MarsNews.com
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.

September 11th, 2018

Interplanetary Memorial to Victims of September 11, 2001

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

The piece of metal with the American flag on it in this image of a NASA rover on Mars is made of aluminum recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers in the weeks after their destruction. The piece serves as a cable guard for the rock abrasion tool on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit as well as a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks. An identical piece is on the twin rover, Opportunity.

The rock abrasion tools were built by Honeybee Robotics in lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the site.

June 13th, 2018

Enormous Dust Storm On Mars Threatens The Opportunity Rover

A series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA’s Opportunity rover’s point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity’s current view in the global dust storm (June 2018).
NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU

A massive dust storm on Mars is threatening NASA’s Opportunity rover, which has been conducting research on the Red Planet for well over a decade.

Where the rover sits, the dust storm has completely blotted out the sun, depriving Opportunity of solar power and cutting off communications with Earth.

NASA scientists believe the rover has fallen asleep to wait out the storm, and that when the dust storm dies down and sunlight returns, the rover will resume activity.

“We’re concerned, but we’re hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate with us,” says John Callas, the Opportunity project manager.

The rover has survived dust storms before, but it’s never lost power this thoroughly.

The dust storm on Mars grew from a small, local storm into a massive event over the course of the last two weeks. Opportunity is located near the middle of the storm, while the newer rover Curiosity — which is nuclear-powered, so not threatened by the loss of sunlight — is currently near the storm’s edge.

December 13th, 2017

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Withstands Another Harsh Winter On Mars

Artist’s impression of the Opportunity Rover, part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the Opportunity rover landed on Mars on January 25th, 2004, its mission was only meant to last for about 90 Earth days. But the little rover that could has exceeded all expectations by remaining in operation (as of the writing of this article) for a total of 13 years and 231 days and traveled a total of about 50 km (28 mi). Basically, Opportunity has continued to remain mobile and gather scientific data 50 times longer than its designated lifespan.

And according to a recent announcement from NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the rover managed to survive yet another winter on Mars. Having endured the its eight Martian winter in a row, and with its solar panels in encouragingly clean condition, the rover will be in good shape for the coming dust-storm season. It also means the rover will live to see its 14th anniversary, which will take place on January 25th, 2018.

At present, both the Opportunity and Spirit rover are in Mars’ southern hemisphere. Here, the Sun appears in the northern sky during the fall and winter, so the rovers need to tilt their solar-arrays northward. Back in 2004, the Spirit rover had lost the use of two of its wheels, and could therefore not maneuver out of a sand trap it had become stuck in. As such, it was unable to tilt itself northward and did not survive its fourth Martian winter (in 2009).

January 27th, 2016

NASA’s Opportunity shatters expectations with 12 years on Mars

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm in this image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is “Private John Potts.”

When NASA scientists landed Opportunity on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, they expected the rover to last for three months.

Opportunity has far outlived its life expectancy, still going strong twelve years later.

And keeping Opportunity alive and moving hasn’t been easy for NASA scientists. Opportunity’s batteries are powered by its own solar panels, an elusive energy source during dark and windy winters.

“Cleaning events have become a critical, yet unplanned component of long-duration solar powered missions on the Martian surface,” explains Discovery News. The rovers’ drivers on Earth optimize windstorms to clean the dusty panels. “Opportunity’s most recent cleaning event occurred toward the end of 2015, before it plunged into Martian winter, thus allowing the rover to continue its valuable work into 2016.”