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)
Source: NASA Science News
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)
Source: NASA Press Release 12-387
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
Source Universe Today
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.
Source: NASA Science News
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.
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)
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.
Source: NASA Mars
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)
Source: NASA Space Casts
En route to the Red Planet, Mars rover Curiosity has experienced the strongest solar radiation storm since 2005. Researchers say this is part of Curiosity's job as a 'stunt double' for human astronauts.
NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover has begun monitoring space radiation during its 8-month trip from Earth to Mars. The research will aid in planning for future human missions to the Red Planet.
Curiosity launched on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The rover carries an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) that monitors high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and other sources.
These particles constitute radiation that could be harmful to any microbes or astronauts in space or on Mars. The rover also will monitor radiation on the surface of Mars after its August 2012 landing. (read more)
Source: NASA Science News
Last month, a massive solar storm launched itself toward Mars just as NASA's new rover, Curiosity, was blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the same direction. The coincidence heralds a new job for the multi-talented rover: For the next 9 months, Curiosity will monitor solar storms en route to the Red Planet. (read more)
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
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: