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ExoMars official on Scientific Fridays: 'We're trying to figure out if we're alone in the solar system'

ExoMars official on Scientific Fridays: 'We're trying to figure out if we're alone in the solar system'

Conference at the University of Almería held by Jorge Luis Vajo, Scientific Director of the European Space Agency's international mission, which in 2028 will launch the Rosalind Franklin Rover to Mars to search for signs of life.

The 109th edition of UAL's Faculty of Experimental Sciences Science Fridays filled the Degree Hall in the Government Building, due to the high caliber of the guest. On this occasion, it was Jorge Luis Fago who delivered the conference “The Search for Life on Mars: The Rosalind Franklin Rover.” He is the scientific director of the European Space Agency's (ESA) ExoMars mission, on which he has worked since 1992. He graduated in electronic engineering from the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology and in 1986 moved to Cornell University (Ithaca, New York, USA) to complete his training. .

It was presented by Professor José María Calafora, who gave a brief introduction to his extensive career, in which it should be noted that he was a project manager in the development of equipment for physics experiments in Russian capsules and on the International Space Station. As Science Director of the ExoMars program, he is currently focused on his second mission, which will take the Rosalind Franklin Rover to Mars to explore beneath the surface for evidence of possible life on the Red Planet. In the distant past.

The mission includes an international team of 400 researchers, and finds a link with the province of Almería, where, in 2004, NASA's two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, preceded Mars, the second to find jarosite, a mineral first discovered on Earth in 1852 in the Jarroso Valley in Cuevas de Almanzora. This is the key to determining the probability that water existed in the past. Since 2004, the Mars Research Team at the University of Valladolid, in collaboration with UAL, has conducted a long series of studies, placing Jarroso and its geological and mineralogical properties at an international level.

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The Dean of the Faculty of Experimental Sciences admitted: “It is a pleasure to have you here, because it is very important to bring scientists of this renown so that our students see that the University of Almería is an international reference center in scientific research.” Regarding the thematic rotation of Scientific Fridays in relation to the degrees being Obtaining it in college, Juan José Moreno focused on the following novelty: “It is closely related to environmental science, geology and mathematics, and obviously all the calculations needed to carry it out” this type of task, but also with the new physics degree that we will obtain in the future.

Jorge Luis Vago stressed that this type of forum is held near university students, and said: “For us, it is very important to develop future generations,” explaining that “these projects have been going on for a long time.” “Many years” and there must be relief: “I started working on this mission, on ExoMars, in 2002, so it's been over 22 years of work and it's very likely that when the mission gets to Mars, I'll have to pass the science to someone else.” ” It should be taken into account that the launch is planned for 2028 and landing in 2030: “These are long-term and large-scale projects, so it is important to train new generations.”

He detailed, and it was previously stated in the explanation of the mission, that it “needs experts in many fields and mineralogy is very important, because if we try to discover signs of life on Mars it is necessary to know in what kind of rocks we have” to search for them. For his part, when responding to the connection that might exist between Almeria and the project because it was the first place on Earth where jarosite was discovered, Vago revealed that “the interaction between minerals and water was very important for the origin of life on our planet, and if there was an interaction on Mars, it would be It is also very important to try to understand the types of sedimentary formations that we have to look for.”

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Once the rover reaches the Red Planet, “initially, I think we'll need at least a year of surface exploration before we can say anything concrete,” Vaggo admitted before explaining what he intends to discover: “We'll be looking for two kinds of signs of… Life, one is what is recorded in the geological record, because we cannot see individual microorganisms, but if there are colonies of bacteria with millions of organisms, they can be seen in the geological record, and the other is biomolecular traces, that is, chemistry, which we cannot explain. In no other way than the existence of life.

After explaining all this, he summed up his message by saying, “This is a team effort, it's an international effort and it's kind of complementary science to what we can do on the ground, which is great.” In fact, he was emphatic in saying that what we are trying to see is “if we are alone in the solar system, if we discover that there is life elsewhere, if the type of life, ‘interesting biochemistry’.” The brick that gave the origin of that life is equal to our life or not. Therefore, “biotechnologists, microbiologists, chemists, physicists, geologists… all contribute to making this project possible.”

So much so that he pays close attention to the engineering that makes it possible to have all the tools and instruments needed when the mission is on the ground: “Compared to what we can do in the lab at the university, these rovers are a bit limited, so “you have to find the right balance between what It is possible and what is ideal to be able to achieve.” In this sense, he concluded by saying that “the best is the enemy of the good in this sense, and it is very important to find a good balance between engineering and science.”

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