MarsNews.com
May 6th, 2019

Dust storms may have stolen all of Mars’ water

Rotating globes from May 28 and July 1 show a global dust storm completely obscuring the surface of Mars.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In May 2018, Opportunity had been doing science on Mars since 2004, and there was no reason to think that the plucky rover wouldn’t carry on. Then, a dust storm hit that completely obscured the planet from view. After fine dust coated Opportunity’s solar panels, the rover apparently lost power and was declared dead by NASA in February 2019. Now, scientists think similar storms may have also delivered a coup de grace to water on Mars, stripping it from its surface for good.

At one point, Mars had a thick atmosphere and up to 20 percent of its surface was covered by liquid water, scientists figure. Around 4 billion years ago, however, Mars lost its magnetic field and with little to protect it from destructive solar winds, the red planet lost much of its atmosphere.

That left water on the surface vulnerable, and according to new observations from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), dust storms may have helped finish off the oceans and lakes. While water particles in the atmosphere normally linger at around 12 miles (20 km) in altitude, TGO noticed that the dust storms that killed Opportunity lifted H20 molecules up to 50 miles (80 km) above the ground.

April 10th, 2019

Largest dust storm on Mars ever recorded may reveal why it’s so dry

A dust storm on Mars photographed by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express
SA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storms on Mars aren’t all about dust — they’re also full of water. A satellite orbiting Mars has taken the most detailed measurements yet of how these rare events trap water at lower altitudes, which may help reveal what happened to the water that used to be abundant on the Red Planet.

In 2018, the largest recorded dust storm circled the entire Martian globe, so thick that it hid the surface from the sun and killed the Opportunity rover. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter watched this cataclysmic storm from orbit. Just before sunset and just after sunrise on Mars, it examined the atmosphere to determine how the dust storm absorbed sunlight.

Ann Carine Vandaele at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy and her colleagues used this data to determine how water was behaving in the storm. They found that just before the storm, there were water ice clouds in the atmosphere, but no water vapour more than 40 kilometres above the surface. This changed a few days later when water vapour appeared at altitudes of 40 and 80 kilometres, seemingly replacing the water ice clouds.

February 13th, 2019

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004), by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

January 24th, 2019

Silent Mars Rover Opportunity Marks 15 Years on Red Planet in Bittersweet Anniversary

An artist’s concept portrays a NASA Mars Exploration Rover on the surface of Mars. Two rovers were launched in 2003 and arrived at sites on Mars in January 2004.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

NASA’s Opportunity rover has now been on Mars for 15 years, but the milestone is a bittersweet one.

Opportunity touched down on the night of Jan. 24, 2004, a few weeks after its twin, Spirit, landed on a different patch of Red Planet ground. Both solar-powered rovers embarked on three-month missions to search for signs of past water activity — and both delivered in spades, finding plenty of such evidence and continuing to roam long after their warranties expired.

“Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is testament not only to a magnificent machine of exploration but the dedicated and talented team behind it that has allowed us to expand our discovery space of the Red Planet,” John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Spirit finally went silent in March 2010. After getting bogged down in thick sand, the rover lost the ability to orient itself to catch the winter sun and ended up freezing to death, NASA officials have said. Spirit finally went silent in March 2010. After getting bogged down in thick sand, the rover lost the ability to orient itself to catch the winter sun and ended up freezing to death, NASA officials have said.

Opportunity may have recently met a similar fate: It hasn’t made a peep since June 10, 2018.

December 12th, 2018

This Scientist With Ankylosing Spondylitis Works On Mars

Dr. Tanya N. Harrison, Ph.D., driving the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) at the CSA “Mars Yard” near Montreal.
Canadian Space Agency

Dr. Tanya N. Harrison, Ph.D., calls herself a professional Martian, and it is clear she is once you know what she does for a living.

Tanya spends her days exploring Mars as a science team collaborator on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) “Opportunity.” In addition to her work as a planetary scientist and the director of research for Arizona State University’s space technology and science (“NewSpace”) initiative, she regularly tweets about living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

HealthCentral caught up with Tanya by email to learn more about what goes on behind those tweets. This interview, edited for clarity, offers a glimpse into Tanya’s journey as a woman living with AS in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

December 10th, 2018

NASA’s Lincoln penny on Mars shows how hard the wind blows




Image of the MAHLI calibration target before Image of the MAHLI calibration target after

The global dust storm on Mars earlier this year coated NASA’s rovers in a layer of red planet grime. A new set of images shows how the current windy season is cleaning off the Curiosity rover.

Curiosity team member and planetary scientist Abigail Fraeman posted an update to the mission blog on Wednesday with two images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover’s arm.

The first image dates to Sept. 4 and shows the coin used to help calibrate Curiosity’s camera and test its performance. The penny is coated with Mars dust, a reminder of the powerful storm that knocked NASA’s Opportunity rover out of contact in June.

