US and European efforts to send joint missions to Mars have encountered yet another hitch. A letter from Washington formally committing to combined ventures at the planet this decade was expected in Paris this week, but has not arrived. It makes it harder for Europe to authorise its industry to start the next phase of building on an orbiter to hunt for Methane in Mars’ atmosphere.
Plants on distant hospitable planets could have developed black foliage and flowers to survive, according to a new study. Flora that would appear black or grey to human eyes could have evolved on planets orbiting dim “red dwarf” stars, according to unpublished research that is being presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.
Self-cleaning technology developed for lunar and Mars missions could be used to keep terrestrial solar panels dust free
Dust deposits can reduce the efficiency of electricity generating solar panels by as much as 80%.
The self cleaning technology can repel dust when sensors detect concentrations on the panel’s surface have reached a critical level.
The research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Large scale solar installations are usually in sunny, dry desert areas where winds can deposit layers of dust over the solar panels.
Solar panels in the Mojave desert cover many kilometres. In one month, dust fall can reach as much as 17kg per square kilometre.
The dust reduces the amount of light that enters the panels and so the electricity they can generate.
Romain Charles and Diego Urbina have been chosen to go into a set of steel containers on 3 June with two Russians and a Chinese national.
The group’s exile will test the physical and mental requirements of ultra-long duration spaceflight.
Their Mars500 “spaceship”, which is located in Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems, has no windows.
All the food and water needed for their “journey” will have to be loaded before “departure”.
The experiment’s designers intend to make the exercise as realistic as possible by introducing a time delay in communications after two months.
Because it can take about 20 minutes for a message to travel from Mars to Earth, it will take this amount of time in the simulation, also.
Barack Obama says it should be possible to send astronauts to orbit the planet Mars by the mid-2030s and return them safely to Earth.
The US president made the claim in a major speech to staff at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
He was laying out the details of his new policy for the US space agency.
Mr Obama said he was giving NASA challenging goals and the funding needed to achieve them, including an extra $6bn over the next five years.
“By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crew missions beyond the Moon into deep space,” the President said. “So, we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.”
And then he added: “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth, and a landing on Mars will follow.”
A Belgian, two Frenchmen and a Colombian-Italian have agreed to be locked away in steel containers for 18 months to simulate a mission to Mars.
Their self-imposed exile will test the physical and mental requirements of ultra-long duration spaceflight.
The Europeans will join a predominantly Russian crew for the Mars500 project, which is due to start in May.
All the food and water needed for the “journey” will have to be loaded into the “spacecraft” before “departure”.
There will even be a simulated landing.
After about 250 days, the crew will be split in two, and three “cosmonauts” will move into a separate container to walk on the “surface of the Red Planet” wearing modified Russian Orlan spacesuits.
The European Mars Express (Mex) probe has made its closest flyby of the Martian moon Phobos, passing just 67km (42 miles) from its surface.
No manmade object has ever been so near to the natural satellite.
The approach is one of a series being made by Mex as it seeks to understand the origin of the moon.
Previous flybys have indicated that Phobos has an extremely low density, suggesting that its surface probably hides many large interior voids.
Scientists suspect the moon is simply a collection of planetary rubble that coalesced around the Red Planet sometime after its formation.
It weighs almost a tonne, has cost more than $2bn and, in 2013, it will be lowered on to the surface of Mars with a landing system that has never been tried before.
The Mars Science Laboratory will “revolutionise investigations in science on other planets”, says Doug McCuistion, director of Nasa’s Mars exploration programme.
It will, he says, lay the foundations for future missions that will eventually bring pieces of the Red Planet back home to Earth.
“The ability to put a metric tonne on the surface… gives us the capability to undertake sample collection,” says Dr McCuistion. “To collect and launch samples back into orbit will require that size of a vehicle.”
The methane found on Mars is not brought to the planet by meteor strikes, scientists say.
Meteoritic material subjected to high temperatures did not release enough methane to account for the amount believed to be released on Mars.
The researchers argue that the methane must therefore be created by geologic or chemical processes, or it is a by-product of microbial life.
The work appears in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
The origin of the methane on Mars has remained a mystery since it was first detected in 2004.
Because methane has a limited lifetime in the Martian atmosphere before degrading, some process must be pumping hundreds of tonnes of it into the Martian atmosphere annually to keep it at the levels that have been detected.
The US and European space agencies have signed the “letter of intent” that ties together their Mars programmes.
The agreement, which was penned in Washington DC, gives the green light to scientists and engineers to begin the joint planning of Red Planet missions.
The union will start with a European-led orbiter in 2016, and continue with surface rovers in 2018, and then perhaps a network of landers in 2018.
The ultimate aim is a mission to return Mars rock and soils to Earth labs.