Sunday, June 11, 2017

NASA Unveils Six-Wheeled Mars Concept Rover


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida - It looks like something out of this world, but that’s exactly where it would work. A futuristic Mars rover concept vehicle resembling a Bat Mobile was recently unveiled at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The builders of the scientifically-themed Mars rover concept vehicle, Parker Brothers Concepts of Port Canaveral, Florida, incorporated input into its design from NASA subject matter experts. Construction of the Mars rover was commissioned by the Kennedy visitor complex without use of taxpayer dollars.

The rover operates on an electric motor, powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery. The rover separates in the middle with the front area designed for scouting and equipped with a radio and navigation provided by the Global Positioning System. The back section serves as a laboratory which can disconnect for autonomous research. While this exact rover is not expected to operate on Mars, one or more of its elements could make its way into a rover astronauts will drive on the Red Planet.

Following several weeks on display at Kennedy’s visitor complex, the Mars rover concept vehicle will be displayed at several locations. From July through August, it will be displayed at several locations during a tour along the East Coast.

Article source: NASA / Bob Granath
Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA Finds Evidence of Diverse Environments in Curiosity Samples


NASA scientists have found a wide diversity of minerals in the initial samples of rocks collected by the Curiosity rover in the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp on Mars, suggesting that conditions changed in the water environments on the planet over time.

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in Gale Crater in August 2012. It reached the base of the mountain in 2014. Layers of rocks at the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes around 3.5 billion years ago. Orbital infrared spectroscopy had shown that the mountain's lowermost layers have variations in minerals that suggest changes in the area have occurred.

In a paper published recently in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston report on the first four samples collected from the lower layers of Mount Sharp.

"We went to Gale Crater to investigate these lower layers of Mount Sharp that have these minerals that precipitated from water and suggest different environments," said Elizabeth Rampe, the first author of the study and a NASA exploration mission scientist at Johnson. "These layers were deposited about 3.5 billion years ago, coinciding with a time on Earth when life was beginning to take hold. We think early Mars may have been similar to early Earth, and so these environments might have been habitable."

The minerals found in the four samples drilled near the base of Mount Sharp suggest several different environments were present in ancient Gale Crater. There is evidence for waters with different pH and variably oxidizing conditions. The minerals also show that there were multiple source regions for the rocks in "Pahrump Hills" and "Marias Pass."

The paper primarily reports on three samples from the Pahrump Hills region. This is an outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp that contains sedimentary rocks scientists believe formed in the presence of water. The other sample, called "Buckskin," was reported last year, but those data are incorporated into the paper.

Studying such rock layers can yield information about Mars' past habitability, and determining minerals found in the layers of sedimentary rock yields much data about the environment in which they formed. Data collected at Mount Sharp with the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument on Curiosity showed a wide diversity of minerals.

At the base are minerals from a primitive magma source; they are rich in iron and magnesium, similar to basalts in Hawaii. Moving higher in the section, scientists saw more silica-rich minerals. In the "Telegraph Peak" sample, scientists found minerals similar to quartz. In the "Buckskin" sample, scientists found tridymite. Tridymite is found on Earth, for example, in rocks that formed from partial melting of Earth's crust or in the continental crust -- a strange finding because Mars never had plate tectonics.

In the "Confidence Hills" and "Mojave 2" samples, scientists found clay minerals, which generally form in the presence of liquid water with a near-neutral pH, and therefore could be good indicators of past environments that were conducive to life. The other mineral discovered here was jarosite, a salt that forms in acidic solutions. The jarosite finding indicates that there were acidic fluids at some point in time in this region.

There are different iron-oxide minerals in the samples as well. Hematite was found near the base; only magnetite was found at the top. Hematite contains oxidized iron, whereas magnetite contains both oxidized and reduced forms of iron. The type of iron-oxide mineral present may tell scientists about the oxidation potential of the ancient waters.