The second image is from Dec. 2 and shows a much cleaner penny. “Dust has certainly been blowing around in Gale Crater lately,” writes Fraeman.

November 29th, 2018

Opinion: Mars Beckons

Niv Bavarsky

The science and technology behind NASA’s latest space explorer to land on Mars are so awe-inducing that it’s hardly surprising when scientists commenting on the triumph drop their usual jargon to speak like excited schoolchildren.

“It’s nice and dirty; I like that,” was how Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator behind the InSight mission, reacted when, shortly after setting down Monday on the flat and featureless Martian plain known as the Elysium Planitia, the lander beamed back an image speckled with red dust. “This image is actually a really good argument for why you put a dust cover on a camera. Good choice, right?”

Unlike the [rovers], InSight — Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — is meant to stay in one spot and deploy instruments to measure marsquakes (yes, on Earth they’re “earthquakes”) in order to learn about what’s going on in the innards of the planet. One gizmo will take Mars’s temperature by hammering itself 16 feet below the surface. Deploying the instruments alone is expected to take two months, and the entire mission is meant to last a Martian year, roughly two Earth years.

What for? A random sampling of comments from the public suggests not everyone is convinced that digging on Mars is money well spent. But the basic answer is that whether it’s practical or not, humans will continue to explore the heavens so long as the moon, Mars and the myriad celestial bodies beyond fire our imagination and curiosity. What happened in the earliest days of the universe? How were Earth and its fellow planets formed? And the question of questions: Is there life out there?

November 15th, 2018

Mars Researcher Takes A Journey To The Red Planet — Through Her Family Tree

Dr. Tanya Harrison holds up a copy of Ira Sweet Bunker’s short story.
Annika Cline/KJZZ

You can refer to Tanya Harrison as “Dr. Harrison,” but there’s another title she likes, too.

“I’m what I like to call a professional Martian,” she said.

She’s a geologist who explores Mars through the eyes of NASA’s Opportunity rover, which recently celebrated its 5,000th Martian day out there on the planet’s dusty surface. Harrison is also director of research for the NewSpace Initiative at ASU.

“I get to spend a lot of my time looking at images from Mars, which I think is really exciting, especially if you’re doing something with the rovers were you might be one of the first people in history to ever see that piece of Mars from the rover,” she said.

“I’d always been interested in space. I grew up watching a lot of Star Trek with my parents. But in 1997 when the Mars Pathfinder mission landed, NASA released a little animation of photos of the Sojourner rover driving off the lander onto the surface of Mars,” Harrison recalled. “And I remember seeing that and thinking, we’re driving a robot on another planet tens of millions of miles away. And my brain just couldn’t comprehend how awesome that was. And so that kind of shifted my focus from just kind of general space to — I really want to work on Mars.”

So she did. Not literally, but as close as anyone can get right now. Every image she sees from the rover unravels another little mystery about the red planet.

Then last year, her mom made a discovery.

“So my mother is really into genealogy,” Harrison said. “And she told me at one point recently that she had come across my great great uncle, whose name is Ira Sweet Bunker. And she found out from his obituary, of all things, that he had written a story called: ‘A Thousand Years Hence; Or, Startling Events In The Year 3000.’”

Subtitle: “A Trip To Mars, Incidents By The Way.”

November 13th, 2018

Storm that silenced Mars Opportunity rover has finally settled

Opportunity snapped this selfie in 2014 after winds cleaned dust off its solar panels.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover has had a rough year. The machine went silent in June when a global dust storm engulfed the planet and cut off its access to sunlight. The good news is the storm has finally cleared completely. The bad news is the rover is still silent.

NASA posted a mission update covering late October into early November, noting the rover site is now storm free.

The space agency measures the atmospheric opacity, known as “tau,” to determine how much dust is swirling around in the Martian sky. It’s at a level of 0.8, down from 10.8 on June 10, when NASA last heard from the rover. NASA uses its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to monitor the atmosphere from above.

September 27th, 2018

These pictures show the exact hill NASA’s longest-lived Mars robot may die upon

A 3D illustration showing NASA’s Opportunity rover in Perseverance Valley on Mars. Seán Doran/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Business Insider

A satellite orbiting Mars has taken a remarkable yet potentially somber photo of NASA’s longest-lived robot on the red planet.

That robot is the Mars Opportunity rover, which is about the size of a golf cart, landed in January 2004, and was supposed to last 90 days. However, Opportunity has explored Mars for more than 15 years and trekked more than 28 miles across the planet using solar energy.

Its days may be numbered, though.

When a global dust storm began to envelope Mars about 100 days ago, Opportunity stopped getting enough sunlight to its solar panels. This triggered it to go to sleep on June 10 and conserve battery power, which the rover needs to run heaters that protect its circuits from blistering Martian cold.

“The rover’s team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hasn’t heard from the rover since,” Andrew Good, a representative for the lab, wrote in a press release.

Though a new satellite image gives mission controllers hope that Opportunity will wake up, the mission may be nearing its end.