MarsNews.com
December 2nd, 2016

Europe presses ahead with Mars rover

Europe will push ahead with its plan to put a UK-assembled robotic rover on the surface of Mars in 2021.

Research ministers meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, have agreed to stump up the outstanding €436m euros needed to take the project through to completion.

The mission is late and is costing far more than originally envisaged, prompting fears that European Space Agency member states might abandon it.

But the ministers have emphatically reaffirmed their commitment to it.

They have also said that European participation in the International Space Station (ISS) should run until at least 2024, bringing Esa into line with its partners on the orbiting laboratory – the US, Russia, Japan and Canada.

This will open new opportunities for European astronauts to visit the station, and it was announced here that Italian Luca Parmitano has been proposed to take up a tour in 2019.

The Ministerial Council was convened to set the policies, programmes and funding for ESA over the next three to five years.

November 29th, 2016

‘Diamond-age’ of power generation as nuclear batteries developed

New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.

The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute’s sold-out annual lecture – ‘Ideas to change the world’- on Friday, 25 November.

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

November 29th, 2016

Here Are Our First Exciting Glimpses of Mars From Europe’s New Orbiter

ExoMars created its first 3D image of Martian topography from two stereo images captured by the Trace Gas Orbiter. Image: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

ExoMars created its first 3D image of Martian topography from two stereo images captured by the Trace Gas Orbiter. Image: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

In case Schiaparelli’s crash-landing left you thinking the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission was a bust, rest assured it wasn’t. The mission’s scientific workhorse—its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)—is performing beautifully, as evidenced by the first images and splashes of data ESA has now received back from the Red Planet.

In keeping with ExoMars’ goal of discovering signs of life, the TGO’s agenda is to produce a detailed inventory of rare gases in Mars’ lower atmosphere. These include water vapor, nitrogen dioxide, acetylene, and most importantly, methane, which is broken apart by sunlight. If methane is present in Martian air, something—either a biological or geological process—is resupplying it.

The TGO is also equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment. If it does sniff something interesting, ESA will take detailed photos of the corresponding spot on the surface, so that a future rover can pay a visit.

November 22nd, 2016

Widespread, Thick Water Ice found in Utopia Planitia, Mars

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

My paper on the discovery of a widespread (~375 000 sq km) subsurface water ice deposit in southwestern Utopia Planitia, Mars, was published in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) a few weeks back, along with a NASA press release today. The detailed version is offered in the journal article, but I thought I’d include a higher-level description of what’s up in here.

When you look at Utopia Planitia, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on. For those that aren’t intimately familiar with martian geography, Utopia Planitia is a huge, ~3300 km diameter basin that formed by impact early in Mars’ history. It makes up part of what’s known as the northern plains, the more-or-less flat terrain north of the martian dichotomy boundary. For as long as we’ve had good imagery from the region, we’ve noticed interesting features on the surface—features like polygonal cracked terrain and oddly-shaped, rimless pits called “scalloped depressions”. When we see features like this on Earth, they’re associated with subsurface ice or permafrost. These features led scientists to believe that this is an ice-rich region of Mars, and inspired my team to examine radar sounding data from the area.

November 21st, 2016

How bad is the radiation on Mars?

Diagram showing the amount of cosmic radiation the surface of Mars is exposed to. Credit: NASA

Diagram showing the amount of cosmic radiation the surface of Mars is exposed to. Credit: NASA

Mars has no protective magnetosphere, as Earth does. Scientists believe that at one time, Mars also experienced convection currents in its core, creating a dynamo effect that powered a planetary magnetic field. However, roughly 4.2 billions year ago – either due to a massive impact from a large object, or rapid cooling in its core – this dynamo effect ceased.

As a result, over the course of the next 500 million years, Mars atmosphere was slowly stripped away by solar wind. Between the loss of its magnetic field and its atmosphere, the surface of Mars is exposed to much higher levels of radiation than Earth. And in addition to regular exposure to cosmic rays and solar wind, it receives occasional lethal blasts that occur with strong solar flares.

November 10th, 2016

Is This What Living on Mars Will Look Like?

Mars has long been a source of fascination for everyone from scientists to filmmakers, but the Red Planet is no longer the mysterious world it once was. With NASA’s Curiosity Rover exploring the planet and Elon Musk’s Space X dedicated to planetary colonization, the dream of humans living on Mars may soon be more than a sci-fi plot line. But for now, it’s still up to the magic of Hollywood to give us a preview. National Geographic takes on this new frontier with Mars, a new six-part series that blends interviews with real-life astronauts and scientists from NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with the fictional story of a Mars landing in 2033. Developed with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the show, which debuts November 14 at 9pm ET on the National Geographic Channel, follows the international crew of the Daedalus as they attempt to land on Mars in a reusable rocket and built habitats.

