4
Aug 12

Mars Express marks the spot for Curiosity landing

Source: ESA


Gale crater - 154 km wide.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

Much like a treasure map branded with an ‘X’ to mark the site of buried bounty, NASA’s rover Curiosity will be targeting its very own ‘X’ inside Gale Crater, to seek out the signs of past water – and maybe even life – on the Red Planet. (read more)

 

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1
Aug 12

Curiosity's Sky Crane

Source: NASA Science Casts

How do you deposit a massive SUV-sized nuclear-powered rover to the surface of an alien planet without making an SUV-sized crater? NASA's solution for Curiosity will be attempted for the first time on August 5/6 when they gently lower the rover to the red sands of Mars using a Sky Crane.

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26
Jul 12

Mars Express supports dramatic landing on Mars

Source: ESA


Mars Express supports MSL .
Image credits: ESA.

On 6 August, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory will make a spectacular landing to deliver the Curiosity rover to the Red Planet. ESA’s Mars Express will track the mission’s progress, recording crucial flight data right until ‘wheels down’ on the alien surface.(read more)
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25
Jul 12

NASA Mars Orbiter Repositioned to Phone Home Mars Landing

Source: NASA Mars


Artist's impression of NASA's Mars Odyssey over Mars' south pole.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has successfully adjusted its orbital location to be in a better position to provide prompt confirmation of the August landing of the Curiosity rover.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity can send limited information directly to Earth as it enters Mars' atmosphere. Before the landing, Earth will set below the Martian horizon from the descending spacecraft's perspective, ending that direct route of communication. Odyssey will help to speed up the indirect communication process.(read more)

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19
Jul 12

Opportunity runs the first Martian marathon

Source: NASA Science News

 

More than 8 years after landing on the Red Planet, Mars rover Opportunity is still running. Indeed, mission planners say the tireless robot is poised to complete a full marathon-the first ever long-distance race on an alien planet.

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1
Jul 12

Exhumed rocks reveal Mars water ran deep

Source: ESA


Excavating water-rich rocks.
Image credits: Mars Express HRSC, ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum);
NASA/MOLA Science Team; D. Loizeau et al.

By studying rocks blasted out of impact craters, ESA’s Mars Express has found evidence that underground water persisted at depth for prolonged periods during the first billion years of the Red Planet’s existence.(read more)

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26
Jun 12

Relations between Mars and Earth

Source: Mars Today

Mars Today, created by Howard Houben of the Mars Global Circulation Model Group, is a poster produced daily by the Center for Mars Exploration at NASA's Ames Research Center. The updated poster depicts current conditions on Mars and its relationship to Earth in six panels. (learn more)

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11
Jun 12

Mars crater shows evidence for climate evolution

Source: ESA-Mars Express


Danielson and Kalocsa craters.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

ESA’s Mars Express has provided images of a remarkable crater on Mars that may show evidence that the planet underwent significant periodic fluctuations in its climate due to changes in its rotation axis (read more).

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27
Apr 12

First Mars Express gravity results plot volcanic history

Source: ESA


Olympus Mons colour-coded according to height from white (highest) to blue (lowest).
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

Five years of Mars Express gravity mapping data are providing unique insights into what lies beneath the Red Planet’s largest volcanoes. The results show that the lava grew denser over time and that the thickness of the planet's rigid outer layers varies across the Tharsis region.(read more)

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11
Apr 12

The pit-chains of Mars – a possible place for life?

Source: ESA


Pit-chains in Tharsis.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

The latest images released from ESA’s Mars Express reveal a series of ‘pit-chains’ on the flanks of one of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System. Depending on their origin, they might be tempting targets in the search for microbial life on the Red Planet. (read more)

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2
Mar 12

NASA has proposed ‘InSight’ Lander would peer into Mars in 2016

Source: Universe Today


InSight Lander (artist's impression).
Image credits: JPL/NASA

NASA’s proposed Mars InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. InSight is based on the proven Phoenix Mars spacecraft and lander design with state-of-the-art avionics from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) missions.

