Life on Mars
December 16, 2014
NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.
"This temporary increase in methane -- sharply up and then back down -- tells us there must be some relatively localized source," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock."
Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.
October 3, 2014
Undergrad helps develop method to detect water on Mars
Washington State University
A Washington State University undergraduate has helped develop a new method for detecting water on Mars. Her findings appear in Nature Communications, one of the most influential general science journals.
Kellie Wall, 21, of Port Orchard, Wash., looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon. She then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars’ Gale Crater.
“This is really cool because it could potentially be useful for not only the study of rocks on Earth but on Mars and other planets,” said Wall.
August 21, 2014
New Mineral Hints at Livable Mars
A tiny, clay-filled bubble found in a Martian meteorite boosts the chances that Mars was habitable for life, according to a new study.
While scientists have not yet found proof that life exists on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has found evidence that the planet could have supported life in the past. Clay minerals discovered by the rover suggest liquid water, in rivers, lakes and streams, once flowed on Mars' surface.
The new study also discovered evidence for clay minerals on Mars, but the clues come from a Martian meteorite that fell in Egypt in 1911.
August 18, 2014
Explore Mars has devised a simple system capable of being delivered to the Martian surface to detect microorganisms living on or under the surface.
ExoLance leverages a delivery system that was originally designed for military purposes. As each small, lightweight penetrator probe ("arrow") impacts the surface, it leaves behind a radio transmitter at the surface to communicate with an orbiter, and then kinetically burrows to emplace a life-detection experiment one to two meters below the surface. ExoLance combines the experiments of the 1970s Viking landers and the Curiosity rover with bunker-busting weapons technology.
July 2, 2014
Martian salts must touch ice to make liquid water, study shows
University of Michigan
In chambers that mimic Mars' conditions, University of Michigan researchers have shown how small amounts of liquid water could form on the planet despite its below-freezing temperatures.
Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. Mars is one of the very few places in the solar system where scientists have seen promising signs of it – in gullies down crater rims, in instrument readings, and in Phoenix spacecraft self portraits that appeared to show wet beads on the lander's leg several years ago.
No one has directly detected liquid water beyond Earth, though. The U-M experiments are among the first to test theories about how it could exist in a climate as cold as Mars' climate.
The researchers found that a type of salt present in Martian soil can readily melt ice it touches – just like salts do on Earth's slippery winter walkways and roads. But this Martian salt cannot, as some scientists suggested, form liquid water by sucking vapor out of the air through a process called deliquescence.
March 31, 2014
Mars yard ready for Red Planet rover
A state-of-the-art ‘Mars yard’ is now ready to put the ExoMars rover through its paces before the vehicle is launched to the Red Planet in 2018.
ESA, the UK Space Agency and Airbus Defence and Space opened the renovated test area in Stevenage, UK, today.
ExoMars is a joint endeavour between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency. Comprising two missions for launch to Mars in 2016 and 2018, ExoMars will address the outstanding scientific question of whether life has ever existed on the planet, by investigating the atmosphere and drilling into the surface to collect and analyse samples.
Extended Mars Yard opening
Extended Mars Yard opening
The programme will also demonstrate key technologies for entry, descent, landing, drilling and roving.
February 12, 2014
Study: Water could be flowing on Mars now
The presence of water on Mars is often talked about in the past tense -- as in, billions of years in the past. But researchers have found clues that water could be flowing in the present, at least during warm seasons.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology are looking at dark features on Martian slopes that are finger-shaped. They appear and disappear seasonally.
These flows represent the best suggestion we know of that Mars has water right now, scientists say. The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
In 2011, Lujendra Ojha and his colleagues announced the evidence for possible saltwater flows on Mars. They published a study in the journal Science based on data from the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
December 10, 2013
Curiosity Finds A Former Lake On Mars
Once upon a time, in the lowest part of Gale Crater on Mars, there was a lake about the length and width of one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. It was fed by rivers that ran into it. If you stood on its shores, you might have seen snow or ice capping the mountains in the distance.
After its first 100 Mars-days, or sols, on the Red Planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover trundled down into this now-dry lakebed. The rover took images of rocks along the way and drilled two holes to take samples. It’s from these samples scientists determined this lake existed and that its waters weren’t too alien, after all, compared to water on Earth. The water was of relatively neutral pH and low salinity. “I would be pretty confident it would be fresher than seawater,” says Scott McLennan, a geoscientist with Stony Brook University in New York who worked on this and other studies based on Curiosity data.
This is water that microbes could have lived in, although Curiosity found no direct evidence of life on Mars, nor is it designed to do so, McLennan tells Popular Science.