The authors discuss two hypotheses to explain this mineralogical diversity. The lake waters themselves at the base were oxidizing, so either there was more oxygen in the atmosphere or other factors encouraged oxidation. Another hypothesis -- the one put forward in the paper -- is that later-stage fluids arose. After the rock sediments were deposited, some acidic, oxidizing groundwater moved into the area, leading to precipitation of the jarosite and hematite. In this scenario, the environmental conditions present in the lake and in later groundwater were quite different, but both offered liquid water and a chemical diversity that could have been exploited by microbial life.

"We have all this evidence that Mars was once really wet but now is dry and cold," Rampe said. "Today, much of the water is locked up in the poles and in the ground at high latitudes as ice. We think that the rocks Curiosity has studied reveal ancient environmental changes that occurred as Mars started to lose its atmosphere and water was lost to space."

Article source and image credit: NASA

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mars Soil May Be Made Into Bricks Without Baking


Settlers on Mars might be able to turn the planet's red soil into bricks without having to use an oven or additional ingredients, a new study using simulated Martian soil found. Instead, the inter-planetary colonists would just need to apply pressure to compact the soil with the equivalent force of a blow from a hammer.

Proposals to use Martian soil to build habitats for manned missions on the planet are not new. But this is the first that shows astronauts would need minimal resources to do so. Previous plans included nuclear-powered brick kilns or using complex chemistry to turn organic compounds found on Mars into binding polymers.


A team of engineers at the University of California San Diego were initially trying to cut down on the amount of polymers required to shape Martian soil into bricks, but accidentally discovered that none was needed.

To make bricks out of simulated Martian soil without additives and without heating or baking the material, two steps were key. One was to enclose the soil in a flexible container, in this case a rubber tube. The other step was to compact the soil at a high enough pressure. Researches found that the amount of pressure needed for a small sample is roughly the equivalent of someone dropping 10-pound hammer from a height of one meter.

The process produces small round soil pallets that are about an inch tall which can then be cut into brick shapes. The engineers believe that the iron oxide, which gives Martian soil its signature reddish hue, acts as a binding agent. They investigated the simulated soil's structure with various scanning tools and found that the tiny iron particles coat the soil's bigger rocky basalt particles. The iron particles have clean, flat facets that easily bind to one another under pressure.

Researchers also found that even without rebar, the Martian bricks are stronger than steel-reinforced concrete.

The findings of the NASA-funded study were published in Scientific Reports on April 27, 2017.

Image credit: Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

Saturday, April 1, 2017

NASA: Ancient Mars Atmosphere Lost To Space


Solar wind and radiation are responsible for stripping away the ancient Martian atmosphere, transforming Mars from a planet that could have supported life billions of years ago into the frigid Red Planet we see today, according to new results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft.

"We've determined that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space," said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), University of Colorado in Boulder. "The team made this determination from the latest result, which reveals that about 65 percent of the argon that was ever in the atmosphere has been lost to space."

In 2015, MAVEN team members had previously announced results showing that atmospheric gas was being lost to space and that described the processes by which atmosphere was being stripped away. The present analysis uses measurements of today's atmosphere to give the first estimate of how much gas has been removed through time.

Liquid water, essential for life, is not stable on the Red Planet's surface today because the atmosphere is too cold and thin to support it. However, evidence such as features resembling dry riverbeds and minerals that only form in the presence of liquid water indicates the ancient Martian climate was much different - warm enough for water to flow on the surface for extended periods.

There are many ways a planet can lose some of its atmosphere. For example, chemical reactions can lock gas away in surface rocks, or an atmosphere can be eroded by radiation and a stellar wind from a planet's parent star. The new result reveals that solar wind and radiation were responsible for most of the atmospheric loss on Mars, and the depletion was enough to transform the Martian climate. The solar wind is a thin stream of electrically conducting gas constantly blowing out from the surface of the sun.


Our early Sun had far more intense ultraviolet radiation and solar wind than today, so atmospheric loss by these processes was likely much greater in Mars' history. According to the team, these processes may have been the dominant ones controlling the planet's climate and habitability. It's possible microbial life could have existed at the surface early in Mars’ history. As the planet cooled off and dried up, any life could have been driven underground or forced into rare surface oases.

ABOVE IMAGE: This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) - believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere - versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution is in orbit of the Red Planet to study its upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Video credit and article source: NASA

Sunday, March 26, 2017

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Suffers Wheel Damage


The aluminum wheels on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover are showing signs of wear and tear as the rover continues its exploration of the Red Planet.

Two small breaks were discovered on the rover’s left middle wheel in the raised treads, called grousers. Testing showed that at the point when three grousers on a wheel have broken, that wheel has reached about 60 percent of its useful life. Curiosity already has driven well over that fraction of the total distance needed for reaching the key regions of scientific interest on Mars' Mount Sharp.


Each of Curiosity's six wheels is about 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide, milled out of solid aluminum. The wheels contact ground with a skin that's about half as thick as a U.S. dime, except at thicker treads. The grousers are 19 zigzag-shaped treads that extend about a quarter inch (three-fourths of a centimeter) outward from the skin of each wheel. The grousers bear much of the rover's weight and provide most of the traction and ability to traverse over uneven terrain.

"All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission," said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone."

The monitoring of wheel damage on Curiosity, plus a program of wheel-longevity testing on Earth, was initiated after dents and holes in the wheels were seen to be accumulating faster than anticipated in 2013.

Through March 20, 2017, Curiosity has driven 9.9 miles (16.0 kilometers) since the mission's August 2012 landing on Mars. For the past four years, rover drive planners have used enhanced methods of mapping potentially hazardous terrains to reduce the pace of damage from sharp, embedded rocks along the rover's route.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Saturday, March 4, 2017

NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Boosts Speed To Avoid Martian Moon


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft that has been orbiting Mars for just over two years since its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2013, corrected its orbit to avoid a collision with the Martian moon Phobos.

On Tuesday, MAVEN carried out a rocket motor burn that boosted its velocity by 0.4 meters per second (less than 1 mile per hour). NASA scientists say that although the boost is a small velocity correction, it was enough to avoid a cosmic run-in that would otherwise have occurred with Phobos.

This is the first collision avoidance maneuver that the MAVEN spacecraft has performed at Mars to steer clear of Phobos. The orbits of both MAVEN and Phobos are known well enough to scientists that this slight timing difference ensures that the two satellites will not collide.

MAVEN, with an elliptical orbit around Mars, has an orbit that crosses those of other spacecraft and the moon Phobos many times over the course of a year.  When the orbits cross, the objects have the possibility of colliding if they arrive at that intersection at the same time. These scenarios are known well in advance and are carefully monitored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which sounded the alert regarding the possibility of a collision.

With one week’s advance notice, NASA scientists believed that MAVEN and Phobos had a good chance of hitting each other on Monday, March 6.

Above photo: Phobos. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Working Again After Glitch

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover working again after glitch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA's Curiosity Mars rover resumed full operations on Monday, July 11, 2016, following an investigation by NASA engineers to determine why the rover put itself into a safe standby mode on July 2. The rover team brought Curiosity out of safe mode on July 9.

NASA says that the most likely cause of entry into safe mode was due to a software mismatch in one mode of how image data are transferred on board. Future science activity planning for the rover is avoiding use of that mode, which involves writing images from some cameras’ memories into files on the rover’s main computer. Curiosity has alternate means available for handling and transmitting all image data.






The rover landed in Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. During its first year on Mars, the mission achieved its goal by determining that, more than 3 billion years ago, the region offered fresh-water lakes and rivers with environmental conditions well-suited to supporting microbial life, if life has ever existed on Mars. In continuing investigations, the mission is learning more about the ancient wet environments and how and when they evolved to drier and less habitable conditions.