A Phoenix-like lander that would mine the deepest hole yet into Mars- to a depth of 5 meters – and unveil the nature of the mysterious deep interior and central core of the Red Planet is under consideration by NASA for a 2016 launch and sports a nifty new name – InSight.

The stationary “InSight” lander would be an international science mission and a near duplicate of NASA’s proven Phoenix spacecraft, Bruce Banerdt told Universe Today. Banerdt is the Principal Investigator of the proposed InSight mission. (learn more)

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8
Feb 12

Mars Express radar gives strong evidence for former Mars ocean

Source: ESA


Image credits: Credits: ESA, C. Carreau.

ESA's Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars.(read more)

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27
Dec 11

Mars Science Laboratroy Launch #NASATweetup Blog #2 Thanksgiving - Endeavour - Saturn V - First Day Tweetup

The Astronaut Memorial at KSC

On Thanksgiving Day we returned to Kennedy Space Centre . Jane @jhjones wanted to share with  me the memorial wall to fallen space explorers.  This magnificent structure of polished granite reflected the blue sky, white cumulus, and the American flag amongst the Astronaut names which were pierced by sun beams of remembrance.

 

Our morning included a pseudo trip to Mars, the Exploration Space experience, and of course mini Tweetups with pink tagged busy Tweeps including @bphuettner @Conductor222 .

Lunch with  the enigmatic #labcoatbear in the rocket garden was unmissable, another opportunity to enjoy some Florida rays and good conversation.

Afterwards a long walk on Cocoa Beach was fresh, warm and therapeutic.  Somehow I resisted urges to run into the sea which was so inviting. This beach is like a gigantic version of Keel on Achill  in Ireland, it included formation flying pelicans adding a Jurassic feel to the wildness.

Flounder with lots of Florida shrimp at the very Hemmingway 'ish   Sunset Waterfront Bar & Grill completed our day, we were joined by some of Jane’s colleagues just after the sun bowed out spectacularly on the space coast.

NASATweetup at the Twent Friday November 25th

At the badging office  circa very early  I met two of the dynamic Stephanie’s @schierholz and  @stephist with @doug_ellison . Then I introduced myself to  the other foreign nationals  including @FailedProtostar for transport to the NASA base.

Fully processed and complete with @LockheedMartin souvenir sweatshirt I came to stand within a few yards of the VAB. The Tweetup Twent was huge and accommodated tightly the 150 Tweetup worker bees 🙂  many of whom were already tweeting away at a rate of knots.  Within a short while I had access to KSCCOMM- PRESS Wi -Fi  via my encryption key - my Twitterportal  to the world was open for business. Trent Perotto @NASA and @NASAJPL gave a welcoming talk and he was followed by Dr Jim Green, and a host of other NASA/ JPL  science and engineering glitterati.  My Tweeting was too my delight being picked up and RT'ed at home in Ireland , in the UK  and USA.  A fast  lunch before an amazing tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the VAB, and my  ’ have to see’ moment the Saturn V rocket.

Bus 2 was my ride for the afternoon, our guide was a wonderful passionate young woman Kimberly Goudace. I have to admire the professionalism of all NASA and JPL staff who together made the Tweetup event an unforgettable experience. If any of them had to be at their work at 4am, 5am, 6am they were on duty with a smile and a positive attitude even if they were in unfamiliar time zones.   Kimberley did not even have a job; she was a former Space Shuttle engineer who still carried out her work to the n’th degree.

As we walked through the VAB her enthusiasm and knowledge filled the enormous void as she led us to the penultimate surprise, a close up view of Endeavour. This shuttle was being prepared for  its museum 'shelf life after space' trip to California.

The Saturn V experience for me was joyous and profound, nothing could have prepared me for the encounter and size of this lets go to the Moon vehicle.  My first reaction was how will I get this into my camera? Then I made a spontaneous unscripted video
( below in my website link) where all my knowledge of the rocket went out the window as years of anticipation poured out forever.

At launch pad 34 we were kindly allowed to walk around and ponder the loss of life at this place.  The past’s devastation visible in deconstructed remains of tormented concrete and twisted metal.

