May 20th, 2010

Did Winter Kill the Mars Lander? NASA listens One Last Time for a Sign of Life The Daily Galaxy

Experts hold out slim hopes that hard-working NASA robot didn’t freeze to death during Martian winter, but NASA is making one final effort to detect signs of life in the dormant Phoenix Mars Lander. This week marks NASA’s fourth attempt to listen for signals showing that the Mars Lander did not perish during the frigid — and long — Martian winter. The Mars Odyssey made similar attempts in January, February and April of this year. NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey yesterday began sending out radio signals for a last time in the hopes that the robotic Lander will pick them up and respond. Through Friday, the orbiter will make 61 flights this week high over the Mars Lander’s site on the Martian surface.
“To be thorough, we decided to conduct this final session around the time of the summer solstice, during the best thermal and power conditions for Phoenix,” said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, in a statement.

April 21st, 2010

Mars’ Olympus Mons 3 x Height of Mount Everest-The Solar System’s Most Massive Volcano The Daily Galaxy

Mars, as the images issued by the Phoenix probe show us, is not like the Earth: “It is continuous, seamless and sealess,” writes Oliver Morton -Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World. But rising above the Red Planets frequent dust storms is the Olympus Mons -the tallest known volcano and mountain in our solar system. The central edifice of this shield volcano stands 27 kilometers ( 88,580 ft) high above the surface -or three times the elevation of Mount Everest above sea level and 2.6 times the height of Mauna Kea above its base. It is 550 km in width, flanked by steep cliffs, and has a caldera complex that is 85 km long, 60 km wide, and up to 3 km deep with six overlapping pit craters. Its outer edge is defined by an escarpment up to 6 km tall; unique among the shield volcanoes of the Red Planet.

November 11th, 2008

Has Mars Science Laboratory Made the Discovery of the Decade? The Daily Galaxy

Planetary scientists at NASA’s Goddard Flight Center claim to have identified hotspots of methane gas emission, extremely localized plumes whose concentration fades quickly in time. An atmosphere-wide distribution that’s stable in time would indicate a balance between geological sources and destruction by sunlight. Localized sources, however, suggest much more active sources.
What’s the best source of methane most people know about? Cows. That’s unlikely on Mars. But backing off a level, the important factor is LIFE. NASA team leader Michael Mumma puts forward the idea that subterranean bacteria could be producing the noxious fumes, which periodically percolate to the surface in short lived bursts. But it could also be a geological source deep below the surface. The CH4 was identified spectroscopically, analyzing the exact wavelengths of the light emitted from certain regions over time. It’s exactly the same strategy the astronomers of old used, “just looking at what color things are”, but since we worked out (some) quantum mechanics the same light can tell us so much more. Unfortunately, it can’t make the crucial distinction between life or rock-based gas.
But if we can just get a bit closer we can find out.