Last week, NASA approved an additional two-year mission extension, beginning Oct. 1, 2016, for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which developed and operates Curiosity.

ABOVE IMAGE: This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Okoruso" drilling site on lower Mount Sharp's "Naukluft Plateau." The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mars, Earth, and Sun Align On May 22, 2016


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - Mars, Earth and the sun will align on May 22, 2016 - an event that only occurs once every 26 months. This alignment is called "Mars Opposition" because Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth. Eight days later on May 30, 2016, Mars and Earth will be nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun.

Mars Opposition on May 22


To viewers on Earth, Mars will rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west. Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east.  

An opposition can occur anywhere along Mars' orbit. When it happens while the red planet is closest to the sun (called "perihelic opposition"), Mars is particularly close to Earth. If Earth and Mars both had perfectly stable orbits, then each perihelic opposition would bring the two planets as close as they could be. Also, the orbits of Earth and Mars don't lie in quite the same plane. The paths the planets take around the sun are slightly tilted with respect to each other.

Mars' orbit is more elliptical than Earth's, so the difference between perihelion and aphelion is greater. Over the past centuries, Mars' orbit has been getting more and more elongated, carrying the planet even nearer to the sun at perihelion and even farther away at aphelion. So future perihelic oppositions will bring Earth and Mars even closer. 

Some perihelic oppositions brings the two planets closer together than others. The 2003 opposition was the closest approach in almost 60,000 years that won't be seen again until August 28, 2287.


Mars Closest To Earth On May 30

Mars is over half a million miles closer to Earth at closest approach than at opposition. But you won't see much change in the diameter and brightness between these two dates. As Mars comes closer to Earth in its orbit, it appears larger and larger and brighter and brighter. 

The best time to see Mars at its brightest is when it is highest in the sky, around midnight local time in May and a little earlier in June. Through a telescope you can make out some of the dark features on the planet, some of the lighter features and sometimes polar ice and dust storm-obscured areas showing very little detail. 

After close approach, Earth sweeps past Mars quickly. So the planet appears large and bright for only a couple weeks. But don't worry if you miss 2016's close approach that brings the red planet just 46.8 million miles away from Earth. 2018's will be even closer at 35.8 million miles.



Photo and video credit: NASA/JPL

Thursday, April 28, 2016

SpaceX To Launch Mission To Mars In 2018


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - SpaceX announced on Wednesday that the innovative aerospace company will launch its 'Red Dragon' capsule to Mars aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket as soon as 2018. 

The Falcon Heavy is designed to lift into orbit over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb) - a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel, according to SpaceX's website.  Only the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo moon landings could deliver more payload to orbit.

The "Red Dragon" is the name of the first test flight of SpaceX's Dragon 2 spacecraft which could be used on missions to planets beyond Mars.

"Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Tweeted. "Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight."

However, the Dragon 2 is not designed to transport humans to other planets.

"But wouldn't recommend transporting astronauts beyond Earth-moon region," Tweeted Musk. "Wouldn't be fun for longer journeys. Internal volume ~size of SUV."

The full details of SpaceX's mission to Mars have yet to be revealed, but is part of a 2014 contract with NASA where the space agency would provide technical data and expertise to support  " ... SpaceX’s anticipated development of space transportation capabilities to and from Mars for unmanned science, and ultimately crew missions ..."

Image credits: SpaceX

Sunday, December 20, 2015

NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds High Silica Concentrations On Mars


NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered much higher concentrations of silica at some Martian sites it has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited since landing on the Red Planet forty months ago, NASA announced this week.

Silica makes up nine-tenths of the composition of some of the rocks. It is a rock-forming chemical combining the elements silicon and oxygen, commonly seen on Earth as quartz, but also in many other minerals.

According to NASA scientists, water that is acidic would tend to carry other ingredients away and leave silica behind. Alkaline or neutral water could bring in dissolved silica that would be deposited from the solution. The recent findings on Mount Sharp have intriguing threads linked to what an earlier NASA rover, Spirit, found halfway around Mars. There, signs of sulfuric acidity were observed, but Curiosity's science team is still considering both scenarios - and others - to explain the findings on Mount Sharp.

