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
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.”
Space.com: “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.”
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.
OK enough already, NASA has damn well proved there was once water on Mars — and plenty of it. Now what?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
[Update 1pm] — Mars rover finds complex chemicals but no organic compounds … yet (NBC News) … And, for those Mayan worry worts out there, NASA says world won’t end in 2012 (ABC News)
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has sparked the curiosity of the media and the blogosphere, with widespread speculation as to whether one of its laboratory instruments has made a major discovery in the quest to find out if the red planet ever hosted a habitable environment. NASA officials, however, are downplaying the speculation, saying the results, expected to be presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, are scientifically interesting, but not in and of themselves “earthshaking.” But when it comes to speculation about life on Mars, rumors can be hard to avoid, especially when the data are from an instrument designed to look for the carbon compounds essential to life as it is known on Earth.” — CBS News
Curiosity’s view of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, showing the rugged terrain that represents the rover’s ultimate goal.
LOS ANGELES (Associated Press) — Scientists say NASA’s newest Mars rover has found signs that a stream once flowed across the surface near the site where it landed.
Curiosity touched down in a crater near the Martian equator last month. The red planet today is dusty and dry but scientists think it was once warmer and wetter.
Evidence of an ancient stream came from analyzing the size and shapes of pebbles and gravel near Gale Crater. Mission scientists said Thursday it appeared the water was fast-moving and deep.
Images from space have provided hints of a watery past at Curiosity’s landing site. The latest discovery on the ground confirms that.
Curiosity is headed toward a spot where three types of terrain meet. Its ultimate destination is a mountain rising from the center of the crater.
NASA Mars Science Laboratory — In this image from NASA’s Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust. The fractured Link outcrop has blocks of exposed, clean surfaces. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. Many gravel-sized rocks have eroded out of the outcrop onto the surface, particularly in the left portion of the frame. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Water transport is the only process capable of producing the rounded shape of clasts of this size.
“A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment. … This is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment.” — Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger (Space.com)
NASA researchers have now thoroughly vetted Curiosity and its 10 science instruments, which are designed to help the rover seek signs of microbial life. Curiosity has also hit the road recently, traveling a total of about 950 feet from its landing site so far. The rover now sits about 660 feet from its first major science destination, a site called Glenelg where three different types of Martian terrain come together.
Curiosity will spend the next several days more or less stationary, gearing up to perform its first contact science operations on a pyramidal rock that mission scientists have named “Jake Matijevic,” after a rover team member who died shortly after Curiosity landed.
The rover will investigate the 16-inch-high rock with its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, which measures elemental composition, and its Mars Hand Lens Imager close-up camera. Curiosity will also zap “Jake Matijevic” with the laser on its ChemCam instrument, which reads rock composition from the vaporized bits.
Richard Cook, project manager for the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, said the rock’s name pays tribute to Jacob Matijevic, a leading engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was involved in NASA’s rover missions since Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner rover in 1997. Matijevic was a Chicago native who earned his Ph.D. in mathematics and came up with the Matijevic Theorem, which was once described as “one of the most beautiful results of recent years in commutative algebra.”
Matijevic’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune notes that he came to JPL in 1981 and took on a variety of assignments. Eventually, he came to specialize in systems engineering for the Mars rover designs as well as rover surface operations. “He was probably one of the top one or two experts on surface operations here at JPL,” Cook said.
Matijevic played a key role in the Spirit and Opportunity rover missions, which were originally planned to last just 90 days on Mars. Grotzinger recalled that Matijevic once said “if this rover lasts six months, it’ll probably last six years.”
“He seems to have come pretty close,” Grotzinger observed. Spirit lasted six years. Opportunity is now into its 8th year of operation.
The engineer switched over from Opportunity to the Mars Science Laboratory mission, but passed away at the age of 64 on Aug. 20, after battling respiratory problems, the Tribune reported.
Grotzinger said Matijevic would have loved dealing with the complexities involved in studying the rock that’s named after him. “All that activity and all those considerations are what honor Jake Matijevic so well,” he said.
While researchers are looking forward to reaching Glenelg, Curiosity’s ultimate destination is the base of Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high mountain. Mars-orbiting spacecraft have spotted signs that Mount Sharp’s foothills were exposed to liquid water long ago.
Mount Sharp’s interesting deposits lie about 6 miles away. Curiosity — which is currently covering about 100 feet on a big driving day but should eventually kick that up to 330 feet or so — could be ready to head toward Mount Sharp around the end of the year.
Catching An Eclipse
In its spare time last week Curiosity photographed a partial Solar eclipse. Mars doesn’t have much in the way of moons — just two small, lumpy objects called Phobos and Deimos. But those tiny natural satellites can still make their presence felt.
Curiosity rover documented a brief passage of Phobos, the larger of the Martian moons, in front of the sun. Phobos just grazed the edge of the solar disk from Curiosity’s vantage point, but the rover clearly captured the moon’s shadow in a series of photographs.
Scientists will use these photos to nail down the orbits of Phobos and Deimos precisely, and to determine how much they have changed over the last few years. This information, in turn, could yield key insights about the interior of Mars and its gravitational pull on these moons, which remains largely mysterious.