July 29th, 2015

Curiosity U-turns, checks out weird rock on Mars RedOrbit

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity only has so much time to complete its mission, so when scientists running the project decide to make a U-turn – it must be for something important.

The NASA team turned around their rover to investigate a large rock formation, dubbed Elk, found to have surprisingly high levels of silica. High levels of silica would allow for conditions favorable to the protection of ancient carbon-containing organic molecules, NASA said in a press release.

“One never knows what to expect on Mars, but the Elk target was interesting enough to go back and investigate,” said Roger Wiens, a principal investigator from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

July 24th, 2015

A New Way to Prepare Samples of Mars for Return to the Earth Planetary Society

Mars 2020, NASA’s next and yet-to-be-named Mars rover, will be the first mission to collect and prepare samples of the martian surface for return to Earth. This process is known as caching, and it is the crucial first step of a fully-born sample return campaign that could define the next two decades of robotic Mars exploration. Recently, the Mars 2020 engineering team proposed a new caching strategy that differs from previous concepts in some interesting ways.

JPL calls this adaptive caching, but I like to think of it more as the cache depot strategy. This means that after coring samples and placing them into hermetically-sealed tubes (the same process for any sort of caching), the rover will then deposit groups of samples on the ground throughout its drive. A future rover would retrieve some or all of these samples, place them in a rocket, and launch them into Mars orbit.

July 16th, 2015

Curiosity rover finds evidence of Mars’ primitive continental crust Los Alamos National Laboratory

The ChemCam laser instrument on NASA’s Curiosity rover has turned its beam onto some unusually light-colored rocks on Mars, and the results are surprisingly similar to Earth’s granitic continental crust rocks. This is the first discovery of a potential “continental crust” on Mars.

“Along the rover’s path we have seen some beautiful rocks with large, bright crystals, quite unexpected on Mars” said Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, lead scientist on the ChemCam instrument. “As a general rule, light-colored crystals are lower density, and these are abundant in igneous rocks that make up the Earth’s continents.”

Mars has been viewed as an almost entirely basaltic planet, with igneous rocks that are dark and relatively dense, similar to those forming the Earth’s oceanic crust, Wiens noted. However, Gale crater, where the Curiosity rover landed, contains fragments of very ancient igneous rocks (around 4 billion years old) that are distinctly light in color, which were analyzed by the ChemCam instrument.

July 13th, 2015

The Curiosity Rover Is Helping NASA Study the Far Side of the Sun Gizmodo


As Curiosity works its way up Mount Sharp on Mars, studying rock and soil samples, it’s also helping scientists observe sunspots on the far side of the Sun.

From its vantage point on Mars, Curiosity currently has a good view of the side of the Sun that’s pointed away from Earth, and its mast camera (Mastcam) is sending home images of sunspots that can help scientists better understand solar emissions.

That’s not just a matter of academic interest. Sunspots that form on the far side of the Sun will rotate to face Earth within a few days, since it only takes about a month for the Sun to rotate completely. “One sunspot or cluster that rotated out of Curiosity’s view over the July 4 weekend showed up by July 7 as a source area of a solar eruption observed by NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory,” said NASA in a press release.

June 3rd, 2015

Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun NASA

In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.

May 19th, 2015

Here’s how to download the code NASA uses in its rockets Business Insider

Nerds and future billionaires rejoice: codes used on NASA’s rockets are now free and legal to download.

For the second year in a row, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has released its public software catalogue, a list of over 1,000 selected programs and codes available for download via the agency’s website.

With only a few restrictions, the release allows US coders and programmers to peak under the hood of NASA programs that the agency doesn’t deem too sensitive to share.

May 13th, 2015

Why Mars sunsets are blue and Earth sunsets are red KING 5 Seattle

We might be finding a new nickname for the red planet. Recently, NASA’s Curiosity Rover took the first colored image of a sunset on Mars.

You would think that the red planet would have a red sunset, but apparently that’s not the case. The image shows a sunset with a bluish hue. Scientists say dust in Mars’ atmosphere is to blame. Very fine particles allow blue light to push through the atmosphere more effectively than the longer wavelength colors like yellow and red.

April 23rd, 2015

Mars Orbiter Views Curiosity Rover in ‘Artist’s Drive’ NASA

A view from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 8, 2015, catches sight of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover passing through a valley called “Artist’s Drive” on the lower slope of Mount Sharp.

The image from the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera shows the rover’s position after a drive of about 75 feet (23 meters) during the 949th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

The location of the rover, with its shadow extending toward the right, is indicated with an inscribed rectangle. North is toward the top. The view covers an area about 550 yards (500 meters) across.

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.

March 4th, 2015

Testing to Diagnose Power Event in Mars Rover NASA

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is expected to remain stationary for several days of engineering analysis following an onboard fault-protection action on Feb. 27 that halted a process of transferring sample material between devices on the rover’s robotic arm.
Telemetry received from the rover indicated that a transient short circuit occurred and the vehicle followed its programmed response, stopping the arm activity underway at the time of the irregularity in the electric current.
“We are running tests on the vehicle in its present configuration before we move the arm or drive,” said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is.”
A transient short in some systems on the rover would have little effect on rover operations. In others, it could prompt the rover team to restrict use of a mechanism.