"These high-silica compositions are a puzzle. You can boost the concentration of silica either by leaching away other ingredients while leaving the silica behind, or by bringing in silica from somewhere else," said Albert Yen, a Curiosity science team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Either of those processes involve water. If we can determine which happened, we'll learn more about other conditions in those ancient wet environments."

Adding to the recent discovery, some silica at one rock Curiosity drilled, called "Buckskin," is in a mineral named tridymite, rare on Earth and never seen before on Mars. The usual origin of tridymite on Earth involves high temperatures in igneous or metamorphic rocks, but the finely layered sedimentary rocks examined by Curiosity have been interpreted as lakebed deposits. Also, tridymite is found in volcanic deposits with high silica content.

Rocks on Mars' surface generally have less silica, like basalts in Hawaii, though some silica-rich (silicic) rocks have been found by Mars rovers and orbiters. Magma, the molten source material of volcanoes, can evolve on Earth to become silicic. Tridymite found at Buckskin may be evidence for magmatic evolution on Mars, scientists say.

"What we're seeing on Mount Sharp is dramatically different from what we saw in the first two years of the mission," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "There's so much variability within relatively short distances. The silica is one indicator of how the chemistry changed. It's such a multifaceted and curious discovery, we're going to take a while figuring it out."


ABOVE IMAGE: An annotated composite image with the locations of the "Big Sky" and "Greenhorn" drilling targets and with color-coded indicators of the amount of silica in targets examined by the laser-firing Chemistry and Camera instrument. A key on the right shows the percentage of silica (SiO2), by weight, corresponding to the color-coding. NASA says that the enrichment in silica clearly corresponds to the fracture zones. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sunday, December 13, 2015

NASA Mars Rover Reaches First Sand Dunes Ever Studied Beyond Earth

Bagnold Dunes on Mars
This image shows the rippled surface of the first Martian sand dune ever studied up close fills this view of "High Dune" from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover.  This site is part of the "Bagnold Dunes" field along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp.  The dunes are active, migrating up to about one yard or meter per year.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has begun an up-close investigation of dark Martian sand dunes which reach up to two stories tall and are as broad as a football field. The dunes are on the rover's trek up the lower portion of a layered mountain.

Curiosity has been working on Mars since early August 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after fruitfully investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain. The main mission objective now is to examine successively higher layers of Mount Sharp.

The rover's planned investigations include scooping a sample of the dune material for analysis with laboratory instruments inside Curiosity. No Mars rover has previously visited a sand dune, as opposed to smaller sand ripples or drifts. Also, no active dunes have been visited anywhere in the solar system besides Earth.

"We've planned investigations that will not only tell us about modern dune activity on Mars but will also help us interpret the composition of sandstone layers made from dunes that turned into rock long ago," said Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, California.

Grains of sand where NASA's Curiosity Mars rover was driven into a shallow sand sheet near a large dune are depicted in the above image.  The disturbance by the wheel exposed interior material of the sand body, including finer sand grains than on the undisturbed surface. Sunlight is coming from the left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NASA: Mars' Moon Is Breaking Apart

New scientific modeling indicates that the grooves on Mars’ moon Phobos could be produced by tidal forces - the mutual gravitational pull of the planet and the moon. Initially, scientists had thought the grooves were created by the massive impact that made Stickney crater (lower right). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA scientist have discovered that Mars' moon, Phobos, is slowly breaking apart due to the Red Planet's gravitational pull.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

NASA Discovers Why Ancient Mars Lost Most Of Its Atmosphere


Researchers believe that ancient Mars lost most of its atmosphere due to a weak magnetic field that was unable to protect the Red Planet from intense solar winds.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams (equivalent to roughly 1/4 pound) every second.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Curiosity Rover Captures Images Of Blue Sunset On Mars


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - For the first time, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has sent back to Earth color images of a blue sunset on Mars.

