Yes, I said life on Mars – but this is not about whether life exists on Mars today, rather it is about determining if Mars was EVER inhabitable and whether that planet can sustain human life in the future. This is part of the mission for NASA’s Curiosity rover, which successfully landed on Mars earlier this month. For anyone even remotely interested in scientific discovery, this is a huge deal – with global implications as well. These implications include political, economic, environmental, and technological advances. For example, the camera technology employed by NASA for the Mars rover mission has been used during the recent Olympics (check out http://www.nbcolympics.com/gigapans) for super high-resolution photos … where you can basically tag people in stadium-wide pictures. It’s incredible technology!
When we look at the Mars rover mission, it is an incredible use case for Big Data. Consider the vast amounts of data streaming from the Curiosity to the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, Los Alamos in New Mexico, and other labs around the world – from surface imagery to soil and rock chemical composition to atmospheric conditions to video diaries. All of this data is being captured within Hadoop file systems on Earth. Then begins the huge task of breaking down the data, analyzing it, and theorizing its meaning.
To figure out if Mars was ever inhabitable, and whether its rocks contain any kind of fuel, Curiosity uses a laser to check the surface composition of interesting-looking rocks, then drills out powder samples for further analysis. The methodology is called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, and the laser creates sparks and spectrums which are then analyzed to establish chemical composition. This is cool stuff!
How can we discover and understand the data out there with invisible connections to further business intelligence – if only we could see it and analyze it. How do we “see further” into the vast amounts and types of Mars planetary data being collected by Curiosity? Without a globally-distributed file system such as Hadoop, and without the capabilities for boiling down and analyzing the volumes of data, it wouldn’t be possible to make scientific conclusions about possible past life and potential future life on Mars. This is an interplanetary Big Data scenario – it doesn’t get much bigger than that. As the trend towards greater usage of Hadoop drives greater needs for Big Connectivity, greater insights will be gained through better data gathering and analysis methods. Use cases like the Mars rover provide us with greater insight into how important Big Data connectivity and analytics are in the scientific community as well as to businesses – enabling us all to “see further”.
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Check out part 2 of this blog series !
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