The beautiful sunset light yellowed the bareness and touched our souls as crepuscular rays created nature’s memorial to the Apollo 1 astronauts lost to a fire in the challenge of exploring space. LAUNCH COMPLEX 34Friday, 27 January 1967 18:31 Hours


 

More images here on my website blog

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27
Dec 11

Blog #3 Mars Science Laboratory #NASATweetup Silent Rocket Timewarp - Lunch Video

Mars Science Laboratory on top of an Atlas V Rocket

On the evening pre launch NASA tour we were privileged to stand within 150 yards of the Atlas V with MSL perched on top. Silhouetted against the sun this 191 foot assemblly of scientific ambition   stood  a little less than half  the height of the Apollo Saturn V. At 363 feet The Saturn V  was the largest rocket ever built and is more comparable height wise to the familiar  stainless street sculpture the Spire of Dublin which is  398 feet.

After an unlimited photographic bonanza we left the launch pad to head back toward the Vehicle Assembly Building.  On our journey groups of red haired hogs appeared , munching in the evening grass as the sun set on an unforgettable day.
Ahead, an invite to a Marstini party and a visit to an Observatory. The party was in a suburban house were everyone seemed to take it for granted that there was a swimming pool in the patio.

The Gale House (named in honour of the landing place for MSL  Gale Crater ) was occupied by a large group of Tweeps who had somehow managed to put a very cool party together. It was nice  to meet up with other folks who had been in touch with me via Twitter before I left Ireland. @TashaVerse such a good welcome , Jen Scheer @flyingjenny said hi because @commanderbyrne had told her too oh !! what a twangled world the Twitterverse  is. 🙂 @Joi_the_Artist showed me some of her richly coloured drawings while I sipped my Marstini before being introduced to @MarsCuriosity and several others  whose @  names have escaped me.  After some delicious food, I headed to the BCC Planetarium and Observatory with Jane  @jhjones for to join in the public evening. The indoor Moon set up impressed me, I wanted to bring it home to Ireland.

In the observatory we looked at Jupiter through a 24 inch scope, while soft spoken astronomers called out the positions of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. On the roof I looked at Orion rising on its side, the words of Robert Frost’s poem never  rang so clear and true.  The constellation looked like it had fallen down the sky, or perhaps it was me who had tumbled down the planet. The sideways view caused by the clockwork artistry of the workings of the night sky.

Next morning I was picked up at 6am on the dot by @Stephist and was twittering away by 06:25.

@TheScienceGuy Bill Nye  looking very dapper spoke about everything . The chief administrator of NASA Charles Bolden gave an impassioned talk about MSL being the precursor of future  human Mars missions.  Lori Garver  the deputy administrator  of NASA spoke with great excitment. Astronauts Leyland Melvin @Astro_Flow and  Doug Wheelock  @Astro_Wheels conducted the astronaut only sport of 'let’s have a midair chest crash just because we can' ,  and  William James Adams @iamwill joined them to speak  about education . The Black Eyed Pea star has invested millions of his own dollars in educational programs for young people. @Camilla_SDO said hello to me at the mornings Eyes on the Solar System demo. During the launch group photo that cheeky chicken came flying through  the air for me to catch so it could preen its feathers bang on centre of the photo front row.

At T minus 30 I hugged the blow up MSL beside the countdown clock and was then asked to give my thoughts to camera by Lou Braga @Photog4NY so I did.  It was very surreal to be there beside this iconic digital clock as I had watched it for years on TV following various launches from Apollo to that pending moment.   5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the moment was real, the Atlas V with MSL ascended in silence. I looked at it rise and in that muted moment my past present and future merged. The sound followed and engulfed me totally. I watched till the smoke trail dissipated into imperceptible particles before returning to continue tweeting. After spacecraft separation and a huge cheer in the twent,  I sat down at my table.  54 years of tears decided to pick that moment to flow. I knew then  I was in the right place in my life.

On the plane home as I eased back time to my reality the winder came off in my hand, a timeless moment but for me time had truly stood still when the silent rocket left this planet for Mars.

