Mars data to be analysed by Leicester scientist

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Media captionProject architect Adam Steltzner explains how the Mars Curiosity rover is expected to land on Mars (animation is courtesy of Nasa)

A University of Leicester scientist says it is going to be "very exciting" to analyse some of the first data from Nasa's latest Mars mission.

The $2.5bn mission's Mars Curiosity rover is expected to land on Monday.

Dr John Bridges said he would be leading a team from Leicester, the Open University and the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

He said: "Never before has such a powerful set of instruments and such a capable rover been sent."

Geological history

He added: "The overall aim of the mission is to determine if Mars has ever been habitable for microbial life. It's incredibly exciting.

"For the first time we can look at a large amount of material which was deposited from water.

"Were there large lakes which lasted for millions of years or just small amounts of water which lasted a short period of time? These are just some of the fundamental things we can learn about Mars.

"The mobile Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) is expected to revolutionise our understanding of the geological history of the planet."

The rover was launched in November and is scheduled to land on Monday morning beside a mountain within Gale Crater called Mt Sharp.

Nasa described Curiosity rover as "car-sized" and weighing one ton (900kg).

It is fitted with a robotic arm, high-resolution cameras and a laser, and is designed to be a walking laboratory.

Martian meteorites

Dr Bridges said he would be at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to witness the landing and to start work on the research.

The University of Leicester said Dr Bridges was one of two UK scientists who would conduct and analyse experiments during the two-year mission.

Dr Bridges said: "For a number of years now I've studied Mars using orbiting spacecraft data, also from looking at Martian meteorites in detail. This is the next logical step.

"It's the most powerful rover ever sent to Mars - with more instruments... It can go even further and perhaps even last longer."

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