In the New York Times, Kenneth Chang reports that NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has detected high amounts of methane, a gas that is commonly a signature of life. From the NYT:
“Given this surprising result, we’ve reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment,” Ashwin R. Vasavada, the project scientist for the mission, wrote to the science team in an email that was obtained by The Times.
The mission’s controllers on Earth sent new instructions to the rover on Friday to follow up on the readings, bumping previously planned science work. The results of these observations are expected back on the ground on Monday...
On Earth, microbes known as methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals, and they release methane as a waste product. However, geothermal reactions devoid of biology can also generate methane.
"NASA Rover on Mars Detects Puff of Gas That Hints at Possibility of Life" (NYT)
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The high resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image in the Red Planet's Hellas Planitia region. According to the University of Arizona researchers who operate the HiRISE camera for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shapes like this "are the result of a complex story of dunes, lava, and wind." But they also note that "enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo."
They add that it's a coincidence, but we know better.
"Dune Footprints in Hellas" (University of Arizona)
Full image below depicts area 5 km across:
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NASA invites you to enter into a drawing to have your name sent to Mars on a chip.
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Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is giving the public an opportunity to send their names — stenciled on chips — to the Red Planet with NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity’s first round trip to another planet. The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.
The rover, a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms), will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. "It’s an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighboring planet, and even the origins of life itself.”
The opportunity to send your name to Mars comes with a souvenir boarding pass and "frequent flyer" points. This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA's journey from the Moon to Mars. Miles (or kilometers) are awarded for each "flight," with corresponding digital mission patches available for download.
Someone took the awesome last words of Mars Opportunity and got a tattoo of Mars Curiosity. Twitter was not kind.
Keep it clean and out of the sun! Read the rest
For the first time, we can hear the "sounds" of wind on Mars as captured by the scientific instruments on NASA's InSight robotic lander. From NASA:
"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California...
Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander's deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft's solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.
image: "One of two Mars InSight's 7-foot (2.2 meter) wide solar panels was imaged by the lander's Instrument Deployment Camera, which is fixed to the elbow of its robotic arm." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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Since the InSight robotic lander touched down on Mars last week, engineers have been putting its scientific instruments through their paces. This included extending the lander's 6 foot (2 meter) robotic arm that will be used to deploy instruments and take images of the Martian surface.
"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said mission principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
People, these images are from the surface of Mars! MARS!
NASA's Mars InSight Flexes Its Arm (NASA)
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After sticking a perfect landing on the Martian surface this afternoon, NASA's InSight robot lander has successfully deployed its solar panels. Tomorrow, InSight will fire up its scientific instruments and get to work collecting data about the planet's interior. From NASA/JPL-Caltech:
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NASA's InSight has sent signals to Earth indicating that its solar panels are open and collecting sunlight on the Martian surface. NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter relayed the signals, which were received on Earth at about 5:30 p.m. PST (8:30 p.m. EST). Solar array deployment ensures the spacecraft can recharge its batteries each day. Odyssey also relayed a pair of images showing InSight's landing site.
"The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries," said Tom Hoffman, InSight's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the mission. "It's been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase..."
In the coming days, the mission team will unstow InSight's robotic arm and use the attached camera to snap photos of the ground so that engineers can decide where to place the spacecraft's scientific instruments. It will take two to three months before those instruments are fully deployed and sending back data.
In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia — its new home on Mars.
Life on Mars has always been a standard science fiction topic, but Season 2 of National Geographic’s “Mars” shows how real and attainable that focus has become. The first season of the docudrama series aired in 2016 and was notable for its blending of fiction and science-based documentary, a format the show has maintained and improved. Read the rest
JPL and NASA have tested their incredible 2020 Mars mission parachute three times. The video is a joy. Read the rest
Bioengineering future Martian colonists may be easier than taking the many difficult steps to reduce radiation exposure. But is it ethical? Read the rest
Deep below a mile of ice at the Martian south pole lies a lake of liquid water, according to a team of Italian scientists led by Roberto Orosei. Read the rest
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this giant Martian sand dune that has a turquoise blue hue in enhanced color. Read the rest
Joining the Mars 2020 rover mission to the Red Planet will be a small helicopter. The Mars Helicopter, with a softball-size fuselage, the autonomous chopper will be solar powered and integrate a small heater so it doesn't seize up at night. From NASA
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Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.
“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said (Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.) “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the (rover on the) ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”
“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said Zurbuchen. “We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”
Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.
NASA successfully launched the InSight mission to Mars this week. This is a great overview of what scientists will be learning about Martian geology. Read the rest
Elon Musk is going to colonize Mars and has produced a science-fiction extravaganza to prove it. Read the rest
Maker Barry Abrams has been oxidizing steel discs to make them look like Mars. It's a multistep undertaking that incldes a black screen printing process and yields a cool result. Read the rest
That bright blue object in the center of the photo is NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover as imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier this month. From NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
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The car-size rover, climbing up lower Mount Sharp toward its next destination, appears as a blue dab against a background of tan rocks and dark sand in the enhanced-color image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The exaggerated color, showing differences in Mars surface materials, makes Curiosity appear bluer than it really looks...
When the image was taken, Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and "Vera Rubin Ridge," a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit.