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The Perseverance rover runs on processors used in iMacs in the 1990s

An artist’s impression of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Remember the colourful iMac computers from the late 1990s? The same processor that powered those is being used to run NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover.

This processor, which is also being used in the Curiosity rover, has just 10.4 million transistors – even affordable smartphones now have more than 1000 times as many. So why is such old technology used in a cutting-edge space exploration mission?

It all comes down to radiation. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most of the harmful rays from the sun, but …

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