March 14th, 2016

Mars TGO mission heads for Red Planet on methane quest

The satellite, called the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), lifted off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan at 09:31 GMT.

The probe will investigate whether the methane in the world’s atmosphere is coming from a geological source or is being produced by microbes.

If all goes well, the two space powers expect to follow up this venture with a rover, to be assembled in the UK, which will drill into the surface.

That could launch in 2018, or, as seems increasingly likely, in 2020.

October 15th, 2015

Did Mars once have rivers? Pebbles say yes.

Researchers have used the shape of rounded Martian pebbles to extrapolate how far they must have traveled down an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet. The analysis suggests they moved approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers), indicating that Mars once had an extensive river system.

The shape of some Martian pebbles suggests these rocks once rolled dozens of miles down a river, hinting that ancient Martian waterways were stable and not merely ephemeral streams, researchers say.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity discovered the small, round stones near its landing site in Gale Crater on the Red Planet in 2013. Researchers previously determined that these stones resemble those found in rivers on Earth, which become round as they slide, roll and hop down riverbeds and scrape other rocks.

Now, a new study suggests the Martian rocks rolled in the river for quite a while — a finding that should help scientists reconstruct what ancient Mars was like and shed light on the Red Planet’s past potential to support life, study team members said.

October 8th, 2015

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Team Confirms Ancient Lakes on Mars

Strata at Base of Mount Sharp

A new study from the team behind NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity has confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time.

Using data from the Curiosity rover, the team has determined that, long ago, water helped deposit sediment into Gale Crater, where the rover landed more than three years ago. The sediment deposited as layers that formed the foundation for Mount Sharp, the mountain found in the middle of the crater today.

“Observations from the rover suggest that a series of long-lived streams and lakes existed at some point between about 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, delivering sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and co-author of the new Science article to be published Friday, Oct. 9.

September 28th, 2015

NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars NASA

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New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.
“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

June 23rd, 2015

Nathalie Cabrol: How Mars might hold the secret to the origin of life TED Talks

While we like to imagine little green men, it’s far more likely that life on other planets will be microbial. Planetary scientist Nathalie Cabrol takes us inside the search for microbes on Mars, a hunt which counterintuitively leads us to the remote lakes of the Andes mountains. This extreme environment — with its thin atmosphere and scorched land — approximates the surface of Mars about 3.5 billion years ago. How microbes adapt to survive here may just show us where to look on Mars — and could help us understand why some microbial pathways lead to civilization while others are a dead end.

May 21st, 2015

Mars mystery: ExoMars mission to finally resolve question of life on red planet euronews

The ExoMars 2016 mission will try to answer one of the toughest and most intriguing questions of space exploration: is there or has there ever been life on Mars?

Getting to Mars, landing there safely, and then beginning the search for life is a huge scientific and technical challenge for the huge team behind ExoMars, a joint ESA and Roscosmos project to search for life on Mars. It is the world’s biggest ever mission to the red planet.

The first spacecraft is almost ready and Maurizio Capuano, the ExoMars 2016 Program Manager, accompanied Euronews’ on a privileged close encounter with the probe at Thales Alenia Space’s facility in Cannes, southern France.

“This is ExoMars 2016 which next year will land on the red planet. The lower part will go into orbit around Mars, putting out its solar panels to get energy from the sun, and the upper part is the lander which will land directly on the Martian surface completely autonomously,” he explained.

March 26th, 2015

NASA Finds New Evidence of Life-Supporting Ingredient on Mars ABCNews

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence of nitrogen on Mars, proving that the red planet has — or at least had — the right stuff to sustain life.

The rover drilled into Martian rocks and discovered evidence of nitrates, which are essential compounds to the building blocks of life.

“The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life,” NASA said in a blog post.

January 25th, 2015

28 Months on Mars The New York Times

NASA’s Curiosity rover has explored Gale Crater for 833 Martian days, or Sols. And it has found evidence, written in red rocks and sand, of lakes and streams on a warmer, wetter, habitable Mars.

January 8th, 2015

Are there fossils on Mars? The Christian Science Monitor

A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet.
The photos were taken as the Mars rover Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, a dry lakebed that underwent seasonal flooding billions of years ago. Mars and Earth shared a similar early history. The Red Planet was a much warmer and wetter world back then.
On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and coastal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known asmicrobially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth’s history.

December 16th, 2014

NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars NASA

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.
“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.