Sunset Over Mars

NASA — Curiosity Mars rover recorded this view of the sun setting at the close of the mission’s 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover’s location in Gale Crater.

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. The effect is most pronounced near sunset, when light from the sun passes through a longer path in the atmosphere than it does at mid-day.

Martian Mountain Look

Mars rock rows and Mount Sharp
Mars rock rows and Mount Sharp

Universe Today: “Like any good tourist, NASA’s rover Curiosity apparently couldn’t resist the photobug urge from a gorgeous Martian mountain scene she happened by recently and decided to pull over and enjoy the view. … The sedimentary foothills of Mount Sharp, which reaches 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Martian sky, is the 1-ton robot’s ultimate destination inside Gale Crater because it holds caches of water altered minerals.”

NASA Scientists Find Evidence of Water in Meteorite,
Reviving Debate Over Life on Mars
“Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. Around 12 million years ago, an impact occurred on Mars which ejected the meteorite from the surface of Mars. The meteorite traveled through space until it fell in Antarctica about 50,000 years ago. The rock was found by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in 2000.” — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Red Rover Update

It’s been a while since we checked in on our pal Curiosity. After a recent power glitch the Mars rover is back at work. Here’s a 2-min. update on what’s ahead.
John Grotzinger, Curiosity’s project scientist, narrates an aerial tour of the rover’s past, present and future.

Follow Curiosity on Twitter:‏ @MarsCuriosity
On Nov. 27 Curiosity tweeted:

No long drives for me this #Thanksgiving. I’m going to stop & smell the science.”

Mars Rover Begins Road Trip

First Leg of Long Trek Toward Mount Sharp
First Leg of Long Trek Toward Mount Sharp “NASA’s Curiosity has set out on its first big road trip, a long journey that will traverse miles of Red Planet scenery over the course of the next year or so. The 1-ton Curiosity rover took its first steps toward the foothills of Mount Sharp — a mysterious mountain that rises 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Red Planet sky. … It is the rover’s ultimate science destination; the mission team wants Curiosity to climb up through the mountain’s foothills, reading the Red Planet’s history like a book as it goes.”

Mars Rover Hits Pay Dirt

NASA Scientists told reporters on Tuesday that their latest findings from the Mars rover Curiosity prove the planet once had what it takes to sustain life.

“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said John P. Grotzinger, the California Institute of Technology geology professor who is the principal investigator for the NASA mission.

NASA Mars Science Laboratory __ This set of images shows the results from the rock abrasion tool from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (left) and the drill from NASA’s Curiosity rover (right). Note how the rock grindings from Opportunity are brownish red, indicating the presence of hematite, a strongly oxidized iron-bearing mineral. Such minerals are less supportive of habitability and also may degrade organic compounds. The diameter of the abraded circle is 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters). The image was cropped from an image taken on Sol 35 (the 35th Martian day of Opportunity’s operations, or Feb. 28, 2004, on Earth) by Opportunity’s panoramic camera at a target called “Guadalupe” inside Eagle Crater.

On the right is the hole produced by Curiosity during the first drilling into a rock on Mars to collect a sample from inside the rock. In this case, the rock produced gray tailings — not red — suggesting the presence of iron that is less oxidized. One possibility is magnetite, which was determined to be present by Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument. Magnetite has less oxygen than hematite and would be more compatible with habitability and the preservation of organics, all other factors being equal. These other factors would include the primary concentration of organics in the sedimentary environment, in addition to later exposure of rock to surface radiation.

New York Times: Mars Could Have Supported Life Long Ago Mars Could Once Have Supported Life: What You Need to Know

Mars Flows

Evidence of Stream Flow on Mars
Evidence of Stream Flow on Mars

OK enough already, NASA has damn well proved there was once water on Mars — and plenty of it. Now what?

"It's not going to do any good to land on Mars if we're stupid." -- Ray Bradbury
“It’s not going to do any good to land on Mars if we’re stupid.” — Ray Bradbury

“This image from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity shows inclined layering known as cross-bedding in an outcrop called “Shaler,” indicative of sediment transport in stream flows. Currents mold the sediments into small underwater dunes that migrate downstream. The grain sizes here are coarse enough to exclude wind transport.” — NASA Mars Science Laboratory

Always worth repeating: The cost of the entire 12-year Curiosity mission to Mars amounts to less than two weeks of what we spend on the Afghan War.

Drill Rover, Drill

Curiosity's First Sample Drilling
Curiosity’s First Sample Drilling

Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory — NASA’s Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.

Survey: 71 percent of Americans are confident that humans will go to Mars

The fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill.

“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. “This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”

For the next several days, ground controllers will command the rover’s arm to carry out a series of steps to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside.

“We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off,” said Avi Okon, drill cognizant engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the bit. The bit assembly has chambers to hold the powder until it can be transferred to the sample-handling mechanisms of the rover’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.

Before the rock powder is analyzed, some will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch.

“We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer. “Then we’ll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample.”

Investigating Curiosity’s Drill AreaInvestigating Curiosity’s Drill AreaNASA’s Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called “John Klein.”

“Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program,” said JPL’s Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity’s sample system. “To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth.”

Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across. Small portions of the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. These instruments then will begin the much-anticipated detailed analysis.

The rock Curiosity drilled is called “John Klein” in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. Drilling for a sample is the last new activity for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project, which is using the car-size Curiosity rover to investigate whether an area within Mars’ Gale Crater has ever offered an environment favorable for life.

How to Make Mars Livable: Pollution?

By polluting Mars’ atmosphere like we do our own, can we thicken its atmosphere and basically create one like on Earth? If so we would raise the temperature enough to live on it, melt the ice for water, and be able to farm, providing oxygen through photosynthesis.

Scientists call it terraforming, the hypothetical process by which the climate, surface, and known properties of Mars would be deliberately changed with the goal of safe and sustainable colonization of large areas of the planet.

“It’s not going to do any good to land on Mars if we’re stupid.” — Ray Bradbury
Mars is now too cold and too dry for life as we know it. The current Mars exploration, the rover Curiosity, has already hinted at the possibility of the planet’s past habitable environment. Trap heat and moisture with a thick atmosphere and Mars could be habitable again.

Importing ammonia, hydrocarbons, hydrogen and other atmosphere-enhancing compounds is doable. In short, we could build a livable planet with many of the elements that threaten our own.

Trail Mixers know that I’m just trying to find a way to create our ultimate fish camp.

How will we get there? By solar sailing of course.

In an unexpected reversal of fortune, NASA’s NanoSail-D spacecraft has unfurled a gleaming sheet of space-age fabric 650 km above Earth, becoming the first-ever solar sail to circle our planet. — Nasa Science News


NASA aims to send another rover to Mars in 2020