February 13th, 2024

Here’s What a Solar Eclipse Looks Like on Mars

Sped-up animation of Phobos moving in front of the Sun during the eclipse. © Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/SSI/Gizmodo

Sped-up animation of Phobos moving in front of the Sun during the eclipse.

Typically, the Perseverance rover is looking down, scouring the Martian terrain for rocks that may reveal aspects of the planet’s ancient past. But over the last several weeks, the intrepid robot looked up and caught two remarkable views: solar eclipses on the Red Planet, as the moons Phobos and Deimos passed in front of the Sun.

Full solar eclipses don’t happen on Mars. The planet’s moons are too small to fully block out the Sun as they pass in front of it. When they do pass, though, their movements can clue researchers into the moons’ orbits, as well as how the moons’ movements affect the Martian interior.



August 10th, 2022

A month on ‘Mars’: Preparing to visit the Red Planet … on Earth

Haughton Crater and the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) base on Canada’s Devon Island. (Image credit: NASA HMP/Pascal Lee)

On Monday (Aug. 1), a group of eight researchers and their associates headed north to the high Arctic to spend a month at the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) base on Devon Island, about 15 degrees south of the North Pole. The group includes the founder of the base and expedition leader, Dr. Pascal Lee, a group of researchers from MIT’s Haystack Observatory, other researchers and support staff, and me, the sole media representative.

The base is operated by the Mars Institute and was founded and built in the late 1990s by Lee, a planetary geologist and co-founder of the institute. Lee is passionate about the project, and as he now jokes, “I’ve lived in California for 25 years, but had never spent a summer here until COVID.” When asked if he’s looking forward to getting back to his Mars analog base, he smiles broadly. “I would not say it’s pleasant, but yes, it’s a wonderful, otherworldly place, with much to offer for understanding the future exploration of Mars.”

The base, abbreviated HMP (you can find it on Google Maps under “Haughton-Mars Project Base Camp”) is sited on the rim of the Haughton Impact Crater, a 12.5-mile (20 kilometer) feature formed about 23 million years ago by an asteroid or comet impact, and resides at about 75 degrees latitude. It’s the largest impact structure in the northern regions, and along with many other Mars-like features on the island, makes Haughton possibly the best Red Planet analog on Earth.

February 28th, 2022

Europe’s joint Mars mission with Russia postponed by war

This illustration made available by the European Space Agency shows the European-Russian ExoMars rover. On Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, the ESA said the planned launch of a joint mission with Russia to Mars this year is now “very unlikely” due to sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine. (European Space Agency via AP)

The launch of a joint Europe-Russian mission to Mars this year is now “very unlikely” due to sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine, the European Space Agency said Monday.

The agency said after a meeting of officials from its 22 member states that it was assessing the consequences of sanctions for its cooperation with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.

“The sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely,” for the Europe-Russia ExoMars rover mission, the agency said in a statement.

The launch was already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak and technical problems. It was due to blast off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan in September using a Russian Proton rocket. Postponing a launch often means waiting for months or years until another window opens when planets are in the right alignment.

February 22nd, 2022

Understanding Mars helps rocket cargo on Earth, military official says

Blue Origin’s New Glenn is a heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to Earth orbit and beyond. It features a reusable first stage built for 25 missions. (Photo: Blue Origin)

Development of spaceships that can operate in the Mars environment is providing lessons for scientists exploring rockets that could deliver cargo across the Earth in an hour, the new head of U.S. Transportation Command recently said.

USTRANSCOM is responsible for surface, maritime and air delivery of equipment and supplies for warfighters using a mix of military assets and industry partners. Rapid advances in technological capabilities are now spurring the military to investigate space transportation as a complementary distribution mode within its supply chain.

The organization in 2020 began executing cooperative research and development agreements with industry and academia to understand use cases, feasibility and cost of hyperfast cargo delivery around the world. In December, Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, entered into an agreement with Transportation Command to explore the possibility of using rockets to transport cargo and people.

January 25th, 2022

Motion capture is guiding the next generation of extraterrestrial robots

Dr. Frankie Zhu with AXEL rover in the extreme robotics lab at NASA JPL

“How do we build robots that can optimally explore space?” is the core question behind Dr Frances Zhu’s research at the University of Hawai’i. One part of the answer is, “with motion capture”.

“It is my hope that my research contributes to the way extraterrestrial robots move and make decisions on other planets,” explains Zhu (main image), an assistant researcher and deputy director at the University’s Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.

That research is in its early stages, but NASA has seen the value in it and awarded Zhu an EPSCoR grant by the name “Autonomous Rover Operations for Planetary Surface Exploration using Machine Learning Algorithms”.

Specifically, Zhu’s project focuses on robots that explore extreme terrain on lunar and planetary surfaces. “There are a few questions that I want to answer,” she says.

