MarsNews.com
July 31st, 2018

Mars Is At Its Closest to Earth Since 2003 Today! It Won’t Be Closer Until 2287

Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003 has given us especially detailed, up-close views of the Red Planet. This recent image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows Mars and its ongoing dust storm in incredible detail.
Credit: NASA, ESA and STScI

According to NASA, Mars was 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) from Earth at its closest point this morning. In August 2003, Mars was a smidge closer: 34.6 million miles (55.6 million km). Mars won’t be that close to Earth until 2287, according to a NASA update. Mars will reach opposition again before then. In October 2020, the Red Planet will reaches opposition and will be 38.6 million miles (62.1 million km) from Earth, according to NASA’s update.

You can see Mars tonight by looking to the southwestern sky. Weather permitting, Mars will be visible low on the southwestern horizon, with the moon shining to the upper left. Saturn will also be visible, as shown in the map below.

July 30th, 2018

One Woman’s Math Could Help NASA Put People on Mars

Kathleen Howell is developing potential orbits around a Lagrange point.
SOURCE: PURDUE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS, AI SOLUTIONS

Kathleen Howell never aspired to walk on the moon. When she watched the first lunar landing as a teenager in 1969, she was more intrigued by the looping route that brought the Apollo 11 astronauts from Earth to the Sea of Tranquility and back. Orbits became her life’s passion. In 1982 she wrote a doctoral thesis on orbits in “multibody regimes” that earned her a Ph.D. from Stanford. She soon received a Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Howell’s world-leading expertise in unconventional orbits is in fresh demand. NASA has decided that a ­near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO)—a specialty of hers—would be an ideal place to put the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a planned way station for future human flights to the moon and eventually Mars. Mission planners have already brought her in for advice.

Unlike an ordinary flat orbit, an NRHO can be slightly warped. Also, it stands on end, almost perpendicular to an ordinary orbit—hence “near rectilinear.” The plan is for the Gateway’s circuits to pass tight over the moon’s north pole at high speed and more slowly below the south pole, because of the greater distance from the moon. Imagine moving your hand in circles, as if washing a window, while you walk forward. Except you’re making hand circles around the moon while walking around Earth.

July 30th, 2018

Top Five Teams Win a Share of $100,000 in Virtual Modeling Stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Competition

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas, is the first-place winner in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Phase 3: Level 1 competition.

NASA and partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, have selected the top five teams to share a $100,000 prize in the latest stage of the agency’s 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge competition. Winning teams successfully created digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a house on Mars using specialized software tools. The teams earned prize money based on scores assigned by a panel of subject matter experts from NASA, academia and industry. The judges interviewed and evaluated submissions from 18 teams from all over the world and selected these teams:

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas – $20,957.95
AI. SpaceFactory of New York – $20,957.24
Kahn-Yates of Jackson, Mississippi – $20,622.74
SEArch+/Apis Cor of New York – $19,580.97
Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois – $17,881.10

“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”

July 27th, 2018

Lunar eclipse: How to watch the blood moon and Mars this Friday

A NASA image of a “blood moon” blushing red.

NASA

A close approach by Mars will light up the sky all night Friday, July 27, and many parts of the world will also be able to catch a “blood moon” at the same time in a rare astronomical double-billing.

Those outside the viewing zone can catch the event online through the Virtual Telescope Project.

Friday’s red moon comes as part of the longest total lunar eclipse of the century. The sun, Earth and moon will line up and our planet will cast a reddish shadow onto our lunar buddy. That’s how it gets the dramatic-sounding “blood moon” nickname.

Mars will also be part of the show because the Red Planet and sun will be on opposite sides of Earth, a phenomenon know as Mars opposition. Mars will be nearing its closest approach to Earth since 2003, making it look very bright in the sky. Its appearance near the blood moon after sunset will give viewers a double vision in red.

The eclipse will be visible in parts of Australia, Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. Sorry, North America, you’ll need to watch online instead.

July 26th, 2018

Putting Boots on Mars Requires a Long-Term Commitment, Experts Tell Senators

An artist’s depiction of humans working on Mars.
Credit: NASA

A group of senators heard expert opinions during a committee hearing on Wednesday (July 25) about what will be required — logistically and scientifically — to safely land humans on Mars.

The hearing was coordinated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program,” Cruz said during opening remarks. “If American boots are to be the first to set foot on the surface, it will define a new generation — generation Mars.”

But right now, NASA’s focus seems to be split between the moon and Mars — a point raised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, who asked whether the NASA budget is being “robbed” because efforts aimed at a journey to the moon are drawing resources away from the real priority of Mars.

Another clear takeaway from the testimony was the sheer number of tasks NASA needs to accomplish before such a mission can become a reality: everything from figuring out how to land larger spacecraft on Mars to developing systems that can function completely independently of Earth to making sure astronauts can withstand the mental challenges of being so far from home.

All those tasks mean NASA can’t do it alone and needs to find a way to bring other countries as well as private companies into the mix. “People make it sound like the government is actually building all the hardware,” said Chris Carberry, head of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting exploration of Mars. “They’re not.”

July 25th, 2018

Mars Express Detects Liquid Water Hidden Under Planet’s South Pole

The European Space Agency (ESA)

Radar data collected by ESA’s Mars Express point to a pond of liquid water buried under layers of ice and dust in the south polar region of Mars.