According to NASA, dust in the Martian atmosphere has fine particles that permit blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than longer-wavelength colors.  That causes the blue colors in the mixed light coming from the sun to stay closer to sun's part of the sky, compared to the wider scattering of yellow and red colors  - similar to the phenomena caused by ash from forest fires and volcano eruptions that create the occasional appearance of Blue Moons on Earth. The effect is most pronounced just before the Martian sunset, when light from the sun passes through a longer path in the atmosphere than it does at mid-day.

This was the first Martian sunset observed in color by Curiosity.  The images come from the left-eye camera of the rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam). The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Mastcam sees color very similarly to what human eyes see, although it is actually a little less sensitive to blue than people are.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NASA: Flowing Water May Be On Mars



PASADENA, California -- NASA scientists say that spacecraft orbiting Mars have returned clues of seasonal features on the Red Planet that could indicate possible liquid water.


The features are dark, finger-like markings that advance down some Martian slopes when temperatures rise. The new clues include corresponding seasonal changes in iron minerals on the same slopes and a survey of ground temperatures and other traits at active sites. NASA believes that brines with an iron-mineral antifreeze may flow seasonally - but there are still other possible explanations.  Researchers call these dark flows "recurring slope lineae" or "RSL."


"We still don't have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we're not sure how this process would take place without water," said Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and lead author of two new reports about these flows. 


Ojha and Georgia Tech assistant professor James Wray looked at 13 confirmed RSL sites using images from the same orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument. They searched for minerals that RSL might leave in their wake as a way of understanding the nature of these features: water-related or not?


They didn't find any spectral signature tied to water or salts. But they did find distinct and consistent spectral signatures of ferric and ferrous minerals at most of the sites. These iron-bearing minerals were more abundant or featured distinct grain sizes in RSL-related materials as compared to non-RSL slopes. These results are in a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.


Ojha said, "Just like the RSL themselves, the strength of the spectral signatures varies according to the seasons. They're stronger when it's warmer and less significant when it's colder." 


One possible explanation for these changes is a sorting of grain sizes, such as removal of fine dust from the surface, which could result from either a wet process or dry one. Two other possible explanations are an increase in the more-oxidized (ferric) component of the minerals, or an overall darkening due to moisture.  Either of these would point to water, even though no water was directly detected.  The spectral observations might miss the presence of water, because the dark flows are much narrower than the area of ground sampled with each CRISM reading.  Also, the orbital observations have been made only in afternoons and could miss morning moisture.


The leading hypothesis for these features is the flow of near-surface water, kept liquid by salts depressing the freezing point of pure water. "The flow of water, even briny water, anywhere on Mars today would be a major discovery, impacting our understanding of present climate change on Mars and possibly indicating potential habitats for life near the surface on modern Mars," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


"NASA likes to 'follow the water' in exploring the Red Planet, so we'd like to know in advance when and where it will appear," Wray said. "RSL have rekindled our hope of accessing modern water, but forecasting wet conditions remains a challenge."


Article Source: NASA
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/JHU-APL

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mattel Introduces MARS EXPLORER Barbie


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Imaginary space exploration just got a little be more crowded for Buzz Lightyear.  That's because Mattel has introduced a "MARS EXPLORER" doll as part of its BARBIE® I CAN BE…™ collection in collaboration with NASA.


According to Mattel's description of the space doll, "Barbie I Can Be… dolls and accessories let girls play out different roles and "try on" fabulous careers, including astronaut.  Always a pioneer, Barbie doll is ready for her thrilling mission to Mars in a stylish and functional suit — sure to dazzle any alien life form she encounters!" 


Launched by Mattel in 2010, the BARBIE® I CAN BE…™ collection is touted as a global campaign to inspire girls "to dream, discover and explore a world without limits."