MSL launch video

More images here on my web site blog

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8
Dec 11

NASA Mars Rover Finds Mineral Vein Deposited by Water

Source: NASA

Artist's concept of a NASA Mars Exploration Rover.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

 

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has found bright veins of a mineral, apparently gypsum, deposited by water. Analysis of the vein will help improve understanding of the history of wet environments on Mars.

"This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity. "This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can't be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It's not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it's the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs."

The latest findings by Opportunity were presented Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union's conference in San Francisco.

The vein examined most closely by Opportunity is about the width of a human thumb (0.4 to 0.8 inch), 16 to 20 inches long, and protrudes slightly higher than the bedrock on either side of it. Observations by the durable rover reveal this vein and others like it within an apron surrounding a segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater. None like it were seen in the 20 miles (33 kilometers) of crater-pocked plains that Opportunity explored for 90 months before it reached Endeavour, nor in the higher ground of the rim.

Last month, researchers used the Microscopic Imager and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer on the rover's arm and multiple filters of the Panoramic Camera on the rover's mast to examine the vein, which is informally named "Homestake." The spectrometer identified plentiful calcium and sulfur, in a ratio pointing to relatively pure calcium sulfate.

Calcium sulfate can exist in many forms, varying by how much water is bound into the minerals' crystalline structure. The multi-filter data from the camera suggest gypsum, a hydrated calcium sulfate. On Earth, gypsum is used for making drywall and plaster of Paris.

Observations from orbit have detected gypsum on Mars previously. A dune field of windblown gypsum on far northern Mars resembles the glistening gypsum dunes in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

"It is a mystery where the gypsum sand on northern Mars comes from," said Opportunity science-team member Benton Clark of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "At Homestake, we see the mineral right where it formed. It will be important to see if there are deposits like this in other areas of Mars."

The Homestake deposit, whether gypsum or another form of calcium sulfate, likely formed from water dissolving calcium out of volcanic rocks. The minerals combined with sulfur either leached from the rocks or introduced as volcanic gas, and was deposited as calcium sulfate into an underground fracture that later became exposed at the
surface.

Throughout Opportunity's long traverse across Mars' Meridiani plain, the rover has driven over bedrock composed of magnesium, iron and calcium sulfate minerals that also indicate a wet environment billions of years ago. The highly concentrated calcium sulfate at Homestake could have been produced in conditions more neutral than the harshly acidic conditions indicated by the other sulfate deposits observed by Opportunity.

"It could have formed in a different type of water environment, onemore hospitable for a larger variety of living organisms," Clark said.

Homestake and similar-looking veins appear in a zone where the sulfate-rich sedimentary bedrock of the plains meets older, volcanic bedrock exposed at the rim of Endeavour. That location may offer a clue about their origin.

"We want to understand why these veins are in the apron but not out on the plains," said the mission's deputy principal investigator, Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis. "The answer may be that rising groundwater coming from the ancient crust moved through material adjacent to Cape York and deposited gypsum, because this material would be relatively insoluble compared with either magnesium or iron sulfates."

Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004. Both rovers continued for years of extended missions and made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit stopped communicating in 2010. Opportunity continues exploring, currently heading to a sun-facing slope on the northern end of the Endeavour rim fragment called "Cape York" to keep its solar panels at a favorable angle during the mission's fifth Martian winter.

NASA launched the next-generation Mars rover, the car-sized Curiosity, on Nov. 26. It is slated for arrival at the planet's Gale Crater in August 2012.

For more information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

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5
Dec 11

First blog on my Mars Science Laboratory #NASATweetup experience , the first of several as the event was too HUGE for one blog

 

A Saturn 1B rocket at Kennedy Space Center

 

Beaded drops of Irish rain rolled of the wing as the Airbus 330 lifted off, destination Orlando International Airport Florida. An unusual blue November 360 sky received the plane as the Sugar Loaf mountain receded below  on the horizon.  To Bach’s Oboe Concerto (D minor) I watched the wing flex in turbulent air as the journey continued somewhere over the Atlantic. Clumpy clouds echoed lunar landscapes below as I browsed the available in-flight entertainment.