Evidence for the Red Planet’s watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and gigantic outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft. Orbiters, together with landers and rovers exploring the martian surface, also discovered minerals that can only form in the presence of liquid water.

But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet’s 4.6 billion year history and liquid water cannot exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground. Early results from the 15-year old Mars Express spacecraft already found that water-ice exists at the planet’s poles and is also buried in layers interspersed with dust.

The presence of liquid water at the base of the polar ice caps has long been suspected; after all, from studies on Earth, it is well known that the melting point of water decreases under the pressure of an overlying glacier. Moreover, the presence of salts on Mars could further reduce the melting point of water and keep the water liquid even at below-freezing temperatures.

But until now evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, remained inconclusive.

It has taken the persistence of scientists working with this subsurface-probing instrument to develop new techniques in order to collect as much high-resolution data as possible to confirm their exciting conclusion.

July 23rd, 2018

NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Finds That “Stolen” Electrons Enable Unusual Aurora on Mars

MAVEN observations of a proton aurora. In the top panel, natural variability of the solar wind results in occasional dense flows of solar wind protons bombarding Mars. At bottom, observations by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph show increased ultraviolet emission from the atmosphere when the solar wind is enhanced.
Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado/LASP/Anil Rao

Auroras appear on Earth as ghostly displays of colorful light in the night sky, usually near the poles. Our rocky neighbor Mars has auroras too, and NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft just found a new type of Martian aurora that occurs over much of the day side of the Red Planet, where auroras are very hard to see.

Auroras flare up when energetic particles plunge into a planet’s atmosphere, bombarding gases and making them glow. While electrons generally cause this natural phenomenon, sometime protons can elicit the same response, although it’s more rare. Now, the MAVEN team has learned that protons were doing at Mars the same thing as electrons usually do at Earth—create aurora. This is especially true when the Sun ejects a particularly strong pulse of protons, which are hydrogen atoms stripped of their lone electrons by intense heat. The Sun ejects protons at speeds up to two million miles per hour (more than 3 million kilometers per hour) in an erratic flow called the solar wind.

The MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission) team was studying Mars’ atmosphere with the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS), and observed that on occasion, the ultraviolet light coming from hydrogen gas in Mars’ upper atmosphere would mysteriously brighten for a few hours. They then noticed that the brightening events occurred when another MAVEN instrument, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA), measured enhanced solar wind protons.

July 20th, 2018

New Mars rover needs a name, but Marsy McMarsface likely won’t win

An artist’s depiction of the as-yet-unnamed ExoMars rover on Mars.

ESA/ATG medialab

The European Space Agency plans to send a fresh rover to Mars in 2020 as part of its ongoing ExoMars mission. That rover needs a snappy new name, and the UK Space Agency, ESA and Airbus are turning to the public for suggestions.

We all know what happens when you ask the public to name something. You end up with Boaty McBoatface. But the ExoMars team has a plan to counteract that: The names won’t be up for public vote, and a judging panel will select the final moniker. The winner will get a chance to tour the Airbus facility in the UK where the rover is being built.

People must live in an ESA member state to offer up a name, but you won’t see a list of what’s already been suggested. For that, we have to turn to social media, where space fans are dishing out some ideas, including Marsy McMarsface, Rovey McRoveyface, Rovey McMarsface and Crawly McRockface.

The UK Space Agency will accept naming entries through Oct. 10, 2018. If all goes as planned, the rover will land on Mars in March 2021 on a mission to look for signs of ancient life on the dusty planet.

July 16th, 2018

The First: Hulu’s Sean Penn Mars Drama Delivers First-Look Images

“Sean Penn leads an ensemble cast in this near-future drama about a crew of astronauts attempting to become the first humans on Mars. Under the direction of visionary aerospace magnate Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), the crew contends with peril and personal sacrifice as they undertake the greatest pioneering feat in human history.”

Hulu delivers a batch of first-look images and a premiere date for its new drama The First, from creator Beau Willimon, starring Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone. The upcoming series tells the story of humankind’s first manned expedition to Mars, taking a more grounded approach to the narrative by focusing on the personal and professional aspects of such a mission, not to mention the huge technical challenges and life-threatening risks that come along with such a monumental endeavor. In essence, the series sounds a bit like The Right Stuff, but centered on humankind’s first manned trip to another planet.

July 13th, 2018

Fungus may be the key to colonizing Mars

Courtesy Redhouse Studio Architecture

The thought of colonizing Mars has science fiction aficionados, scientists, and billionaire entrepreneurs staring up at the night sky with renewed wonder and inspiration. But the key to achieving the lofty goal of colonizing and building extensively on a new planet may not exist out among the stars, but under our feet right here on Earth.

Christopher Maurer, an architect and Founder of Cleveland-based Redhouse Studio, and Lynn Rothschild, a NASA Ames researcher, believe algae and mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a network of fine white filaments) may make the perfect building material on Mars.

The algae, which would act as the food supply for the fungus, and mycelium spores would be packed into a flexible plastic shell where it would be watered and coaxed to grow, providing structure for the shell and filling it out almost like air fills out a bouncy castle.