MarsNews.com
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.

September 16th, 2016

Mars had liquid water a billion years longer than we even thought possible

Valleys much younger than well-known ancient valley networks on Mars are evident near the informally named “Heart Lake” on Mars. This map presents color-coded topographical information overlaid onto a photo mosaic. Lower elevations are indicated with white and purple; higher elevations, yellow.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Lakes and snowmelt-fed streams on Mars formed much later than previously thought possible, according to new findings using data primarily from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The recently discovered lakes and streams appeared roughly a billion years after a well-documented, earlier era of wet conditions on ancient Mars. These results provide insight into the climate history of the Red Planet and suggest the surface conditions at this later time may also have been suitable for microbial life.

“We discovered valleys that carried water into lake basins,” said Sharon Wilson of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “Several lake basins filled and overflowed, indicating there was a considerable amount of water on the landscape during this time.”

Wilson and colleagues found evidence of these features in Mars’ northern Arabia Terra region by analyzing images from the Context Camera and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and additional data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express.

June 1st, 2015

What’s up with these weird blue patches on Mars? Mashable

A European probe in orbit around Mars just photographed two deep blue patches on the Martian surface, but while they might look like lakes to the untrained eye, don’t be deceived. The spots are actually layers of dark, volcanic rock that appear blue in the photo taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. From possible blue auroras to a blue sunset, this photo is just the latest in a series of “blue” images of the red planet.

May 28th, 2015

Blue Aurorae in Mars’ Sky Visible to the Naked Eye NASA

For the first time, an international team of scientists from NASA, the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble (IPAG), the European Space Agency and Aalto University in Finland, have predicted that colorful, glowing aurorae can be seen by the naked eye on a terrestrial planet other than Earth — Mars.

Visible Martian aurorae seemed possible after the SPICAM imaging instrument on-board the ESA satellite Mars Express spotted aurorae from space in 2005. Those observations were confirmed in March 2015 by the NASA-led MAVEN mission, which completed 1,000 orbits around the red planet on April 6, 2015.

Through laboratory experiments and a physical numerical model developed at NASA and IPAG, the study shows that, on Mars, aurorae also occur in the visible range. The most intense color is deep blue. As on Earth, green and red colors are also present. Several times during a solar cycle, after intense solar eruptions, these lights are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

May 4th, 2015

Traffic Around Mars Gets Busy NASA

NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.

Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.

It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA’s other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA’s and India’s orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits

March 9th, 2015

Mars Express Webcam Available for Public Use in May for Images of the Red Planet ESA

In May, the ‘webcam’ on board Mars Express will be available for public imaging requests. We’re inviting schools, science clubs and youth groups to submit proposals for one of eight opportunities to image another planet.
ESA are inviting public proposals for a number of observation slots using the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board Mars Express.
VMC – the ‘Mars Webcam’ – is a simple, low-resolution device that was originally intended only to provide visual confirmation of Beagle lander separation. Since 2007, it has provided unique images of Mars, including crescent views of the planet not obtainable from Earth, which are routinely shared via a dedicated blog and Flickr. Online registration: Deadline 12:00 CET, 27 March

September 24th, 2014

Mars Robotic Spacecraft Population Reaches New High IEEE Spectrum

September has shaped up to be a very exciting month in the annals of Mars exploration. Two new spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and India’s first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), have now entered orbit around the Red Planet.
The new arrivals bring the population of active Mars missions to seven—a record high, confirms Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy organization. On the ground now are Opportunity, which landed in 2004, and NASA’s Curiosity rover, which recently entered its third year of operation.
MAVEN and MOM join a complement of three orbiters: NASA’s 13-year-old Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s 11-year-old Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived in 2006.

August 15th, 2014

Mars Orbiters Duck for Cover Sky & Telescope

As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.

June 19th, 2014

Comet’s Brush With Mars Offers Opportunity, Not Danger University of Maryland

Comet Siding Spring will brush astonishingly close to Mars later this year – close enough to raise concerns about the safety of three spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. But after observing Siding Spring through a satellite-mounted telescope, University of Maryland comet experts found that it poses little danger to the Mars craft. The NASA spacecraft will be able to get an unprecedented close look at the changes happening to this “fresh” comet as it nears the sun – as well as any changes its passing may trigger in the Martian atmosphere.
Fresh comets like Siding Spring, which have never before approached the sun, contain some of the most ancient material scientists can study. The UMD astronomers’ observations are part of a two-year-long research campaign to watch how the comet’s activity changes during its travels.

March 6th, 2014

Big Mars Impact Gave Earth Most of Its Martian Meteorites Space.com

A huge meteorite impact on Mars five million years ago blasted toward Earth many of the rocks that scientists scrutinize to learn more about the Red Planet, a new study reveals.
The cosmic crash left a 34-mile-wide (55 kilometers) gouge on Mars called Mojave Crater and is the source of all “shergottite” or igneous rock Martian meteorites found on Earth, researchers say. Examining the crater and the meteorites also led to new revelations about how old the rocks are.