At MCO airport near the Hertz car pick up point I met with my long time friend Jane Houston Jones @jhjones a lovely warm welcome full of joy and smiles.  Our hotel was close to Kennedy Space Centre, the heat was most appreciated by me coming from a cold Irish winter. November sunshine instantly set my vitamin D levels on the rise, the Florida sun and my face met at every available moment.

Kennedy Space Centre Day 1 Wednesday 23rd

As I was a foreign national (an alien) I had to get extra official badges from NASA so I could participate in the Tweetup (Friday /Saturday) and have the right to be in very restricted areas at the launch site , accompanied by NASA personal.

At the KSC I wandered in the Rocket Garden and yes I was in the zone, walking down the gantry as if I was going to enter the Apollo capsule  for real. Visually there was a riot of textures and shapes that took my eye into future paintings celebrating the power of rockets that leave this planet for other worlds.   Christmas trees, Christmas carols and Christmas wreaths around NASA logos in the heat seemed surreal as I explored the attractions of all things space.

One of the most engaging was the Hubble 3D IMAX movie narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy that was fantastic. It included several images of M16 the pillars of creation in 3D which for me was super. I had being drawing it several times  for kids at my  @ScienceWeek workshops #STARSAREUS just before I left Ireland.  The movie showed me more detail than I’ve ever seen before, now it’s parked in my head forever. The air conditioning was cold in the theatre I could not wait to get back outside to the bright light and  cosy heat.

I met and chatted to several Tweetup people on my walk around , we all had pink badges so we were very visible to each other anywhere we went.  Beside a full size model of Curiosity I met a lovely couple, the Lanza’s.They had a daughter who had worked on the Chem Cam on MSL. They were very proud of this fact, we engaged in conversation about the incredible adventure ahead of this robot and how important the science will be for future manned missions to Mars.  I took instant delight in the wheels of Curiosity, Opportunity and Sojourner, beautiful engineering, visually stunning space architecture, well displayed at Exploration Space.

Jane kindly got me a ticket to the MSL Guest  Briefing at 4:30pm, just before that we met Scott Maxwell i.e. @Marsroverdriver Scott drives the Mars rover Opportunity from planet Earth!!!  Off planet driving 🙂

At the MSL @MarsCuriosity briefing I was proud to stand for the first time in my life to the singing of the American National Anthem.  Excellent NASA speakers outlined the mission, its tasks, goals and mechanisms.  Excitement levels climbed as the reality of my visit began to hit home with several days left to the launch.

We enjoyed, no actually enjoyed is too bland a word for the pleasure of eating rock shrimp for dinner that evening at Florida Seafood all washed down with some American beer. Sleep came later to the sound of palm trees blowing in the wind.

@skysketcher follow me on Twitter 🙂

More images in my link here

 

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21
Nov 11

MRO catches Mars sand dunes in motion

Source: NASA News


A dune in the northern polar region of Mars shows significant changes between two images
taken on June 25, 2008 and May 21, 2010 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Ariz./JHUAPL.

Images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) show sand dunes and ripples moving across the surface of Mars at dozens of locations and shifting up to several yards. These observations reveal the planet's sandy surface is more dynamic than previously thought. (read more)

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10
Nov 11

Battered Tharsis Tholus volcano on Mars

Source: ESA


Tharsis Tholis towers 8 km above the surrounding terrain.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

The latest image released from Mars Express reveals a large extinct volcano that has been battered and deformed over the aeons.(read more)

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9
Oct 11

Mars Express observes clusters of recent craters in Ares Vallis

Source: ESA


Image was acquired by Mars Express at about 16°N/327°E during orbit 9393 on 11 May 2011.
The image has a ground resolution of 15 m per pixel.
Image credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Newly released images taken by ESA’s Mars Express show an unusual accumulation of young craters in the large outflow channel called Ares Vallis. Older craters have been reduced to ghostly outlines by the scouring effects of ancient water. (read more)

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2
Oct 11

The strange attraction of Gale Crater

Source: NASA Science News


 

NASA's newest rover "Curiosity" is getting ready to leave Earth. Its destination: Gale Crater on Mars. Today's story from Science@NASA explains the attraction of this Martian crater with a strangely-sculpted mountain the middle.(read more)

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