August 1st, 2009

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.

July 11th, 2009

Book Review: How To Live On Mars Universe Today

With all the probes recently landing on Mars, it’s no wonder we feel that the planet is close enough to vacation there. Robert Zubrin has such a scheme already in place for his book entitled “How to Live on Mars – A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet”. Though vacationers are welcome, he much more expects the arrival of immigrants who are ready and raring to put spade into ground for a homestead of the future. Once we have the vehicles to carry our bodies to Mars and once a substantial number of people live there, then we will need guidebooks on how the rest of us can join in. Though perhaps jumping the gun a bit, Robert Zubrin’s book “How to Live on Mars – A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet” presents one particular view on people’s needs to living on that little red speck that we see in the night sky. Perhaps with more people imagining our presence there, then we won’t have to wait so long for the eventuality to occur.

September 24th, 2006

Aerobraking Mars Orbiter Surprised Scientists Universe Today

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has completed aerobraking and its primary science phase will soon begin in earnest. MRO’s Project Scientist and members of the Navigation Team discuss the intricacies and challenges of aerobraking in Mars’ ever-changing atmosphere. Aerobraking is a technique that was first used by the Magellan mission to Venus in 1993, and also used on two other Mars missions, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) in 1997 and Mars Odyssey (2001). Aerobraking uses repeated dips into the atmosphere to gradually slow the spacecraft and reduce the size of the orbit. While aerobraking takes time, it saves on the amount fuel required, as in MRO’s case, by 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds). To aid in the aerobraking process, the navigation team employs an atmospheric model called the Mars-GRAM (Global Reference Atmospheric Model), a computer database of information from what previous missions have encountered, combined with a mathematical model that attempts to simulate Mars’ atmospheric dynamics. This provides a prediction of the density of Mars’ atmosphere, giving the navigators an estimate of how far down into the atmosphere the spacecraft should go.
But the atmospheric density that MRO actually experienced was much different than what was predicted by the Mars GRAM.

May 2nd, 2006

Phoenix Mars Lander is Coming Together Universe Today

NASA’s next mission to the Red Planet, the Phoenix Mars Lander, is coming together in preparation for its August 2007 launch. Engineers are now incorporating many of its subsystems, including the flight computer, power systems and science instruments. If all goes well, the spacecraft will land near Mars’ north polar ice cap, and analyze samples that it scoops up from the icy soil.

February 17th, 2006

The Shadow of Phobos Universe Today

Mars’ moon Phobos casts its shadow across the surface of the Red Planet in this photograph captured by ESA’s Mars Express. Phobos is only 27 kilometres by 22 kilometres in size (17 x 14 miles), and it orbits Mars once every 7.5 hours. To an observer on the ground, this eclipse would look similar to one on Earth; however, Phobos would only cover about 20% of the Sun’s surface. And it would be over quickly – the shadow moves at 7200 km/h (4400 mph).

December 13th, 2005

Thousands of Auroras on Mars Universe Today

On Earth we have the Northern and Southern Lights, and there’s a similar phenomenon on Mars too. But instead of sticking to the planet’s poles, these faint auroras can show up anywhere on the planet; wherever there are patches of strong magnetic fields. Over the past six years, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor has turned up 13,000 aurora events on the Red Planet, and mapped their locations. These mini magnetic fields can potentially protect the planet’s surface from the Sun’s solar wind.

April 26th, 2005

Has Spirit Found Bedrock in Columbia Hills? Universe Today

Since arriving at the Columbia Hills, Spirit, one of the Mars Exploration Rovers, has encountered some mysterious phenomena. The rover

November 25th, 2004

Future Robots May “Hop” Across Mars Universe Today

NASA’s Spirit Rover has just completed a long hard slog across difficult Martian terrain to reach the Columbia hills. The short journey of just a couple of kilometres has taken Spirit months. Imagine if it could thoroughly analyze an area and then just pick up and fly somewhere new? NASA is considering a proposal from Pioneer Astronautics, which envisions a vehicle that could land on Mars, refuel with local materials, and then fly hundreds of kilometres to explore; repeating this process over and over again – the Martian Gashopper Aircraft.

November 19th, 2004

Magnetic Bubble Could Protect Astronauts on Long Trips Universe Today


October 14th, 2004

Mars and Back in 90 Days on a Mag-Beam Universe Today

Researchers from the University of Washington have been funded by NASA to develop a magnetized-beam plasma propulsion system (or mag-beam). Selected as part of NASA’s recent Advanced Concepts study, the system would involve a space-based satellite that would fire a stream of magnetized ions at a spacecraft equipped with a magnetic sail. The researchers think they could get a spacecraft going fast enough that it could make a round trip to Mars in 90 days, as long as there was another station at Mars that could slow the spacecraft down again.