"For more than 50 years Barbie has served as a reflection of fashion, culture and aspiration to girls of all ages. Barbie inspires girls to try on different careers, encouraging them to play out their dreams and explore the world and all of its possibilities," said Stephanie Cota, Senior Vice President, Barbie Marketing about the collection launch in 2010.  "We believe role-playing with Barbie leads to real life opportunities and are very proud to partner with organizations who continue to inspire girls and women with the belief and confidence that they can do anything." 


IMAGE CREDIT:  Mattel

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NASA: Send Your Name To Mars


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida --  NASA is inviting members of the public to submit their names and a personal message online for a DVD to be carried aboard a spacecraft that will study the Martian upper atmosphere.


The DVD will be in NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, which is scheduled for launch in November from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  The DVD is part of the mission's Going to Mars Campaign coordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).


The DVD will carry every name submitted to the red planet. The public also is encouraged to submit a message in the form of a three-line poem, or haiku. However, only three haikus will be selected. The deadline for all submissions is July 1. An online public vote to determine the top three messages to be placed on the DVD will begin July 15. 


Only adults over 18 are permitted to enter.  However, parents may submit a name and/or haiku on behalf of their children.


Participants who submit their names to the Going to Mars campaign will be able to print a certificate of appreciation to document their involvement with the MAVEN mission. 
 

"The Going to Mars campaign offers people worldwide a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general, and share in our excitement about the MAVEN mission," said Stephanie Renfrow, lead for the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program at CU/LASP.


MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The spacecraft will investigate how the loss of Mars' atmosphere to space determined the history of water on the surface. 


Register Here to send a name to Mars.


Image Credit: NASA

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NASA: Mars Could Have Supported Life




CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- NASA scientists say that an analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.


Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.


"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.


The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.


Curiosity's drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.


"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.


These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.


Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.
"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.


An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.


"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."


Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the "Yellowknife Bay" area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.


NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project has been using Curiosity to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity, carrying 10 science instruments, landed seven months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


Source: NASA


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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ancient Groundwater-Fed Lake Discoverd On Mars


A NASA spacecraft is providing new evidence of a wet underground environment on Mars that adds to an increasingly complex picture of the Red Planet's early evolution. 


The new information comes from researchers analyzing spectrometer data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which looked down on the floor of McLaughlin Crater.  The Martian crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) in diameter and 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) deep. NASA scientists say that McLaughlin's depth apparently once allowed underground water, which otherwise would have stayed hidden, to flow into the crater's interior. 


Layered, flat rocks at the bottom of the crater contain carbonate and clay minerals that form in the presence of water. McLaughlin lacks large inflow channels, and small channels originating within the crater wall end near a level that could have marked the surface of a lake. 


Together, these new observations suggest the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater. Some researchers propose the crater interior catching the water and the underground zone contributing the water could have been wet environments and potential habitats.  The findings are published in Sunday's online edition of Nature Geoscience. 


"Taken together, the observations in McLaughlin Crater provide the best evidence for carbonate forming within a lake environment instead of being washed into a crater from outside," said Joseph Michalski, lead author of the paper, which has five co-authors. Michalski also is affiliated with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and London's Natural History Museum. 


Michalski and his co-authors used the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to check for minerals such as carbonates, which are best preserved under non-acidic conditions. 


"The MRO team has made a concerted effort to get highly processed data products out to members of the science community like Dr. Michalski for analysis," said CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "New results like this show why that effort is so important." 


Launched in 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its six instruments have provided more high-resolution data about the Red Planet than all other Mars orbiters combined.  Data are made available for scientists worldwide to research, analyze and report their findings. 


"A number of studies using CRISM data have shown rocks exhumed from the subsurface by meteor impact were altered early in Martian history, most likely by hydrothermal fluids," Michalski said. "These fluids trapped in the subsurface could have periodically breached the surface in deep basins such as McLaughlin Crater, possibly carrying clues to subsurface habitability." 


