May 16

Close-up of the Red Planet

Source:ESA/Hubble heic1609

This image shows our neighbouring planet Mars, as it was observed shortly before opposition in 2016 by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Some prominent features of the planet are clearly visible: the ancient and inactive shield volcano Syrtis Major; the bright and oval Hellas Planitia basin; the heavily eroded Arabia Terra in the centre of the image; the dark features of Sinus Sabaeous and Sinus Meridiani along the equator; and the small southern polar cap.

During May 2016 the Earth and Mars get closer to each other than at any time in the last ten years. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has exploited this special configuration to catch a new image of our red neighbour, showing some of its famous surface features. This image supplements previous Hubble observations of Mars and allows astronomers to study large-scale changes on its surface. (learn more)

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May 15

Auroras on Mars

Source: NASA Science News

In late Dec. 2014, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars's northern hemisphere.  The "Christmas Lights," as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas. (read more)

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Jan 15

Never before seen new impact crater on Mars

Source: Universe Today

ESP_039148_1980-580x374Before and after.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA

The surface of Mars is a well worn place in the Solar System, heavily pounded by countless meteor impacts. And some of these craters are hundreds of millions of years old. So it’s unusual for there to be a completely fresh impact on the surface of Mars: but that’s just what NASA scientists discovered looking through a recent batch of images returned from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

You’re looking at a composite of two images taken by the Mars Context Camera, an instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter the most recnt one on the right and an older photograph taken of the same region in February 2012 on the left. On the older one there was just a bunch of old craters. And then, in the newer image, taken June 2014, this fresh scar on the surface of Mars is clearly visible. (learn more)

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Dec 14

New evidence for a Mars water reservoir

Source: NASA Science News


NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface.(learn more)

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Dec 14

Curiosity Detects Methane Spike on Mars

Source: NASA Science News


NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. (learn more)

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Jul 14

Mars Rover sets off-World driving record

Source: NASA Science News

opportunity-trailOpportunity's route from the landing site inside Eagle
Crater (upper left) to its location after the July 27 (Sol 3735).
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth driving record of 25+ miles, and is not far from completing a full extraterrestrial marathon.(learn more)

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Mar 14

Concerns and Considerations with the Naming of Mars Craters

Source: IAU-iau1402-News Release


Recently initiatives that capitalise on the public’s interest in space and astronomy have proliferated, some putting a price tag on naming space objects and their features, such as Mars craters. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) would like to emphasise that such initiatives go against the spirit of free and equal access to space, as well as against internationally recognised standards. Hence no purchased names can ever be used on official maps and globes. The IAU encourages the public to become involved in the naming process of space objects and their features by following the officially recognised (and free) methods.(read more)

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Aug 13

Comet ISON to fly by Mars

Source: NASA Science Casts

Comet ISON is heading for a Thanksgiving Day brush with the sun, but first it's going to pay a visit to the Red Planet. Mars rovers and satellites will have a ringside seat for the comet's close approach on Oct. 1st.

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Jun 13

Marks on Martian Dunes May Reveal Tracks of Dry Ice Sleds

Source: ESA

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

New research suggests that some of the famous gullies on Mars are caused by slabs of dry ice gliding down sand dunes on cushions of gas similar to miniature hovercraft.

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May 13

NASA Probe Counts Space Rock Impacts on Mars

Source: NASA MRO


Scientists using images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have estimated that the planet is bombarded by more than 200 small asteroids or bits of comets per year forming craters at least 12.8 feet (3.9 meters) across.

Researchers have identified 248 new impact sites on parts of the Martian surface in the past decade, using images from the spacecraft to determine when the craters appeared. The 200-per-year planetwide estimate is a calculation based on the number found in a systematic survey of a portion of the planet.

MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera took pictures of the fresh craters at sites where before-and-after images by other cameras bracketed when the impacts occurred. This combination provided a new way to make direct measurements of the impact rate on Mars. This will lead to better age estimates of recent features on Mars, some of which may have been the result of climate change. (read more)

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Nov 12

Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere

Source: NASA Press Release 12-387

The Five Most Abundant Gases in the Martian
Atmosphere measured by SAM in October 2012.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech, SAM/GSFC.

