Nasa's Curiosity rover found methane at about 1 part per billion in the atmosphere of Mars. That's 4,000 times less than in the air on our own planet. Gotta be all the farts. Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/EPA
NASA scientists reported results from the Mars Curiosity roving science lab at the American Geophysical Union to a packed room of press chomping at the bit for a big story. It turns out Mars has gas. It burps methane "sporadically, and episodically," according to Curiosity co-investigator, Sushil Atreya.
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Have you ever wanted to be alone in the woods, drinking your own urine to survive? Probably not, that’d be weird. But you’ve wondered if you could do it, right? An exclusive essay by the author of the new science fiction novel, The Martian, out in paperback today
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(photographer unknown): India's Mangalyaan satellite attained Martian orbit on Wednesday; at $74m, it's "staggeringly cheap" for an orbiter.
Martian spacecraft staffers at Indian space control, September 2014
The US space agency today revealed plans for a new rover: Mars 2020.
The rover "will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet," NASA announced.
Designing, launching, and landing a rover that can withstand the rigors of space travel and the brutal challenges of the Red Planet's surface is no big deal for JPL engineers. But how they'll pull it off by 2020 with the currently projected federal space budget is anyone's guess.
May we suggest Kickstarter?
From the official press release:
NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments.
The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.
"Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.” While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans' journey to the Red Planet.
More at the NASA website.
The NASA Opportunity Mars rover landed on Mars ten years ago, and was not expected to be trucking along in the dust an entire decade later. But truck along it has, and NASA this week announced that Opportunity now "holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving." The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.
"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance."
A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity's total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers). This month's driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater's rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity's landing site.
More at NASA JPL website.
A team of researchers has been living in a simulated Mars habitat on a Hawaiian volcano for the past four months, practicing what it would be like to live on Mars. They're "returning to earth" today.
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NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet. [NASA/JPL]
NASA shares a Mars Curiosity mission update with us. The little rover that could completes one Martian year today.
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A strange light was visible in photos of Mars like the one above taken by the Curiosity rover last week. Is it a beacon from an underground extraterrestrial base as some UFO researchers suggest, or simply sunlight glinting from a shiny rock? NASA claims it's likely the latter, but what do they know.
The Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Spacecraft mounted in a rocket at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India. Photo: Indian Space Research Organization, via NYT.
Saritha Rai, reporting for the New York Times on India’s recent launch of a spacecraft to Mars: "It is the $75 million mission’s thrifty approach to time, money and materials that is getting attention. Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, Gravity.” [NYTimes.com]
Jeffrey sez, "360Cities' intrepid member Andrew Bodrov, stitching master of interplanetary awesomeness, has constructed this composite image (i.e. 'fake view') of the Curiosity Rover at night under the Milky Way. You can even see Phobos, Mars' own moon in the night sky."
Mars Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian night
We've talked here before about the Office of Planetary Protection
and efforts to make sure that we Earthlings don't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with our bacteria, viruses, and other assorted detritus. Now, some scientists are arguing that we've done this job too well
, effectively barring ourselves from exploring the parts of Mars that are most likely to be hospitable to life precisely because they could also be hospitable to tagalong life from Earth.
In an alternate universe — one where Americans had a LOT more enthusiasm for spending money on massive space projects
than we've ever actually demonstrated — the 1970s and 1980s might have been the era of manned missions to Mars and Venus. Amy Shira Teitel writes about how this could have been possible, using only the now-antiquated technology
that got us to the Moon and back.
Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)
One year ago today, a one-ton, SUV-sized spacecraft "blasted into the Mars atmosphere at more than 13,000 miles an hour, deployed a supersonic parachute, fired eight rocket engines, unfurled a giant sky crane and lowered itself to the Martian soil." PBS NewsHour's Jenny Marder has a post
up today looking back at that incredible milestone. Yours truly was there
, and it was an amazing thing to witness. (HT: Aileen Graef)
Kate Greene is on a mission to Hawaii. For the last 65 days, she has lived in a mostly windowless dome on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano, only venturing outside occasionally — and then through an airlock while dressed in a head-to-toe safety suit. She's part of HI-SEAS, a project aimed at studying the way humans might eat, cook, and stay healthy on a long-term Mars mission.
