What NASA’s Pathfinder Discovered on Mars Before Mission Termination

On July 4th, NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars’ Ares Vallis Chryse Planitia to explore the red planet’s hostile environment. Despite its 85 days of exploration on Mars, the Pathfinder made some notable discoveries that helped improve our understanding of Mars. This article will describe Scientific discoveries that NASA’s Pathfinder noticed on Mars. 

How Pathfinder was Launched, and Its Airbag Landing

On December 4, 1996, at 06:58:07 UTC, Mars Pathfinder was launched on a Delta II 7925 rocket from Cape Canaveral near Cocoa Beach, Florida, United States. The Pathfinder traveled for months before landing on Mars’ Ares Vallis on  4 July 1997.

The Pathfinder touched down on Mars as the first robotic rover to study the surface of the red planet. The rover landed on Mars’ surface directly through the Martian Atmosphere. As soon as it entered the thin atmosphere, it used a parachute to lower the rover slowly.

Before it touched the surface of Mars, a massive system of airbags lessened the impact of the Pathfinder. This was the first time NASA was deploying such a brilliant idea to land a rover on Mars. Hence, NASA  learned a new means of sending landing landers and rovers on the red planet from this mission.

NASA’s pathfinder touched down on Mars with a lander, which was later renamed Carl Sagan Memorial Station, a 23 lb (10.6 kg) lightweight wheel robotic rover named Sojourner, and other instruments to conduct scientific research on the red planet.

Specifically, the Pathfinder landed on Mars with three cameras, an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (which will be used to research the primary composition of Martian soils and rocks), and an atmospheric Structure Instrument/Meteorology package to measure Mars’s atmosphere during the entry.

As soon as the Pathfinder landed on Mars, the milestone was celebrated worldwide. It began its exploration immediately.

What NASA’s Pathfinder Discovered on Mars

After the Pathfinder landed on Mars, it commences its purpose on the red planet. It explored the surface of Mars for 85 days before mission termination on September 27, 1997. But before its mission ended, NASA’s Pathfinder made notable discoveries that helped improve our knowledge of Mars. The Pathfinder made the following findings on Mars. 

1. The radius of Mars Central Metallic Core

Before Pathfinder landed on Mars, scientists could not estimate the actual measurement of Mars’ central metallic core. However, the radio tracking device attached to the Mars Pathfinder enabled scientists to learn that Mars’ central metallic core is more expansive than 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) and not greater than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles).

2. Magnetic minerals in Airborne dust.

The rover discovered that the Airborne dust on Mars consists of a magnetic mineral known as maghemite. This mineral exists in a powerful magnetic form of iron oxide. Mars Pathfinder discovered that maghemite might have remained in state on particles as cement.

Scientists analyzed this data and suggested that an active water cycle in ancient Mars may have extracted the iron from the materials in the martian crust.

3. Water Ice Clouds

The atmospheric Structure Instrument/Meteorology package on Mars Pathfinder enabled the rover to discover early morning water clouds in the lower Martian atmosphere. This discovery allows scientists to learn that water may have existed on Mars in the past.

However, future NASA’s mission to the red planet unveiled more facts about water on Mars. On September 27th, 2012, the Curiosity rover enabled scientists to discover evidence of water on the ancient Mars surface. 

4. Mars Dust Devils

Mars Pathfinder also discovered dust devils on Mars. The martian dust devils were measured using the temperature, wind, and pressure sensors of the Mars Pathfinder.

Scientists analyzed this data and suggested that the dust devils were created by mixing dust into the Martian atmosphere. Future missions to the red planet will reveal more facts about the Mars dust devil.

5. First Evidence of Liquid Water.

Mars Pathfinder discovered rounded cobbles and pebbles at its landing site. This enabled scientists to suggest the presence of stable liquid water on Mars. Likewise, the curiosity rover revealed more facts about water on Mars’ surface.

6. Temperature fluctuations in the morning

Mars Pathfinder discovered extreme temperature fluctuations during the early hours on Mars. This discovery enabled scientists to suggest that the martian atmosphere is usually kept warm by the surface as heat moves upward following a gradual process.

FAQs

What did the Pathfinder Discover on Mars?

Mars Pathfinder rover discovered a magnetic mineral in Airborne dust, temperature fluctuations in the morning, Water ice cloud, and other notable discoveries. In addition, NASA scientists learned several new facts about the red planet from the 85 days the Pathfinder explored the Martian’s surface.

What did the findings from the Pathfinder mission suggest about Mars?

Scientists learned how to successfully land rovers and landers on the Martian surface using Airbag from the pathfinder mission. As we continue advancing technologically, we will invent safer means of landing rovers on Mars.

What was the name of the rover that Pathfinder took to Mars?

Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars with a lander, later renamed Carl Sagan Memorial Station, and a 23 lb (10.6 kg) lightweight wheel robotic rover named Sojourner. After operating for 85 days on Mars, Sojourner became the first rover to explore another planet in the solar system.

When did the mars pathfinder mission end?

The Mars Pathfinder mission began on July 4, 1997, and ended on September 27, 1997. This implies that the pathfinder mission lasted for only 85 days.

Conclusion

Mars Pathfinder explored Mars for only 85 days, improving our knowledge about the planet. The scientific discoveries of the Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover inspired NASA to send other rovers to explore Mars.

As the agency prefers to send humans to Mars under its Artemis space program, it is currently using the data from all these missions to prepare for technologies that will enable the first Martian NASA astronauts to survive on Mars. What do you love about the Mars Pathfinder Mission?

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1 thought on “What NASA’s Pathfinder Discovered on Mars Before Mission Termination”

  1. Lazarus Damiano Lucas

    Well, actully I am deeply excited with the information about all efforts of NASA various mission to reach red Planet, Mars, I am really interested with their goal of landing human being on that Planet surface, I wish I could hear one day NASA has achieve it’s plan, then I will be completely excisted

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