The Curiosity Mars rover has found some strange-looking little things on Mars – you’ve likely heard of the Mars ‘flower,’ the piece of benign plastic from the rover itself, and other bright flecks of granules in the Martian soil. Now the rover has imaged a small metallic-looking protuberance on a rock. Visible in the image above (the green lines point to it), the protuberance appears to have a high albedo and even projects a shadow on the rock below. The image was taken with the right Mastcam on Curiosity on Sol 173 — January 30, 2013 here on Earth — (see the original raw image here), and was pointed out to us by Elisabetta Bonora, an image editing enthusiast from Italy.
Another Weird Shiny Thing on Mars Universe Today
The Curiosity Rover’s Ultimate Self-Portrait Universe Today
NASA says that self-portraits like this one document the state of the rover and allow mission engineers to track changes over time, such as dust accumulation and wheel wear. Due to its location on the end of the robotic arm, only MAHLI (among the rover’s 17 cameras) is able to image some parts of the craft, including the port-side wheels.
Researchers Send Mars Some Radar Love Universe Today
Even though we currently have several missions exploring Mars both from orbit and on the ground, there’s no reason that robots should be having all the fun; recently a team of radio astronomers aimed the enormous 305-meter dish at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory at Mars, creating radar maps of the Red Planet’s volcanic regions and capturing a surprising level of detail for Earth-based observations.
The team, led by John Harmon of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, bounced radar waves off Mars from Arecibo’s incredibly-sensitive dish, targeting the volcanic Tharsis, Elysium, and Amazonis regions. Depolarized radar imagery best reveals surface textures; the rougher and less uniform a surface is, the brighter it appears to radar while smooth, flat surfaces appear dark.
Remember this amazing image from 2008? The HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the Phoenix lander descending on a parachute to land on Mars’ north polar region. MRO will attempt a repeat performance in August of 2012 when the Mars Science Laboratory rover “Curiosity” will be landing in Gale Crater on Mars. Capturing this event would be epic, especially with MSL’s unique “skycrane” landing system.
“Yes, MRO is planning to image the descent of MSL with both HiRISE and CTX (Context Camera),” Alfred McEwen, HiRISE principal investigator told Universe Today. “For Phoenix we got a bit lucky with HiRISE in terms of the geometry, giving us a high probability of success. It may not work out so well for MSL. What I’d really like is to capture the rover hanging from the skycrane, but the timing may be difficult.”
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff Universe Today
Russia’s exploration of the Red Planet following the failed Mars 96 mission and is currently scheduled to head to space just weeks prior to this year’s other Mars mission – namely NASA’s next Mars rover, the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).
Blastoff of Phobos-Grunt may come as early as around Nov. 5 to Nov. 8 atop a Russian Zenit 3-F rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch window extends until about Nov. 25. Elements of the spacecraft are undergoing final prelaunch testing at Baikonur.
“November will see the launch of the Phobos-Grunt interplanetary automatic research station aimed at delivering samples of the Martian natural satellite’s soil to Earth’” said Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, speaking recently at a session of the State Duma according to the Voice of Russia, a Russian government news agency
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars Universe Today
Assembly of the powerful Atlas V booster that will rocket NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover to Mars is nearly complete. The Atlas V is taking shape inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rocket is built by United Launch Alliance under contract to NASA as part of NASA’s Launch Services Program to loft science satellites on expendable rockets.
Blastoff of Curiosity remains on schedule for Nov. 25, 2011, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. The launch window for a favorable orbital alignment to Mars remains open until Dec. 18 after which the mission would face a 26 month delay at a cost likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Curiosity is set to touchdown on Mars at Gale Crater between August 6 & August 20, 2012. The compact car sized rover is equipped with 10 science instruments that will search for signs of habitats that could potentially support martian microbial life, past or present if it ever existed.
Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially? Universe Today
What will it take to actually get humans to Mars? The best answer is probably money. The right amount of cold, hard cash will certainly solve a lot of problems and eliminate hurdles in sending a human mission to the Red Planet. But cash-strapped federal space agencies aren’t currently in the position to be able to direct a mission to another world – at least in the near term – and seemingly, a trip Mars is always 20-30 years off into the future. But how about a commercially funded effort?
At first glance, a paper published recently in the somewhat dubious Journal of Cosmology appears to have some merits on using an independent corporation to administer and supervise a marketing campaign – similar to what sports teams do to sell merchandise, gain sponsors, garner broadcasting rights and arrange licensing initiatives. The paper’s author, a psychologist named Dr. Rhawn Joseph, says that going to Mars and establishing a colony would likely cost $150 billion dollars over 10 years, and he lays out a plan for making money for a sustained Mars mission through the sale of merchandise, naming rights and even creating a reality TV show and selling property rights on Mars.
Could such a scheme work?
Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars Universe Today
The ‘face’ on Mars, a popular landform in Cydonia Region on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Here’s a picture you probably won’t see in the tabloid racks while waiting in line at the grocery store. This is the famous “Face on Mars,” and is the closest image ever of this landform, taken by the best Mars camera ever, HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And it certainly looks like …. the top of mesa, which is exactly what it is. This feature in the Cydonia region of Mars is most likely a lava dome that has created an isolated mesa or butte-like structure, i.e., a hill. Compare this image to the original image from the Viking orbiter from 1976 image, below, which created such a furor, including a whole new culture of conspiracy theories, books, late-night radio talk show discussion and even a full-length feature film. Alas, its just a hill.
This image shows the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity perched on the edge of Concepción Crater in Meridiani Planum, Mars. This image was taken by HiRISE on February 13, 2010, on sol 2153 of Opportunity’s mission on Mars. If you look closely, you can see rover tracks in the ripples to the north and northwest of the rover! Wow! See below for a wonderful colorized close-up version by Stu Atkinson that shows the tracks very clearly. Scientists use these high-resolution images (about 25 cm/pixel) to help navigate the rover. In addition, rover exploration of areas covered by such high-resolution images provides “ground truth” for the orbital data. Oppy has moved along from Concepcion and is now heading towards a set of twin craters. You can check out Stu’s blog Road to Endeavour to see what Opportunity is seeing these days. One milestone (meterstone?) Oppy recently reached was hitting 20 km on her odometer and she seems to continue to be in great operating condition. Go Opportunity!
Opportunity Spies Unusual Rock — Large Meteorite? Universe Today
The Opportunity rover has come across an odd-shaped, large, dark rock, about 0.6 meters (2 feet) across on the surface of Mars, which may be a meteorite. The rover team spotted the rock called “Block Island,” on July 18, 2009, in the opposite direction from which it was driving. The team then had the rover do a hard right (not really, but you know what I mean) and backtrack some 250 meters (820 feet) to study it closer. Oppy has been studying the rock with its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer to get composition measurements and to confirm if indeed it is a meteorite.