The Mars InSight Lander has a ton of tools for exploring the Red Planet next door, including a 15-inch digging probe (also known as "the mole") meant to burrow into the Martian soil and take measurements.
Unfortunately, the mole got stuck. From Popular Science:
A rock could be in the way, but the more likely culprit appears to be the Martian soil. Previous observations had led the German Aerospace Center engineers who designed the probe to expect that it would be digging through loose sand. They built the mole to bounce up and down like a jackhammer, sinking with each stroke and threading its way around any modestly sized rocks it encountered. But the probe has found soil that seems more dirt-like than sand-like; It sticks together and doesn’t collapse around the mole to give it enough friction to dig. What the mole needs is a little nudge.
So what did they do to get the mole unstuck? They used the shovel-like scoop at the end of one of the InSight Lander's robot arms to pin down the mole. "The move is risky," Popular Science explained, "because a delicate tether that provides power and communications from the lander attaches to the back part of the mole, and a hard whack could damage it."
Fortunately, it worked.
Who knew that the "Why are you hitting yourself?" game would be such a useful tool for space exploration?
At long last, NASA’s probe finally digs in on Mars [Charlie Wood / Popular Science]
NASA fixes Mars lander by telling it to hit itself with a shovel [Dan Robitzski / Futurism]
Between November 24 and December 1, 2020, NASA's Curiosity rover captured the above image on the surface of Mars. The image contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels composed of more than 1,000 images. From NASA:
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The rover's Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama and relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower-resolution panorama that includes the rover's deck and robotic arm.
I have never taken the idea of large-scale colonization of Mars very seriously, at least not for the foreseeable future. Nothing about these two videos changes my mind.
When thinking about colonization, we often focus on the fact that Mars is pretty much hellbent on killing organics. But what about Lord of the Flies-like tribes of humans turning on each other in a desperate fight for resources or via the phantasms in their heads as settlers go loco from the deprivation and isolation?
I'm with Bill Nye. Exploration? Yes! Settlement? Hell no.
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Pete Tridish and pals made a hell of a Hallowe'en haunt this year: on their "porch of doom," trick-or-treaters were sent to a Mars colonized by billionaires where they were expected to mine Mars rocks and put them in Amazon Mars boxes at a sweatshop Amazon Mars warehouse; Pete notes that the haunt was partly inspired by my 2011 young adult novella Martian Chronicles, which was recently podcast in two parts by the excellent Escape Pod podcast! Read the rest
Last week, the Escape Pod podcast published part one of a reading of my YA novella "Martian Chronicles," which I wrote for Jonathan Strahan's Life on Mars anthology: it's a story about libertarian spacesteaders who move to Mars to escape "whiners" and other undesirables, only to discover that the colonists that preceded them expect them to clean the toilets when they arrive. Read the rest
The NASA Insight lander on the Martian surface is equipped with an ultrasensitive seismometer to detect and record vibrations, from marsquakes to soft breezes to other unidentified vibrations. Listen below. From Space.com:
If we were on Mars with our ears to the ground, our ears wouldn't be sensitive enough to detect marsquakes. Even the recordings taken by Insight are too low to be audible to humans, but by speeding up the audio and lightly processing it, you can listen to marsquakes that Insight captured earlier this year...
As of now, Insight has heard and recorded over 100 events on Mars. But while scientists are fairly certain that 21 of these events are marsquakes, the remaining could be quakes — or something else. Scientists think these remaining events could also be caused by other sources of vibration on the planet.
Being so sensitive, the SEIS instrument detects just about everything, from the movement of the lander's robotic arm to Martian wind gusts.
The Insight team has noticed that, particularly at night, the instrument picks up strange sounds that they refer to as "dinks and donks," according to the statement. They think that these strange sounds could be caused by the instrument cooling down.
More: "NASA's InSight 'Hears' Peculiar Sounds on Mars" (NASA)
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.
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:
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.
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)
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!
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