NASA's car-sized rover, Curiosity, has taken significant steps toward understanding how Mars may have lost much of its original atmosphere.

Learning what happened to the Martian atmosphere will help scientists assess whether the planet ever was habitable. The present atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

A set of instruments aboard the rover has ingested and analyzed samples of the atmosphere collected near the  "Rocknest" site in Gale Crater where the rover is stopped for research. Findings from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments suggest that loss of a fraction of the atmosphere, resulting from a physical process favoring retention of heavier isotopes of certain elements, has been a significant factor in the evolution of the planet. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights.

Initial SAM results show an increase of 5 percent in heavier isotopes of carbon in the atmospheric carbon dioxide  compared to estimates of the isotopic ratios present when Mars formed. These enriched ratios of heavier isotopes to lighter ones suggest the top of the atmosphere may have been lost to interplanetary space. Losses at the top of the atmosphere would deplete lighter isotopes. Isotopes of argon also show enrichment of the heavy isotope, matching previous estimates of atmosphere composition derived from studies of Martian meteorites on Earth.

Scientists theorize that in Mars' distant past its environment may have been quite different, with persistent water and a  thicker atmosphere. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission will investigate possible losses from the upper atmosphere when it arrives at Mars in 2014.

With these initial sniffs of Martian atmosphere, SAM also made the most sensitive measurements ever to search for  methane gas on Mars. Preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or non-biological processes.

Methane has been difficult to detect from Earth or the current generation of Mars orbiters because the gas exists on Mars only in traces, if at all. The Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) in SAM provides the first search conducted within the  Martian atmosphere for this molecule. The initial SAM measurements place an upper limit of just a few parts methane  per billion parts of Martian atmosphere, by volume, with enough uncertainty that the amount could be zero.

"Methane is clearly not an abundant gas at the Gale Crater site, if it is there at all. At this point in the mission we're just excited to be searching for it," said SAM TLS lead Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "While we determine upper limits on low values, atmospheric variability in the Martian atmosphere could yet hold surprises for us."

In Curiosity's first three months on Mars, SAM has analyzed atmosphere samples with two laboratory methods. One is a mass spectrometer investigating the full range of atmospheric gases. The other, TLS, has focused on carbon dioxide and methane. During its two-year prime mission, the rover also will use an instrument called a gas chromatograph that separates and identifies gases. The instrument also will analyze samples of soil and rock, as well as more atmosphere samples.

"With these first atmospheric measurements we already can see the power of having a complex chemical laboratory like SAM on the surface of Mars," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Both atmospheric and solid sample analyses are crucial for understanding Mars' habitability."

SAM is set to analyze its first solid sample in the coming weeks, beginning the search for organic compounds in the rocks and soils of Gale Crater. Analyzing water-bearing minerals and searching for and analyzing carbonates are high priorities for upcoming SAM solid sample analyses.

The Five Most Abundant Gases in the Martian Atmosphere

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Nov 12

Nereidum Montes helps unlock Mars’ glacial past

Source: ESA

Nereidum Montes.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

On 6 June, the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express revisited the Argyre basin as featured in our October release, but this time aiming at Nereidum Montes, some 380 km northeast of Hooke crater. (read more)

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Oct 12

Curiosity's First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals

Source: NASA Press Release: 12-383

Graphic of the first analysis of Martian soil that reveals the presence of
crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous
(non-crystalline) material. The soil sample, taken from within Gale Crater,
where the rover landed, is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii.
Image credits:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet.

"We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil," said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., who is the principal investigator for CheMin. "Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars."

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission's goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed. The chemical composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, as in the textbook example of the minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties.

CheMin uses X-ray diffraction, the standard practice for geologists on Earth using much larger laboratory instruments. This method provides more accurate identifications of minerals than any method previously used on Mars. X-ray diffraction reads minerals' internal structure by recording how their crystals distinctively interact with X-rays. Innovations from Ames led to an X-ray diffraction instrument compact enough to fit inside the rover.

These NASA technological advances have resulted in other applications on Earth, including compact and portable X-ray diffraction equipment for oil and gas exploration, analysis of archaeological objects and screening of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, among other uses.

"Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument," said Blake. "They heighten our anticipation for future CheMin analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity."

The specific sample for CheMin's first analysis was soil Curiosity scooped up at a patch of dust and sand that the team named Rocknest. The sample was processed through a sieve to exclude particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 micrometers), roughly the width of a human hair. The sample has at least two components: dust distributed globally in dust storms and fine sand originating more locally. Unlike conglomerate rocks Curiosity investigated a few weeks ago, which are several billion years old and indicative of flowing water, the soil material CheMin has analyzed is more representative of modern processes on Mars.

"Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy," said David Bish, CheMin
co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington. "We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass."

Bish said, "So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater
recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water."

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built Curiosity and CheMin. (see source)

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Oct 12

The Solar System’s grandest canyon

Source: ESA

Valles Marineris.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Earth’s Grand Canyon inspires awe for anyone who casts eyes upon the vast river-cut valley, but it would seem nothing more than a scratch next to the cavernous scar of Valles Marineris that marks the face of Mars.

Stretching over 4000 km long and 200 km wide, and with a dizzying depth of 10 km, it is some ten times longer and five times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon, a size that earns it the status of the largest canyon in the Solar System.

Seen here in new light and online for the first time, this bird’s-eye view of Valles Marineris was created from data captured during 20 individual orbits of ESA’s Mars Express. It is presented in near-true colour and with four times vertical exaggeration.(read more)

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Sep 12

Curiosity Rover targets unusual rock en route to first destination

Source: NASA

he drive by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day,or sol,
(Sept. 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover.
Image credits: NASA/JPL - Caltech.

Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from Curiosity's landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg. In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.

Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.

The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik) was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the project's Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64.  Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters). (read more)

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Sep 12

Curiosity on the Move!

Source: Universe Today

The beginning of Curiosity’s journeys.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Yes, the Curiosity rover is on the move, evidenced by the rover tracks seen from above by the outstanding HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. If you look closely, visible are the rover’s wheels and even the camera mast. While this image’s color has been enhanced to show the surface details better, this is still an amazing view of Curiosity’s activities, displaying the incredible resolving power of the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment.

“These are great pictures that help us see context,” said Curiosity mission manager Mike Watkins at a press conference today. “Plus they’re just amazing photos.”

The two “blue” marks (blue is, of course, false color) seen near the site where the rover landed were formed when reddish surface dust was blown away by the rover’s descent stage, revealing darker basaltic sands underneath. Similarly, the tracks appear darker where the rover’s wheels disturbed the top layer of dust.

Below is another great view showing Curiosity’s parachute and backshell in color, highlighting the color variations in the parachute, along with a map of where Curiosity has been and will be going.

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Aug 12

Curiosity sees Mount Sharp Up Close and gets ‘Brain Transplant’

Source Universe Today

Mosaic of Mount Sharp inside Curiosity’s Gale Crater landing site.
Image credits: Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.

The Curiosity rover has beamed back the first detailed images of Mount Sharp, offering a stupendous initial view of her ultimate driving goal, and is now in the midst of a crucial “brain transplant” this weekend that will transform her into a fully operational rover.

The science team will direct the six-wheeled Curiosity to begin climbing Mount Sharp at some later date during the rovers’ two year primary mission after traversing and extensively investigating the floor of her landing site inside Gale Crater.

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Aug 12

Curiosity raises Mast and snaps 1st Self Portrait and 1st 360 Panorama

Source: NASA Science News

Rover’s Self Portrait. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rover Curiosity continues her marathon run of milestone achievements – snapping her 1st self portrait and 1st 360 degree panorama since touchdown inside Gale Crater barely over 2 sols, or Martian days ago.

To take all these new images, Curiosity used a new camera, the just-activated higher resolution navigation cameras (Navcam) positioned on the mast. Several of the new images provide the best taste yet of the stupendous vistas coming soon.

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Aug 12

Amazing Image of Curiosity Parachuting to Mars

Source: NASA Science News

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

With split-second timing, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured an amazing snapshot of Curiosity parachuting to the surface of Mars.(read more)

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Aug 12

NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

Source: NASA Science News

The most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation. (read more)

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