Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

Mars Rover Reaches Giant Crater After 3-Year Trek

10 Aug

After nearly three years of dragging through the Martian dust, NASA’s Opportunity rover has reached the rim of an expansive and ancient crater.

Since leaving Victoria crater in August 2008, Opportunity has rolled 13 miles to reach the rim of 24-mile-wide Endeavour crater — the biggest of 11 craters the robot has visited. It’s the site of an ancient impact that shot out dark rocks onto the crater’s rim.

“We’re soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven’t seen yet,” said planetary scientist and Mars rover team member Matthew Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a press release. “Clay minerals form in wet conditions so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks [found on] the plains.”

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has far exceeded its 3-month warranty. A faulty front-right wheel forced its Earth-based operators to drive most of the trip to Endeavour backwards.

The robot’s twin, named Spirit, stopped phoning home in March. Mission managers considered the robot a goner in May and have refocused their efforts on squeezing as much science as possible out of Opportunity.

Images: 1) The western rim of Endeavour crater on Mars, as seen by Opportunity looking southward. (NASA) [full-resolution version available] 2) A recent view of the trek Opportunity has made since landing on Jan. 25, 2004. The rover is now near Spirit Point. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS) [full-resolution version available]

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Orbiter spots possible water seepage on surface of Mars

04 Aug

Over the last several decades, evidence has piled up that Mars once played host to liquid water on its surface. But in its current geological era, the red planet is too cold and has too little atmosphere to allow liquid to survive for long. Even at the peak of Martian summer, water would evaporate off quickly during the day, or freeze solid as soon as night hit. But that doesn't mean it couldn't exist beneath the surface, where pressures and temperatures might be quite different, so researchers have been looking for signs that some subterranean liquid might bubble to the surface. Now, scientists are reporting some changes on the Martian surface that seem to be best explained by a watery seep.

The information comes courtesy of the finest resolution camera we've ever put in orbit there, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The MRO has been circulating Mars for long enough that it's been able to image certain areas multiple times over a Martian year or more, which has enabled the authors of a new paper to identify seasonal changes on the planet's surface.

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Best Mars Images From Orbiter’s First 5 Years

10 Mar
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Dust-Devil Tattoo

NASA's prolific Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter turns five Earth years old Thursday.

Since settling into orbit around the Red Planet on March 10, 2006, MRO has transmitted more data to Earth -- 131 trillion bits and more than 70,000 images so far -- than all other interplanetary missions combined.

After the orbiter finished all its initial science objectives in the first two years, NASA extended its lifetime twice. The extra time let MRO watch Mars change over two-and-a-half Martian years, giving a new picture of a shifting, dynamic planet.

"Each Mars year is unique, and additional coverage gives us a better chance to understand the nature of changes in the atmosphere and on the surface," said Rich Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in a press release. "We have already learned that Mars is a more dynamic and diverse planet than what we knew five years ago. We continue to see new things."

MRO carries six science instruments, including radar that peels back the layers of the Martian surface, a spectrometer that has mapped the mineral content of three-quarters of the planet, and a weather camera that monitors clouds and dust storms.

But the show stopper is the HiRise camera (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), which can resolve features the size of a beach ball from 180 miles away.

To date, HiRise has snapped more than 18,500 close ups of Mars' canyons, craters and dunes. In honor of MRO's fifth birthday, here are some of our favorites.


Dust-Devil Tattoo

These twisty trails were traced by dust devils, spinning columns of rising air that pick up loose red dust grains and reveal darker, heavier sand beneath. Dust devils have been blamed for unexpectedly cleaning off the Mars rovers' solar panels. This image was taken Aug. 24, 2009.

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Images: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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We’re Running Out of Chocolate [Chocolate]

09 Nov
At the rate we're going, chocolate is going to be a rare—and extremely pricey—commodity within the next twenty years. Somebody needs to light a fire under those Oompa-Loompas, stat. More »


Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by… well, never (video)

31 Oct
For a while now, there has been a conversation going on in certain circles (you know, space circles): namely, if the most prohibitive part of a manned flight to Mars would be the return trip, why bother returning at all? And besides the whole "dying alone on a hostile planet 55-million-plus kilometers from your family, friends, and loved ones" thing, we think it's a pretty solid consideration. This is just one of the topics of discussion at a recent Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco, where NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden discussed the Hundred Year Starship Initiative, a project NASA Ames and DARPA are undertaking to fund a mission to the red planet by 2030. Indeed if the space program "is now really aimed at settling other worlds," as Worden said, what better way to encourage a permanent settlement than the promise that there will be no coming back -- unless, of course, they figure out how to return on their own. Of course, it's not like they're being left to die: the astronauts can expect supplies from home while they figure out how to get things up and running. As Arizona State University's Dr. Paul Davies, author of a recent paper in Journal of Cosmology, writes, "It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return." Except with much less gravity. See Worden spout off in the video after the break.

Continue reading Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by... well, never (video)

Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by... well, never (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 31 Oct 2010 03:03:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Solar System’s Deepest Canyon Sinks Miles Into Mars

08 Oct

Mars Valles Marineris rift valley

On the Martian surface, the mountains are high and the canyons are low. Really, really low.

Not only is the martian volcano Olympus Mons the highest peak in the solar system, Melas Chasma, the canyon pictured above, is the deepest in the solar system. In this image from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, the valley on the left (darker area) sits a whopping 5.6 miles below the plateau on the right (lighter area).

Compared to the average shape of Mars, known as the “aeroid,” the canyon floor sinks down about 3.1 miles. Planetary scientists would love to use sea level measurements to describe Martian surface features, but there’s no ocean on the red planet anymore and any signs of an ocean are long since warped by millions of years of surface deformation.

The photo above covers about 7,700 square miles, or about the size of New Jersey, which makes it only a tiny postage stamp of Mars’ deepest, longest and most prominent scar — the 2,500-mile-long Valles Marineris rift valley (below).

Valles Marineris rift copyright of JPL

ESA also released the following 3-D rendering of Melas Chasma in addition to the satellite imagery, revealing the valley in all its topographical glory (via Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today).

Melas Chasma 3-D

Images: 1) Melas Chasma – high-resolution image, ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), 2) Viking 1 and 2 orbiter image collage of Valles Marineris canyon – high-resolution image. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech, 3) Melas Chasma – high-resolution image, ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum),

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Mars Phoenix Will Bravely and Passionately Twitter Until the Final Beat of Its Adorable Electronic Heart [Goodnight Sweet Rover]

08 Sep

The Mars Phoenix Lander has been Twittering away its mission details since landing on Mars in May. But lately, you can see a sense of impending doom starting to creep in, slowly: "It's noon, Sol 81. I've spotted frost around my landing site in AM," tweeted Phoenix a few weeks ago. "Seasons are longer here...I'll be surrounded by ice & don't expect to survive til Spring," comes a few days later. But unlike other eerie autobiographical accounts of impending death, the wildly successful Mars Phoenix Lander has a trick up its sleeve for a potential reincarnation after the thaw.

"But as I've said before, I'm programmed with a 'Lazarus mode' so I'll call up to the Mars orbiters if I re-awaken in the Spring," said Phoenix last week, probably in response to tearful return Tweets lamenting his/her/its grim disposition. If its solar panels collect enough juice come springtime, the first auto-function will be to contact the Mars Orbiter above with the good news of its reincarnation.

The folks at NASA are proud to be operating Phoenix at all at this point, having said anything beyond the intended 90-day mission (now officially extended to 120 days after water was officially collected for the first time) is a gift to be savored. That Lazarus Tweet we'll be watching for with open hearts. Show that Winter who's boss, little fella! [Twitter]

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