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Opportunity Breaks the Record for Extraterrestrial Roving

A simulated view of Opportunity on Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A simulated view of Opportunity on Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Well it’s official: after over a decade of roving on Mars, NASA’s Opportunity rover has surpassed the off-world driving record previously and proudly held by the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover since 1973*! As of July 27, 2014, the tenacious solar-powered Opportunity racked 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers) on its odometer as it traveled along the southern rim of Endeavour crater.

Not too shabby for a robot that was only originally intended to operate for 3 months!

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Curiosity Claims the Biggest Meteorite Ever Found on Mars

A 6.5-foot-wide (2-meter) iron meteorite found by Curiosity (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS)

A 6.5-foot-wide (2-meter) iron meteorite found by Curiosity (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS)

If you’re a heavy metal fan then you’ll love this: this shiny, lumpy rock spotted by NASA’s Curiosity rover is made mostly of iron — and came from outer space! Dubbed “Lebanon” it’s a stony iron meteorite, similar to ones found in years past by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, but is considerably larger than any of the ones they came across. In fact, at 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide, Lebanon is the biggest meteorite ever discovered on Mars!

Read more in my article on Universe Today here.

Happy First Year on Mars, Curiosity!

A "selfie" of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

A “selfie” of Curiosity made from images acquired with its MAHLI instrument in April and May (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS). Click here for a full-res version

Sol 669 is here (well, there… on Mars that is…) and that marks the one full year anniversary of Curiosity’s mission exploring Gale Crater! Wait, you say, didn’t Curiosity land on Mars in August of 2012? Shouldn’t we still be approaching the TWO-year anniversary of the MSL mission? Well, yes, here on Earth, but on Mars a year is 1.8808 Earth-years long — that’s 686.9 Earth days to a single Martian year! So from landing day August 5 (August 6 UTC) 2012, 686.9 days Earth days (i.e., one Martian year) later is June 24, 2014 (which it is at the time of this writing, UTC) and thus:

Happy Mars Anniversary, Curiosity!

(Whew!)

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Mercury Is Spotted For The First Time – From Mars!

The planet Mercury (circled) was seen for the first time from Mars by Curiosity on June 3, 2014

The planet Mercury (circled) was seen for the first time from Mars by Curiosity on June 3, 2014

NASA’s Curiosity rover may be busy exploring the rugged and rocky interior of Gale Crater but it does get a chance to skygaze on occasion. And while looking at the Sun on June 3, 2014 (mission Sol 649) the rover’s Mastcam spotted another member of our Solar System: tiny Mercury, flitting across the Sun’s face.

Silhouetted against the bright disk of the Sun, Mercury barely appears as a hazy blur in the filtered Mastcam image above. But it was moving relatively quickly during the transit and passed the darker smudges of two Earth-sized sunspots over the course of several hours. It was the first time Mercury has ever been imaged from Mars, and also the first time we’ve observed a planet transiting our Sun from another world besides our own.

Read the rest of my article (and watch a cool animation of the transit) on Universe Today here.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M

Curiosity Smiles For The Camera In Her Newest Selfie

Mosaic of MAHLI images acquired on April 27-28, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Jason Major.

Mosaic of MAHLI images acquired on April 27-28, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Jason Major.

What were you doing on Sunday night? Whatever it was (and by the way I do hope it was watching Cosmos) about the same time, 59.5 million miles away, NASA’s Curiosity rover was taking her picture on Mars inside Gale Crater! Here’s Curiosity’s latest “selfie,” a mosaic I assembled from about a dozen images acquired with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on April 27-28, 2014 (Sol 613). Along with Curiosity’s “grinning” face there on the left you can see the 3.5-mile-high Mount Sharp (aka Aeolis Mons) rising in the background.

Doesn’t she look adorable (if a bit dusty)?

Putting this together wasn’t an exact science, so there are plenty of discrepancies where the separate images line up. But that’s okay — the overall effect came out pretty nicely and I’m happy with it. It still a robot on another planet, after all! And until there’s people walking around on Mars, I can’t think of anything cooler than that.

This image was recently featured on Universe TodayNBC News, and now on The Weather Channel. And as always, you can find the newest images from the MSL mission here.

Hubble Eyes Mars-Bound Comet

Hubble image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), before and after processing. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Hubble image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), before and after processing. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Comet Siding Spring won’t hit Mars on October 19 but it will come really, really close: 86,000 miles, or just a bit over 1/3 the distance between the Moon and Earth. That’s like having a bullet from a sniper positioned a mile away knock your hat off! (Given that you were the target of a military-class sniper, not sure why you would be. Is there something I don’t know about you?) And while it won’t get bright enough or close enough to Earth to become a spectacle in our night sky, exploration robots on and around Mars should be in for quite a show.

Earlier this month, as Siding Spring (aka C/2013 A1) passed within the orbit of Jupiter, the Hubble Space Telescope turned its gaze onto it and captured the image above showing the comet’s icy 12,000-mile-wide coma and, after some processing, what appear to be two strong jets spraying out of its as-yet-unseen nucleus. These observations — and more like them in the months to come — will help scientists determine Siding Spring’s motion and rotation rate and what sort of interaction Mars (and its resident robots) can expect from its ejected material this fall.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here.

The Details Are In The Dunes

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

And what details! This image, acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 24, 2014, shows rippled dunes in Mars’ southern hemisphere, coated with a fall dusting of seasonal carbon dioxide frost. With the Sun just five degrees above the horizon, the surface detail captured by HiRISE is simply exquisite.

Be sure to click the image for a high-resolution version.

The original image resolution is just over 50 cm per pixel, so details about 151 cm (5 feet) wide are resolved. See the full image area here, and view the original post on the University of Arizona’s HiRISE site here.

MRO launched on August 12, 2005, and has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006. It is currently in its second Extended Mission exploring the surface of Mars.

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