HAGERSTOWN —The Curiosity rover that landed on Mars at 1:32 a.m. Monday has the potential to provide information on whether life existed on the planet and how humans would fare there, said amateur astronomer Steve Berte, chairman of the TriState Astronomers club.
“The area where it landed has an awful lot of visual markings that appear to be water,” Berte said. “That may shine some light. I think it’s certainly possible there was life on Mars.”
The rover, which landed on the planet after a 36-week flight, is set to begin a two-year investigation, according to a press release from the Mars Science Laboratory website at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov.
Berte said the successful landing will open the door for more research.
“The technology used to land this on Mars will help us land large vehicles or crafts on other planets,” he said. “It’s exciting to be an amateur astronomer and live in a time so interesting.”
Hagerstown resident Matthew Carter, 31, compared the success of landing the rover on Mars to when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
“It was significant for technology going to the moon, and now we’re going to Mars,” he said. “Hopefully it’s enough to analyze the information and find out if there was life.”
Adding to that, Hagerstown resident Cindy Crabbe, 42, said although it is impressive to land something on Mars, proving life could be sustained there would add to the success.
“It would be significant if you could scientifically prove there was something sustainable on Mars,” she said. “Right now they can’t prove it, so I don’t believe there was life on Mars.”
Berte said although it is possible that there was life on Mars, he does not think life currently exists on the planet because of the thin atmosphere and harsh environment.
He said, however, that conditions were different in the past.
Carter said he thinks life did exist on Mars at some point.
“I think the Earth and Mars shifted cycles,” he said. “While we were in our ice age, there may have been life on Mars.”
Brent Wagner, 24, of Chambersburg, Pa., said the probability of life on the planet depends on water, which is why he finds the rover interesting.
“It’s pretty cool because they’re looking for water,” he said. “If there’s water, the probability for life is about 50/50.”
Curiosity, which has six wheels and is about the size of a car, was sent to the Gale Crater on Mars to see if it could have supported small life forms called microbes and if humans could survive there someday, according to the Mars Science Laboratory.
Erin Wolford, of Williamsport, said the success of missions such as that of Curiosity are examples of why there should be a push for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and funding for it.
“This is just another exciting opportunity to encourage scientists, young and old, to keep exploring what’s actually out there in our world and beyond,” she said. “We have to think in terms of the future and see what’s out there to offer.”
Shari Palm, 52, of Keedysville, said it is important that humans learn if it would be possible for them to live on Mars.
“If we continue harming our Earth, we’re going to need to look for somewhere else to be,” she said. “But we have a lot of projects here on Earth that we need to fund.”
Berte said the successful landing makes a case for more research involving space because it could improve life on Earth.
“If you look at the success of the space program, it’s given humans Velcro, advantages in computer systems and freeze-dried food,” he said. “The solar system is just waiting to be explored.”