March 20th, 2004

Did an impact basin make a water “reservoir” on Mars?

According to an analysis by a team of planetary scientists headed by James Dohm (University of Arizona), a large, underground aquifer lies within the remains of an ancient impact basin in Arabia Terra on Mars. Specifically, the team proposes that the Arabia basin spanned 1,800 miles (3,000 km) in diameter, and that it formed sometime before about 3.5 billion years ago. As essentially a big hole in the ground, such a place would have attracted and trapped a lot of water and sediments during much of Mars’s history. The team has combined data from spacecraft in Mars orbit with geophysical arguments to build what is admittedly a circumstantial case.

January 3rd, 2004

Spirit arrives

Cheers and applause erupted in the Spirit mission control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory just before 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Saturday evening. The mission team had just received an electronic signal from the Mars Exploration Rover named Spirit, confirming that it had come to rest safely in Gusev Crater on Mars. Spirit team members and NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe celebrated the space agency’s first successful landing on Mars since the Pathfinder mission and the Sojourner rover reached the martian surface in 1997. “We’re back!” O’Keefe proclaimed at a press conference about an hour after the landing.

December 29th, 2003

Listening for Beagle 2

Four days after Beagle 2 was expected to touch martian soil, the European Space Agency (ESA) still has received no word from its lander. Scientists don’t know whether a hardware or software failure is preventing the signal from being given, whether current detection methods are insufficient to pick up the signal, whether Beagle 2 landed off-target, or whether it landed safely at all.

December 17th, 2003

Mars brightens a bit

Since August, Mars has been drifting farther away from us and getting dimmer in our sky as Earth pulls ahead of it in our course around the Sun. But a large, regional dust storm has popped up on the planet, causing Mars to brighten slightly again. The storm was first reported to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on December 13 by planetary observer Don Parker of Florida. According to IAU Circular 8256, issued on Sunday morning, the dust storm appeared to extend over 3,000 kilometers (over 1,800 miles) of longitude (in the east-west direction) and about 1,800 km (over 1,100 miles) in latitude (in the north-south direction). It covered most of Chryse Planitia (a low-elevation plain where Viking 1 landed), extending west into Candor Chasma and south into Eos Chasma and Margaritifer Sinus. On Sunday, observations by Parker revealed that the cloud seemed to be spreading even farther south and into Argyre Planitia.

November 24th, 2003

Mars’s die-hard fan

In an unnamed crater in Mars’s southern hemisphere, orbiting spacecraft have uncovered a fan-shaped geological formation with twisting and overlapping features that a pair of researchers call characteristics of a “textbook” drainage basin with sedimentary deposits. The find suggests water did not just flow across the martian surface during brief floods but that rivers and lakes once had a sustained presence on the Red Planet.

November 11th, 2003

Quick fix for Mars rovers

The first in-flight check of the Mars Exploration Rovers

September 12th, 2003

Surprising Impacts on Mars and Europa

In the high-tech world of modern science, where sophisticated computers tear through complicated calculations, the value of arithmetic might seem negligible. Yet simply being able to count proves to be one of the most powerful weapons in a planetary scientist’s arsenal.

August 22nd, 2003

Sightseeing on Mars

In orbit around the Red Planet since 1997, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has captured more than 123,000 pictures of the martian surface. But according to Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, the group that operates Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), the camera’s narrow-angle (high-resolution) system has only examined about 3 percent of the planet’s craters, dunes, gullies, canyons, volcanoes, and other surface features. Now, Edgett and other members of the camera team are looking for some help to select future martian locales to image up close. They’ve established a website where you

June 9th, 2003

NASA Provides “Spirit” and “Opportunity” for Mars

As the launch time for NASA’s first Mars Exploration Rover ticked closer on Sunday morning, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe introduced a nine-year-old girl to journalists seated 11 miles from the launch pad. The Arizona third-grader, named Sofi Collis, had written to the space agency to suggest it name the twin Mars rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity.” NASA thought it was a great idea. Collis, who was born in Siberia and adopted by a U.S. woman, described her choice of names in a short essay. “I used to live in an orphanage,” she wrote. “It was dark and cold and lonely. At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the ‘Spirit’ and the ‘Opportunity.'”

May 9th, 2003

Date Set for European Trip to Mars

On June 2, a Soyuz rocket will lift off from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and carry with it the European Space Agency’s first Mars-bound spacecraft. Mars Express is not only ESA’s inaugural Mars mission but also the first of at least four missions destined for the Red Planet between late 2003 and early 2004.