The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka the Curiosity Rover is something of a robotic geologist, so it makes sense to include the tools of the trade in some form, including a calibration target. For giving a sense of scale with smaller geologic features, pennies are often used for scale, as a common item with a standard dimension. But why is there a 1909 penny on the Rover? That's thanks to Kenneth Edgett, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) principal investigator and an amateur coin collector who appreciates the history of the controversial 1909 V.D.B. Lincoln Cent.
NASA recently announced that the latest results from NASA's Curiosity Rover on Mars provide clear physical evidence that Mars once had all the conditions necessary to support life. Despite the skeptical reception given to recent news that the rover may also have found indirect evidence of organic compounds and active microbiological activity, other recent scientific results have gone even further. One Australian study from 2011 concluded, given what we know about Mars now, 3% of its total volume (as compared to 1% of Earth's) is likely habitable to known terrestrial lifeforms. And more recently, further analysis of the results of experiments performed by the 1976 Viking Lander mission suggests that we have likely detected active microbiological activity on Mars already, with one researcher going so far as to claim a 99% certainty that those earlier results detected life. (Previously).
We taught it everything we know, we did everything we could for it. But now it has to find its own path.
Mars Curiosity Rover. A short film by Dan Winters, narrated by members of the team that sent Curiosity on its way. [more inside]
Curiosity has been on Mars for 51 sol-days and today NASA announced it has found what looks like a concrete slab made up of rounded stones which is probably an ancient stream bed formed by hip-deep fast-moving water over thousands or millions of years. Observers have long hypothesized the canyons and river-like beds photographed from space were carved by water, but only now do researchers have on-the-ground confirmation for the first time.