Five years of Mainz technology on Mars: Scientists celebrate anniversary of Mars Rover Landing

Mössbauer spectrometer and Alpha particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) continue to supply important data from Mars


On 4 January 2004, NASA's rover Spirit landed safely on Mars after a seven-month voyage through space. Three weeks later, its twin Opportunity also touched down unharmed on the red planet. Both these rovers were carrying investigational instruments constructed in Mainz. The miniaturized Mössbauer Spectrometer MIMOS II, which was developed at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), and the alpha particle x-ray spectrometer (APXS) supplied by the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Chemistry in Mainz have made important contributions towards the marked success of this NASA double mission. It was initially assumed that the two exploration vehicles would only manage to survive for a few months on the surface of Mars. Almost five years have passed since their landing and they are still operational.

"We are all still surprised that Spirit and Opportunity are continuing to transmit data back to us from Mars. Our body of information on and picture of the red planet are continuing to grow", said Dr. Göstar Klingelhöfer of Mainz University. Klingelhöfer developed the miniaturized Mössbauer spectrometer, and he and his team spent considerable time at the NASA control center in Pasadena, California. With MIMOS II, it is now possible to directly conduct mineralogical analyses of the iron content of rock and soil samples taken from the Martian surface. The information gathered shows that there was previously water present on Mars and provides clues as to the possible nature of the water.

"The two instruments built in Mainz have provided important input during the two rover missions: This is the first time that chemical and mineralogical data has been obtained from samples taken from the surface of the red planet", said Dr. Johannes Brückner of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry. The institute was responsible for the development and construction of the alpha particle x-ray spectrometer. The APXS analyzes the chemical composition of samples taken from the surface of Mars, and many of its measurement results were quite surprising. Mars may now appear to be a dead and arid desert planet, but it has an animated geological history, and there is even evidence that water was once present on Mars.