January 17th, 2022

Earth and Mars were formed from inner solar system material

The four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Credit: NASA/Lunar and Planetary Institute

Earth and Mars were formed from material that largely originated in the inner solar system; only a few percent of the building blocks of these two planets originated beyond Jupiter’s orbit. A group of researchers led by the University of Münster (Germany) report these findings today in the journal Science Advances. They present the most comprehensive comparison to date of the isotopic composition of Earth, Mars and pristine building material from the inner and outer solar system. Some of this material is today still found largely unaltered in meteorites. The results of the study have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the process that formed the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The theory postulating that the four rocky planets grew to their present size by accumulating millimeter-sized dust pebbles from the outer solar system is not tenable.

Approximately 4.6 billion years ago, in the early days of our solar system, a disk of dust and gasses orbited the young sun. Two theories describe how, in the course of millions of years, the inner rocky planets formed from this original building material. According to the older theory, the dust in the inner solar system agglomerated to ever larger chunks gradually reaching approximately the size of our moon. Collisions of these planetary embryos finally produced the inner planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. A newer theory, however, prefers a different growth process: Millimeter-sized dust “pebbles” migrated from the outer solar system towards the sun. On their way, they were accreted onto the planetary embryos of the inner solar system, and step by step, enlarged them to their present size.

December 13th, 2021

Time 2021 Person of the Year : Elon Musk

Photograph by Mark Mahaney for TIME

The richest man in the world does not own a house and has recently been selling off his fortune. He tosses satellites into orbit and harnesses the sun; he drives a car he created that uses no gas and barely needs a driver. With a flick of his finger, the stock market soars or swoons. An army of devotees hangs on his every utterance. He dreams of Mars as he bestrides Earth, square-jawed and indomitable. Lately, Elon Musk also likes to live-tweet his poops.

“He is a humanist—not in the sense of being a nice person, because he isn’t,” says Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, who met Musk in 2001, when the young, newly minted dot-com millionaire sent a large unsolicited check to the organization. “He wants eternal glory for doing great deeds, and he is an asset to the human race because he defines a great deed as something that is great for humanity. He is greedy for glory. Money to him is a means, not an end. Who today evaluates Thomas Edison on the basis of which of his inventions turned a profit?”

December 8th, 2021

NASA names 10 new astronaut candidates for future space missions

NASA’s 23rd class of astronaut candidates pose with NASA leaders and congressional officials at Ellington Field, near Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, at the conclusion of their announcement ceremony on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (collectSPACE)

NASA revealed the members of its new astronaut candidate class who may someday help establish a sustainable presence on the moon.

The four women and six men named on Monday (Dec. 6) comprise the U.S. space agency’s 23rd group of astronaut candidates since the Mercury 7 were chosen in 1959 and the first to be recruited since the start of NASA’s Artemis moon program. The new class of 10 was narrowed from a pool of more than 12,000 applicants after an extended recruitment process that began in March 2020 and was delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The astronaut candidates, or “ascans” for short, were announced at a ceremony held at Ellington Field, NASA’s base for flight operations, located near Johnson Space Center in Houston.

To be eligible, the new ascans had to be U.S. citizens with a masters degree from an accredited institution in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field with at least three years of related experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. The candidates also had to pass the NASA physical for long-duration spaceflight.

February 26th, 2020

What can the coronavirus outbreak teach us about bringing Mars samples back to Earth?

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

A new virus called SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that has caused an outbreak of a disease called COVID-19.

Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are still learning about the virus, monitoring the disease it causes, and researching potential ways to stop it. You can read all about the coronavirus and COVID-19 at our sibling site, LiveScience.

But me being me, my mind went straight to Mars. I have long been aware of science fiction’s vision of Earth receiving space souvenirs that carry organisms that might be dangerous to Earth’s fragile biosphere — that’s me, and you, too! Such arrivals could be accidental, or they could be purposeful.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s budget request for NASA supports the development of the Mars sample return mission, a robotic program that would haul back the goods from the Red Planet.

What if such samples turned out to be dangerous, and contagiously so? Are there some Mars-oriented lessons to be learned from COVID-19 and other major infectious diseases?

February 17th, 2020

Set your alarm: Moon, Mars and Earth to align before dawn on Tuesday

An eclipse-like event will cause Mars to vanish from the sky over North America early Tuesday morning in a rare event known to astronomers as a lunar occultation.

Similar to an eclipse when the Earth, moon and sun fall in line, during an occultation, the Earth, moon and a planet align. As a result, the Red Planet will be hidden from sight as it appears to pass directly behind the moon during Tuesday’s event.

“A lunar occultation involving a planet is a rare event,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said. “There are only a few per decade as seen from any given spot on the globe.”

People do not need a telescope to see the event as the moon and Mars are both bright enough to see with the unaided eye, but knowing when to look will be extremely important — as will the weather conditions.

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