Production designer Sophie Becher was tasked with creating an array of locations, from the headquarters of International Mars Science Foundation to the interior of the Daedalus to the habitat on Mars. Becher approached the projects from the characters point of view, especially when designing the extraterrestrial environments. “I become the astronaut,” she says. “What would I need to function? What sort of prop would help me keep my sanity?”

November 9th, 2016

Where Will President-Elect Trump Take American Space Endeavours?

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

With the 2016 election now finished and Donald Trump confirmed as the president-elect of the United States, there are naturally some concerns about what this could means for the future of NASA. Given the administration’s commitment to Earth science, and its plans for crewed missions to near-Earth Orbit and Mars, there is understandably some worry that the budget environment might be changing soon.

At this juncture, it is not quite clear how a Trump presidency will affect NASA’s mandate for space exploration and scientific research. But between statements made by the president-elect in the past, and his stances on issues like climate change, it seems clear that funding for certain types of research could be threatened. But there is also reason to believe that larger exploration programs might be unaffected.

November 8th, 2016

Capturing Martian Weather in Motion

Dust stom over Tempe Terra, Mars ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / Justin Cowart

Dust stom over Tempe Terra, Mars
ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / Justin Cowart

Still images of Mars often give us a false impression that Mars is a dead planet, with nothing going on other than the occasional dust storm. Do a quick image search for Mars and most of the results are mosaics designed to show Martian geography, not meteorology. But these images don’t tell the planet’s full story. Martian weather is dynamic, with water ice cloud streets forming around the polar areas, cold fronts pushing through the midlatitudes and raising dust storms, and thin hazes forming as air flows around topographic obstacles like volcanoes and crater rims.

No space agency has deployed a dedicated weather satellite to Mars, so we can’t watch these systems form and move across the surface like we can with the spectacular images of Earth returned by satellites like Himawari-8. In fact, the only instrument dedicated to monitoring Martian weather, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, can only image a location on the Martian surface once per day (with the exception of some areas near the poles).

Fortunately for Martian weather enthusiasts, there is a way to get a glimpse of weather in action at the Martian surface. The High Resolution Stereo Colour Imager (HRSC) instrument onboard Mars Express was designed to produce stereographic color maps of Mars. To do this, HRSC uses a set of 9 pushbroom sensors. Four of these sensors image the surface in color at blue, green, red, and near-IR wavelengths. The other five collect stereo and photometric data using broadband filters that cover the same roughly the same spectral range. The sensors are mounted at different angles, looking between 20 degrees ahead and behind the spacecraft. Parallax from the five different viewing angles allows mission scientists to create DEMs of the surface with 10 to 15 meter vertical resolution.

That’s the intended purpose, anyway. The offset viewing angles for the sensors onboard the spacecraft allow for something else: time-lapse images. The imaging setup means that the first imaging channel sees the surface about 70 seconds before the last. If the wind is blowing at the surface, the time between sequential images is just long enough that the motion of dust clouds is visible. If clouds are at higher altitude, then the parallax also shows up as motion. The color data can then be overlain to colorize the scene.

November 7th, 2016

Mars One Going Public at Frankfurt Stock Exchange

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Mars One and InFin Innovative Finance AG [FRA:KCC] (“InFin”) are pleased to announce that a takeover agreement was signed between InFin and all shareholders of Mars One Ventures PLC (“Mars One Ventures”). InFin will acquire 100% of the shares of Mars One Ventures for €87 million with newly issued, fully paid up InFin shares. After admission of the new InFin shares to trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the Mars One Ventures shareholders will hold 97.5% of the InFin shares. The boards of the companies have unanimously approved the agreement. InFin Innovative Finance AG will be renamed Mars One Ventures AG.

“Mars One is very pleased to have been acquired by InFin. This step provides the opportunity to raise capital through the listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. This listing also supports our aim to attract international support to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars: our global followers will have the opportunity to be part of this adventure and to literally own a piece of this historic venture. We have a solid business based on our historical performance that might be of interest to anyone looking for diversification of their investment portfolio,” says Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One.

With the acquisition of Mars One Ventures by InFin, Mars One creates a decisive and time-critical competitive advantage by being the first Mars exploration company to successfully go public. The listing at the renowned Frankfurt Stock exchange enables direct access to the global capital market. This will be the first global opportunity for investment banks, funds, stockbrokers and any other (retail) investor to take part in a human mission to another planet through buying shares in a listed company.

November 4th, 2016

A Dress Rehearsal For Life on Mars

In the Utah desert, scientists live and work at the Mars Desert Research Station. The terrain’s ferrous-red hue and the harshness of the climate are supposed mimic Mars’s. Each crew carries out experiments ranging from astrobiology and meteorite analysis to 3D-printing and social psychology.