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Looking for life on Mars

The Mars Science Laboratory rover is a very exciting project. We'll be landing at a new spot on Mars.  And we have a suite of instruments that will allows us to do lots of investigations we've never done on another planet before. 

My expertise is looking at rocks from early Earth and interpreting the environments they formed in and I also look at how early life has interacted with those environments and how we can trace early life on Earth.

So behind me we have what is called a CAVE, which is a 3D visualization center and it gives you an immersive environment.  Which means that it renders virtual data in three dimensions and as you move your head it acts like a real object.  So, when you are in that environment you can interact with the data or other planets. 

So, the area that the rover can land are in these areas right here and that's where we have the highest resolution data. So, with this technology what we're doing is taking data that's usually looked at on flat maps and computer screens and rendering it, making visual objects in a way that allow us to use our vision to understand things better.  So what we're doing for Earth and also Mars is we're taking data that is available mostly through NASA and making it into 3D visualizations you can interact with directly.

I was asked to join this project as part of the camera team because of my expertise in interpreting ancient environments.  And one of the main goals for the Mars Science Laboratory mission is to characterize ancient environment on mars and understand whether or not it could have supported life.

So we're going to zoom into Gale Crater here and the crater is outlined in here and there is a very, very large mountain of rocks that formed and this dark strip right here is a canyon like the Grand Canyon.

We think that it has a number of different types of rocks that formed in different environments.  There is a possibility that there was a lake in the crater.  So, we think we have lots of diversity, we have some theories of what is there and we're keeping a very open mind as to understand what we see when we actually get there.