Greene's adventure will last another 53 days. In this video, she walks you through a typical day in a simulated Martian environment — which involves (surprisingly) P-90x workouts and (unsurprisingly) powdered eggs.
Keep up with Kate Green's updates at Discover's "Field Notes" blog
Reduced version of panorama from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity with 1.3 billion pixels in the full-resolution version. Image shows Curiosity at the "Rocknest" site where the rover scooped up samples of windblown dust and sand. Explore here. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA JPL sends word today that image processing lab specialists have assembled a billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The 1.3-billion-pixel image is offered with pan and zoom tools here.
It's the first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars at this resolution, and is stitched together from close to 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity, revealing details of the landscape along the rover's route.
Here's a "manageable" download of the full image. More from the JPL news release, below.
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In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, reader JMV shares this wonderful scan of a 1952 feature from the Vancouver Sun's "Weekend Picture Magazine" on the coming age of travel to Mars.
Illustration by Edgar Ainsworth.
"It will probably be some 50 years before any safe space flight from Earth to another planet and back is made, but there seems now to be very little doubt that the dreams of Roger Bacon in AD 1249 and Albertus Magnus in 1280 have left the realm of Wellsian imaginings and become a practical proposition."
Here's a larger size. Guess they didn't think of Rovers!
Mars' landscape was formed by flowing water, and the proof is in the pebbles
Mars One wants to send human beings on a one-way trip to Mars by 2023, funding the mission via the proceeds of a reality television show about human settlers on Mars. If you're like me, part of your brain is going "Awesome!" and part of it is going "Aw, hell no!" And there's good reason to listen to your pessimistic side, says space junkie Amy Shira Teitel. If Mars One actually happens, there are many ways this could go horribly wrong — from the funding model to the technology
Combining NASA data with the eyes of citizen scientists might have turned up evidence of Mars 3
— a Soviet probe that was the first to make a soft landing (as opposed to a hard crash) on the planet's surface. Mars 3 has been lost since it stopped working, approximately 15 seconds after its successful landing.
Tonight is Yuri's Night — a holiday celebrating the first human spaceflight. You can throw a Yuri's Night party yourself, or simply join one of the 340 parties that are already scheduled
. Scheduled events range from the ubiquitous "let's drink vodka shots in a Russian restaurant" to more kid-friendly, telescope-centric themes. And this year, you can even virtually join the Mars Curiosity Rover as it throws itself the first Yuri's Night party to be held on another planet
. (Which, frankly, sounds a little lonely and sad, so hopefully people turn up for the virtual side of that shindig.)
A television company in Holland is seeking volunteers for a one-way trip to Mars. The good news is that the sort of people who would volunteer to be on a reality TV show will be on a one-way trip to Mars.
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These images compare rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS
Big news from NASA JPL this afternoon
An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
More at the MSL mission website
"The Tribune followed up this story on the very next page with one on how the English aristocracy was turning into gorillas."
Mars peopled by one vast thinking vegetable!
Minnesota Public Radio is hosting a live Science Night on May 21st in St. Paul
, featuring John Grotzinger, the head of the NASA Curiosity mission. And I get to join him on stage to talk about outer space, Mars, and all sorts of awesomeness. If you're an MPR member, you can buy tickets now. Otherwise, they go on sale on March 12.
Living on Mars time is making Katie Worth fat.
The journalist is attempting to live, on Earth, as if she's operating in a Martian time zone and blogging about the experience for Scientific American. On the 15th day of her experiment, she writes about how Mars time has changed her eating habits ... and made her drinking habits a whole lot sketchier-sounding.