October 17, 2013
Curiosity proves that bits of Mars fall to Earth as meteorites
Case closed. After several decades of speculation and the gathering of imperfect evidence, Mars rover Curiosity has positively identified hundreds of meteorites found all over the Earth as Martians. The discovery is not unexpected, but it allows the science to go forward with renewed confidence in conjectures about the Red Planet. In particular, Curiosity’s findings could help scientists figure out exactly how Mars lost the vast majority of its atmosphere, why, and how long ago it happened.
August 29, 2013
Did Life Start on Mars?
ot only was Mars once much more like Earth, with atmosphere, surface water and warmer temperatures, but it had a potentially key ingredient for life that was not available on our home world.
That buttresses a mind-bending theory that life got its start on Mars and then spread to Earth, said biochemist Steven Benner, with the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla.
August 28, 2013
'We are all Martians': Chemist's otherworldly claim stirs debate
Are we all Martians? A controversial hypothesis contends that life on our planet had to get its start somewhere else — most likely on Mars — because the chemistry on early Earth couldn't have provided the required molecular machinery.
"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock," Steven Benner, a chemist at the Florida-based Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, said in a news release. What's more, recent studies suggest that the conditions suitable for the origin of life "may still exist on Mars," he said.
August 5, 2013
Curiosity’s Hard-Working Year on Mars Pays Off With Amazing Scientific Discoveries
NASA's Curiosity rover is a gigantic mobile laboratory. During the last year, it has roved over the Martian surface exploring a small section of Gale crater while making huge scientific discoveries.
The rover was built as a data-generating machine. You put rocks, air, and samples in and you get science out. Specifically, Curiosity is searching for signs of ancient habitability and seeking to answer an important question: Could Mars have ever had living organisms crawling over its surface?
Curiosity's science team includes geologists, chemists, physicists, astrobiologists, and countless other researchers. Using the probe's state-of-the-art equipment, they have drilled into Martian rocks, fired lasers and X-rays, baked powdered soil for analysis, and sniffed the atmosphere. Many of these activities had never been done on the Red Planet, or any planet beyond Earth, before. The data received from Curiosity has bolstered the idea that the planet once had water flowing over its surface and was a place where life could have conceivably thrived. It will take many more months and years of exploring to completely tease out all the details but the rover has already exceeded the expectations of its original designers.
July 2, 2013
ESA Euronews: The Mars detectives
Europe's off to Mars. Again. We have sent robots to fly over Mars, crawl over Mars and soon to dig down into Mars - searching for signs that once, perhaps deep in the past, this planet may have been home to life. It might be an obvious choice, but still a puzzle, and one that we're only just beginning to piece together. And finding evidence of life will require the skill of the finest detectives.
This is a mystery that Europe's ExoMars mission is ready to solve. In 2016 it will have a satellite in orbit around Mars, designed to test for methane, and by 2018 this rover will be rolling around the Red Planet. The mission will be the first to set out with the direct intention of finding signs of life, now, and in the past.
June 14, 2013
In Hawaii, as on Mars, Lava Tubes Hide Secrets Beneath the Surface
Thanks to satellite imagery, we now know that both Mars and the moon also have lava tubes and skylights. These caves and holes likely formed the same way they do on Earth.
As a channel of molten lava flows, its top layer, exposed to air, cools and forms a crust. Below, the hotter lava continues to course until it empties out, leaving behind a tube-like cave. Skylights form when parts of the lava tube ceiling collapse. Sometimes these ceilings crumble and completely block access to the cave. Other times, they fall away clean, leaving pits with dangerous, potentially unstable overhangs. But once in a while, the rocks fall in such a way to give unfettered access to a lava-carved tunnel.
March 28, 2013
Why a Mars Comet Impact Would be Awesome
When Jupiter’s tides ripped Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 to shreds, only for the icy chunks to succumb to the intense Jovian gravity, ultimately slamming into the gas giant’s atmosphere, mankind was treated to a rare cosmic spectacle (in human timescales at least). That was the first time in modern history that we saw a comet do battle with a planet… and lose.
But next year, astronomers think there’s a chance — albeit a small one — of a neighboring planet getting punched by an icy interplanetary interloper. However, this planet doesn’t have a generously thick atmosphere to soften the blow. Rather than causing bruises in a dense, molecular hydrogen atmosphere, this comet will pass through the atmosphere like it wasn’t even there and hit the planetary surface like a cosmic pile-driver, ripping into the crust.
What’s more, we’d have robotic eyes on the ground and in orbit should the worst happen.
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