McLaughlin Crater sits at the low end of a regional slope several hundreds of miles, or kilometers, long on the western side of the Arabia Terra region of Mars. As on Earth, groundwater-fed lakes are expected to occur at low regional elevations. Therefore, this site would be a good candidate for such a process. 


"This new report and others are continuing to reveal a more complex Mars than previously appreciated, with at least some areas more likely to reveal signs of ancient life than others," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Rich Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 


IMAGE: This view of layered rocks on the floor of McLaughlin Crater shows sedimentary rocks that contain spectroscopic evidence for minerals formed through interaction with water. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded the image.

A combination of clues suggests this 1.4-mile-deep (2.2-kilometer-deep) crater once held a lake fed by groundwater. Part of the evidence is identification of clay and carbonate minerals within layers visible near the center of this image. The mineral identifications come from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), also on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The scene covers an area about one-third of a mile (about 550 meters) across, at 337.6 degrees east longitude, 21.9 degrees north latitude. North is up. Figure 1 indicates the location of layers bearing clay and carbonate minerals and includes a scale bar of 100 meters (328 feet). 

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Researchers Find Water In Martian Meteorite


NASA-funded researchers analyzing a small meteorite that may be the first discovered from the Martian surface or crust have found it contains 10 times more water than other Martian meteorites from unknown origins.


This new class of meteorite was found in 2011 in the Sahara Desert. Designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, and nicknamed "Black Beauty," it weighs approximately 11 ounces (320 grams). After more than a year of intensive study, a team of U.S. scientists determined the meteorite formed 2.1 billion years ago during the beginning of the most recent geologic period on Mars, known as the Amazonian.


"The age of NWA 7034 is important because it is significantly older than most other Martian meteorites," said Mitch Schulte, program scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We now have insight into a piece of Mars' history at a critical time in its evolution."


The meteorite is an excellent match for surface rocks and outcrops NASA has studied remotely via Mars rovers and Mars-orbiting satellites. NWA 7034's composition is different from any previously studied Martian meteorite The research is published in Thursday's edition of Science Express.


"The contents of this meteorite may challenge many long held notions about Martian geology," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "These findings also present an important reference frame for the Curiosity rover as it searches for reduced organics in the minerals exposed in the bedrock of Gale Crater."


NWA 7034 is made of cemented fragments of basalt, rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava. The fragments are primarily feldspar and pyroxene, most likely from volcanic activity. This unusual meteorite's chemistry matches that of the Martian crust as measured by NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Odyssey Orbiter. 


"This Martian meteorite has everything in its composition that you'd want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet," said Carl Agee, leader of the analysis team and director and curator at the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque. "This unique meteorite tells us what volcanism was like on Mars 2 billion years ago. It also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on Mars that no other meteorite has ever offered."


The research team included groups at the University of California at San Diego and the Carnegie Institution in Washington. Experiments were conducted to analyze mineral and chemical composition, age, and water content. 


Researchers theorize the large amount of water contained in NWA 7034 may have originated from interaction of the rocks with water present in Mars' crust. The meteorite also has a different mixture of oxygen isotopes than has been found in other Martian meteorites, which could have resulted from interaction with the Martian atmosphere.


Most Martian meteorites are divided into three rock types, named after three meteorites; Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny. These "SNC" meteorites currently number about 110. Their point of origin on Mars is not known and recent data from lander and orbiter missions suggest they are a mismatch for the Martian crust. Although NWA 7034 has similarities to the SNC meteorites, including the presence of macromolecular organic carbon, this new meteorite has many unique characteristics. 


"The texture of the NWA meteorite is not like any of the SNC meteorites," said co-author Andrew Steele, who led the carbon analysis at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory. "This is an exciting measurement in Mars and planetary science. We now have more context than ever before to understanding where they may come from." 


The research was funded by NASA's Cosmochemistry Program and Astrobiology Institute, part of the Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The research also was supported by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium in Las Cruces, and the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.


SOURCE and IMAGE CREDIT: NASA