Photo: Glenn Fleishman
Go and check out Glenn Fleishman's fantastic set of photos from the Jet Propulsion Lab's sandbox, where the scientists get to hang out and play with one of Curiosity rover's siblings.
There will be no bacon on Elon Musk's Mars
Elon Musk would like you to know that he is not trying to be the Emperor of Mars
and has no authority to ban meat there. (Thanks Carl Franzen!)
Space is full of radiation. It’s impossible to escape. Imagine standing in the middle of a dust storm, with bits of gravel constantly swirling around you, whizzing by, pinging against your skin. That’s what radiation is like in space. The problem is that, unlike a pebble or a speck of dirt, ionizing radiation doesn’t bounce off human flesh. It goes right through, like a cannonball through the side of the building, leaving damage behind.
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Last week, an American and a Russian — Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko — were selected to spend a year living continuously in space, aboard the International Space Station. Only four other people have done this before. All them were Russian, so Scott Kelly is going to break the American record for time spent in space.
The mission won't start until 2015, and it's part of a much longer term goal — sending people to Mars. We know that spending time in space does take a toll on the human body. For instance, hanging out without gravity means you aren't using your muscles, even the ones that you'd use to support your own weight on Earth. Without use, muscles deteriorate over time. Bone density also drops. Basically, after a few months in space, astronauts return to Earth as weak as little kittens. Which is, to say the least, a less than ideal situation for any future Mars explorers.
Having Kelly and Kornienko stay up for a year will give scientists more data on what happens to the human body in space, give them a chance to test out preventative treatments that could keep astronauts stronger, and allows them to see how the amount of time spent in space affects the amount of time it takes to physically recover from the trip. As an extra research bonus, Kelly is the identical twin brother of Mark Kelly, the astronaut married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Which means that there will be a built-in control to compare Kelly to when he comes back from his mission.
In honor of that upcoming experiment, here's an old video that will give you an idea of what we knew (and didn't know) back at the dawn of the space age. Science in Action was a TV show produced by the California Academy of Sciences. In this 1956 episode, they explore the then-still-theoretical physiology of space travel ... with a special guest appearance by Chuck Yeager!
Wikipedia page on the effects of space travel on the human body
Science in Action: Aero Medicine — Part 1 and Part 2 at the Prelinger Archives.
Just a few minutes ago, researchers with NASA's MESSENGER mission announced the publication of data that strongly suggests the poles of Mercury contain significant quantities of frozen water.
On the one hand, this is not exactly new news. The possibility of water on Mercury has been a topic of research for something like 20 years. And scientific discoveries tend to move in little mincing steps, not giant leaps, so there have been lots of previous announcements about evidence supporting the hypothesis of water of Mercury — including very similar announcements from the MESSENGER team in December 2011 and March 2012. Your life will not change in any significant way because there is frozen water on Mercury. You probably won't even make a note to tell your children where you were the day NASA announced that ice most likely existed there.
But that doesn't mean this news isn't damned exciting. And it doesn't mean that the scientists involved shouldn't be giddy about it. We are, after all, talking about a mission that sent a spacecraft into orbit around another planet and has quite likely found frozen water sitting on a landscape that is hot enough to melt lead. What's more, they think that ice is covered in places by a thin layer of some coal or tar-like organic material. That is huge news. It's going to change textbooks. And because the scientists think both the ice and the organic material got to Mercury via collisions with asteroids and comets, it's going to be an important part of our ongoing efforts to understand how life begins on planets like Earth.
All of this makes for a really nice, topical lead-in to an essay Robert Gonzalez published on iO9 today. It's totally reasonable to be frustrated by the recent whiplash of hearing that Curiosity discovered something "Earth-shattering" on Mars, only to have that announcement quickly revised to something "interesting" and/or "not insignificant". But, Gonzalez argues, it's also reasonable for scientists to look at something that is merely not insignificant from the public perspective and see it, from their own perspective, as groundbreaking. In fact, he says, we want more scientists who get excited about their work, not fewer.
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