Mars Science Laboratory
February 14, 2014
Mars Rover Heads Uphill After Solving 'Doughnut' Riddle
Researchers have determined the now-infamous Martian rock resembling a jelly doughnut, dubbed Pinnacle Island, is a piece of a larger rock broken and moved by the wheel of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in early January.
Only about 1.5 inches wide (4 centimeters), the white-rimmed, red-centered rock caused a stir last month when it appeared in an image the rover took Jan. 8 at a location where it was not present four days earlier.
More recent images show the original piece of rock struck by the rover's wheel, slightly uphill from where Pinnacle Island came to rest.
February 4, 2014
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover looks to 'jump' sand dune
The Curiosity Mars rover is to try to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot's path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle's aluminium wheels.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA's Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed "Purgatory Dune".
January 22, 2014
Large international interest in riding with NASA’s next Mars Rover
The next NASA rover to be sent to the surface of Mars has received twice the usual amount of proposals for carrying science and exploration technology instruments. The agency is reviewing a total of 58 submitted proposals, 17 of which came from international partners, ahead of a proposed mission in 2020. Announced at the end of 2012, the next NASA rover will be based on the Curiosity Rover that is currently exploring the surface of Mars.
January 6, 2014
LEGO launches Mars Curiosity; Plus! Five toy brick spacecraft awaiting liftoff
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has landed in LEGO's toy catalog and is now available for order.
The fifth in a line of fan-created, LEGO-produced building kits, the six-wheeled science laboratory could be followed by the now Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft, Hubble Space Telescope, or other space-themed kits, if the public votes for them online.
The 295-piece "NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover" is now for sale for $29.95 through the Danish toy company's webshop. Created and suggested by engineer Stephen Pakbaz, who worked on the real Curiosity before its launch to the Red Planet, the model faithfully recreates many of the actual car-size rover's features, including its "rocker-bogie" suspension.
December 18, 2013
An Updated Mars Exploration Family Portrait
The Planetary Society
The Mars Exploration Family Portrait shows every dedicated spacecraft mission to Mars, and now includes India’s Mars Orbiter Mission and NASA's MAVEN. The dates listed are for launch.
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 24, 2013
UA Student Finds 'Hawaiian Beach' Sand on Mars
University of Arizona
Most geology students are used to traveling far and wide to collect samples for their research, but University of Arizona Shaunna Morrison has everybody beat by a long shot: 140 million miles, on average, stand between her sampling sites and her lab.
As part of NASA's designated science team in charge of CheMin, one of 10 scientific instruments mounted on the Mars rover Curiosity, Morrison never gets her hands on the samples she collects, but that's a small price to pay for the opportunity to analyze soil scooped up by a robot on another planet.
Earlier this month, Morrison co-authored two scientific publications in the journal Science, reporting the first scientific results of Curiosity's digging into the soil near Mount Sharp in Gale Crater. Morrison provided the first detailed analyses of individual mineral compositions in the Martian surface.
"We knew from previous Mars missions what elements are present in the Martian soil, but we didn't know how they are arranged, in other words, what minerals they form," said Morrison, a first-year PhD student in the UA Department of Geosciences.
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.
October 16, 2013
Millions Of Miles From Shutdown, Mars Rovers Keep Working
The budget negotiations in Washington are not front-page news on Mars. There, millions of miles away, NASA's rovers continue to operate, taking photographs and collecting data as they prepare for the coming Martian winter. The two rovers are taking in data and getting into strategic locations before winter arrives on Mars in a few months.
The scarcity of sunlight shouldn't pose a challenge for Curiosity, whose systems are powered by heat generated by the radioactive decay of plutonium. NASA hopes that the older Opportunity, which powers itself with solar panels, will be aided by its position on a north-facing slope.
October 2, 2013
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter achieves imaging of comet ISON from Mars
The Planetary Society
Yesterday, the much-anticipated comet ISON made its closest pass by Mars. Despite the government shutdown, all NASA spacecraft are still operating normally, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Curiosity, and Opportunity have all attempted imaging over the last several days. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera is the first to achieve a positive detection of the somewhat-fainter-than-expected comet in its photos.
October 1, 2013
As Comet ISON sweeps past Mars today, most observations will happen
Despite the U.S. government shutdown today, it appears that many planned observations of Comet ISON – as it sweeps dramatically close to the planet Mars today – will happen. NASA has a skeleton crew in support of the six crew members aboard International Space Station (ISS) in place, so presumably they will observe Comet ISON today, as previously announced. Likewise, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE instrument will be turned in Comet ISON’s direction today, according to Anjani Polit, the HiRISE Uplink Lead.
US government shutdown puts Mars rover to sleep
Just days after the Curiosity rover amazed the scientific community when it found water on Mars, it has been forced in hibernation by the shutdown of the US government.
Curiosity will now enter ‘protective mode’ for its own security, according to NASA, and ‘no new data gathering will take place’.
September 27, 2013
Cache and Not Carry: Next Mars Rover to Collect Samples for Return to Earth—Someday
Have rover, need payload. That’s the state of things for NASA, which is planning to launch its next rover to Mars in 2020. The rover has ambitious goals, including searching for signs of habitability and life on the Red Planet, and collecting rock samples to be stored for future return to Earth. Now, NASA is asking scientists to propose instruments that will help the spacecraft accomplish its mission.
The space agency released an “announcement of opportunity” on September 24 calling for proposals by December 23. Researchers who plan to put an instrument in the hat must file a heads-up about their plans, called a notice of intent, by October 15.
September 26, 2013
NASA's Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil
Just when you thought ol' Curiosity was digging in for the winter, the little discovery machine came up with a doozy: It discovered water in Martian soil. NASA scientists just published five papers in Science detailing the experiments that led to the discovery. That's right. There's water on Mars.
Impressive as it is, though, the discovery comes with some caveats. It's not like Curiosity stumbled on a lost lake under a mountain or a stream trickling across the landscape. Rather, it found water molecules bound to other minerals in Martian soil. There's kind of a lot of it, too. Researchers say that every cubic foot of Martian soil contains about two pints of liquid water. All things told, about two percent of the Martian soil is made of up water.
September 19, 2013
Could Upcoming Comet Flybys Damage Mars Spacecraft?
Two comets will buzz Mars over the course of the next year, prompting excitement as well as some concern that cometary particles could hit the spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet and exploring its surface.
Three operational spacecraft currently circle Mars: NASA's Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), as well as Europe’s Mars Express. NASA also has two functioning rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, on the ground on Mars.
All of these spacecraft will have ringside seats as Comet ISON cruises by Mars this year, followed by Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) in 2014.
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