Category Archives: Mars
Mars wasn’t always the cold, dry world that it is today — billions of years ago it likely looked a lot more like Earth, with seas and rivers of liquid water on its surface and a thick atmosphere with air and clouds. But something happened over the course of Mars’ history to transform it from a warm, wet world to a cold, desiccated desert planet, and while there are many viable suggestions as to what process is responsible, no verdict has yet been delivered.
This video, just released by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows what Mars might have looked like four billion years ago. As the camera tracks back the clouds gradually disappear, the lakes and rivers turn to rubble-strewn plains and the skies change from blue to pale orange. As we rise above the dust clouds that roll across the planet, we see the first evidence of modern times: NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, flying high overhead to investigate the mystery of a lost Mars.
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Making a big splash (pun intended) in the space news world today is the report that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has found traces of water in samples of Martian soil! The samples were scooped from an area nicknamed “Rocknest” in October 2012 and analyzed with the SAM instrument suite (read more on that here.)
Now it’s not a lot of water, definitely not a cupful or even remotely resembling what we’d call damp, but it is water — about 2% of the soil particles’ mass contains water molecules, and it’s estimated that this is indicative of the surface material across the entire planet. Obviously the implications of this are huge! (Think: resources for future explorers, for one!)
An outcrop visible as light-toned streaks in the lower center of this image has been chosen as a place for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity to study for a few days in September 2013. The pause for observations at this area, called “Waypoint 1,” is the first during the rover’s trek of many months from the “Glenelg” area where it worked for the first half of 2013 to an entry point to the lower layers of Mount Sharp aka Aeolis Mons, the towering central peak of Gale Crater.
The pale outcrop is informally named “Darwin.”
Today marks the one (Earth) year anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars, which occurred on at 10:31 p.m PDT August 5 (1:31 p.m. EDT August 6) 2012… hard to believe it’s been a whole year already! But then, with all that the MSL mission has discovered over these past 12 months, it’s also hard to believe it’s only been a year!
To commemorate the occasion, engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have programmed one of Curiosity’s core science tools, SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars), to “sing” happy birthday to Curiosity using its ability to vibrate its sample chamber at various specific frequencies… i.e., make music. Pretty cool!
You can check out some of Curiosity’s most important discoveries on Mars, watch the exciting landing sequence again, see twelve months of MSL’s roving in twelve minutes and lots more on the MSL mission page here.
Congratulations MSL, and here’s to many more happy anniversaries — and discoveries — for Curiosity!
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — that seems to be the idea behind the designs for NASA’s next Mars mission, which will put yet another rover on the Red Planet in 2020. Drawing on the developments from previous rovers — Spirit, Opportunity, and especially Curiosity — the next robotic explorer will feature a similar construction but with a brand-new suite of science instruments dedicated to hunting for evidence of past biology within Mars’ rocks… and potentially even select some of those samples to be returned back to Earth.
“It’s a whole planet up there with a complicated history… that history is a story that’s stored in the rocks and our job is to figure out that story, and what that story of that planet tells us about this planet.”
– Jim Bell, Science Definition Team Member, ASU
Well, here you go. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’.
Actually this is a NASA-produced image made of 850 frames taken by Curiosity’s MastCam, showing the view from the rover as of late October/early November 2012. Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) rises in the distance, and the mountainous rim of Gale Crater can be seen along the horizon. Click the image (or the previous link text) to see a pan-and-zoom 360-degree view.
And the total number of pixels? 1.3 billion. (But who’s counting?)
Ever since high-resolution images of Mars’ surface have become available, scientists have wondered about the cause of long gullies seen running down along the slopes of ridges and crater walls. Here on Earth such features are often created by water flowing downhill, carving channels as it goes — but on Earth similar features usually end in fans of deposited material, while on Mars the channels simply just… stop.
To search for an answer to this mystery, NASA researchers took a field trip to some southwestern sand dunes and saw what happened when they sent various materials sliding down the slopes. As it turns out, dry ice — that is, frozen carbon dioxide, which is plentiful on Mars — does a very nice impression of a sled, picking up considerable momentum on black diamond and bunny slopes alike. The reason? Sublimation creates a pocket of gas that the slab of solid CO2 sits on, cutting down friction and giving it a smooth air-ride downhill.