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Curiosity Gets the Big Scoop on Martian Water

Trenches dug by Curiosity in a region called "Rocknest" in October 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Trenches dug by Curiosity in a region called “Rocknest” in October 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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!)

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Curiosity will check out these bright outcrops on her way to Mount Sharp

Color-adjusted image of the terrain in front of Curiosity as of Sept. 7, 2013 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Color-adjusted image of the terrain in front of Curiosity as of Sept. 7, 2013 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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.”

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Happy 1-Year Anniversary to Curiosity! (Play It Again, SAM!)

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!

Curiosity's first anniversary

Not sure if birthday candles would burn on Mars, but I’ll go with it.

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!

Learn more about SAM here.

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!

Video: NASA/GSFC

Want to see a BILLION-pixel view of Mars from Curiosity?

Section of the first NASA-produced gigapixel image from Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Section of the first NASA-produced gigapixel image from Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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?)

Road Trip! Curiosity Prepares for Some Long-Distance Driving

The 20-inch-high "Point Lake" outcrop near Curiosity's current position (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The 20-inch-high “Point Lake” outcrop near Curiosity’s current position (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

It’s time for Curiosity to get into high gear! NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is approaching its biggest turning point since landing its rover, Curiosity, inside Mars’ Gale Crater last summer.

Curiosity is finishing investigations in an area smaller than a football field where it has been working for six months, and it will soon shift to a distance-driving mode headed for an area about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, at the base Mount Sharp.

“We’re hitting full stride,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We needed a more deliberate pace for all the first-time activities by Curiosity since landing, but we won’t have many more of those.”

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A Clear Blue Sky on Mars

An Earthlike view of the 18,000-foot-high Mount Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

An Earthlike view of the 18,000-foot-high Mount Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

There’s nothing like a beautiful sunny day in Gale crater! The rusty sand crunching beneath your wheels, a gentle breeze blowing at a balmy 6º C (43º F), Mount Sharp rising in the distance into a clear blue sky… wait, did I just say blue sky?

Yes I did. But no worries — Mars hasn’t sprouted a nitrogen-and-oxygen atmosphere overnight. The image above is a crop from a panorama made of images from NASA’s Curiosity rover showing Gale crater’s central peak, Mount Sharp (officially Aeolis Mons.) Don’t let the blue sky fool you though — the lighting has been purposely adjusted to look like a sunlit scene on Earth… if only to let geologists more easily refer to their own experience when studying the Martian landscape.

Read the rest of this article here.

A Martian Panorama

Panorama of MSL Mastcam images captures on Dec. 23, 2012

Panorama of MSL Mastcam images captures on Dec. 23, 2012

It may look like a scene from the US southwest but it’s actually somewhere much, much farther away… 206.3 million miles away, to be exact — it’s a view from the Curiosity rover looking toward the center of Gale Crater, where the informally-named Mount Sharp rises up 3.4 miles from the crater floor.

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