Bottle or mini-version of Mars. Christened the “MARTE” (nicknamed Mars in a Bottle) this unique equipment is essentially a vacuum chamber that re-creates Mars’ environment including atmosphere, pressure, radiation levels, pressure and dust. Specifically, the chamber’s 8-inch-square copper platform apparatus can create an atmosphere with over 100 times less pressure than the earth, temperatures ranging from a low of -265 degrees Fahrenheit to 301 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a gaseous blend that’s 95 percent carbon dioxide.
The Mars in a Bottle machine is being used to help scientists from the Centro de Astrobiologia and Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid gain a better understanding of how dust and additional surface conditions on the Red Planet could affect humans, probes and other related equipment used to study Mars in the future. The research, just published in this month’s Review of Scientific Instruments, reveals that Mars’ dust could present some challenges.
Jesus Sobrado, the head scientist in charge of the Mars in a Bottle machine’s technical development, reported: “We’re simulating the effect of the Martian dust — one of the primary problems for planetary exploration — to gain a better understanding of how (NASA) instruments behave when covered in dust.”
No effort was spared in creating the extremely fine Martian dust within the Mars in a Bottle chamber. Sobrado and his team employed an original two-sieve system with openings approximately the thickness of a human hair or 63 microns wide. The pair of sieves shakes in order to release the dust in order to mimic the random pattern that could occur on the surface of Mars.
According to the data collected, dust on Mars is composed of silicates which, if inhaled by an astronaut, transforms into a deadly mix of chemicals. Furthermore, the dust particles are very tiny so even the best airlock may not filter out all of the particles. The Martian dust is even more of a potential issue for NASA’s equipment because it contains a “high concentration of magnetic iron oxide” which quite naturally would coat the surface of the mirrors, probes and other exploratory equipment.
Sobrado and company will further utilize their Mars in a Bottle to aid NASA in testing components that is meant to be use on the next Mars Mission–InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Insight is penciled in to launch sometime in March 2016. The purpose of the mission is to further investigate Mars’ structure including its crust, mantle an core. Therefore, it is crucial that NASA’s equipment can function properly even in the mists of swirling bursts of Martian dust.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)