Stories tagged mars

NASA scientists have confirmed that on-board analysis of ice samples scooped up by the Phoenix Mars Lander earlier this summer prove water exists on the planet.

"We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

-- William Boynton, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer.

The mission has been extended through September 30.


It looks like ice on Mars: NASA scientists think the bright chunks must be ice.
It looks like ice on Mars: NASA scientists think the bright chunks must be ice.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University
A few days ago on Mars, the robotic scoop on NASA’s Phoenix Lander uncovered some white, dice-sized chunks of material in a trench it was digging. Today, some of those same bright chunks are nowhere to be seen leading NASA scientists to think they were ice that has since evaporated.

"These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice,” said Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can't do that."

Check out the official ASU Phoenix site for some cool (pun intended) photos and more information about the mission.

More info on NASA site


Footprint on Mars?: Probably not.
Footprint on Mars?: Probably not.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
When this image first appeared on computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, scientists there were head-over-heels about the possibility that the Phoenix lander that settled on Mars last week had finally discovered tangible evidence of the Abominable Snowman. They even named it Yeti after the legendary Himalayan creature.

Frozen water on Mars?: Close-up of the "Snow Queen" feature discovered under the Phoenix lander has the appearance of frozen water.
Frozen water on Mars?: Close-up of the "Snow Queen" feature discovered under the Phoenix lander has the appearance of frozen water.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute
But their excitement soon turned to disappointment when they realized the marking was just a test scraping made by the Mars lander's robotic arm. All was not lost however. Their emotional rollercoaster was soon headed upward again as they discovered that the lander's descent engines had blown away the topsoil and uncovered a large patch of ice right beneath the spacecraft. Exactly what it was sent there to find!

Scientist are hopeful the ice extends into the region the lander will be sampling in the coming days. They may even hope to find evidence of Elvis, but personally I think they should lower their expectations and stick to searching for other, less iconic, signs of life on the planet.

Want to read more about all this heartache and serendipity? Then go here and here .


Phoenix lander footpad on Mars
Phoenix lander footpad on MarsCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
The Phoenix Mars Lander set down successfully last night (6:53 CDT) near the planet’s arctic area in a region called Vastitas Borealis. On Earth, it would be similar to landing in the upper Northwest Territories of Canada.

Unlike the two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, the Phoenix is not mobile, and will spend the next four or five months stuck in one spot analyzing soil and ice samples scooped deep from within the Martian permafrost using a robotic arm developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On board instruments will analyze the samples in search of answers to questions about the affects of polar dynamics on Martian climate, the history of water at the landing site, and whether the Martian arctic region is suitable to support life.

In the coming months, as the sun disappears beneath the horizon and the Martian winter sets in, the Phoenix will shut down operations and end its mission. The loss of solar heat in the atmosphere will also create a frost cover that will expand out from the polar region and eventually bury the Phoenix lander in ice.

NASA Phoenix site
University of Arizona Phoenix Mission site

Speaking of movies related to the Deadly Medicine exhibit, Abby Mann, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for the 1961 movie, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, passed away last week. Mann originally scripted a TV drama about the trials, then went on to write his first film screenplay on the same subject.

"A lot of people didn't want it done," he once said in an interview. "People wanted to sweep the issue under the rug."

Mann's screenplay won the Academy Award in 1962.

BBC story obituary


Inside Victoria Crater: View of Martian stratigraphic layer informally named "Lyell", the lowermost of three layers found inside of Victoria Crater by the Mars rover Opportunity.
Inside Victoria Crater: View of Martian stratigraphic layer informally named "Lyell", the lowermost of three layers found inside of Victoria Crater by the Mars rover Opportunity.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
The science gathered so far by the two Martian rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, suggests the Red Planet may have been a bit too inhospitable to support even the toughest forms of life.

Although strong evidence of water (at least in the planet’s past) has been found on Mars, recent assessment of the data shows it contains a much higher salt content than expected and that practically puts the kibosh on hopes of any microbes flourishing there.

Opportunity spent time recently examining strata exposed on the inner wall of Victoria Crater. NASA scientists hoped it would show a record of the ground surface as it existed prior to impact that created the crater. But analysis suggests it to be the top of an underground water table, and after reassessing earlier data, and performing some computer modeling, researchers think the environment may have been too harsh to support life.

"At first, we focused on acidity, because the environment would have been very acidic," said Dr. Andrew Knoll, a Harvard biologist who is a member of the rover science team. "Now, we also appreciate the high salinity of the water when it left behind the minerals Opportunity found. This tightens the noose on the possibility of life."

Knoll spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

"Life at the Martian surface would have been very challenging for the last 4 billion years. The best hopes for a story of life on Mars are at environments we haven't studied yet -- older ones, subsurface ones," he said.

Lower, more ancient, geological layers may hold a more hospitable picture of a less briny Martian environment, but the current rover missions aren’t set up to examine that.

"Our next missions, Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory, mark a transition from water to habitability -- assessing whether sites where there's been water have had conditions suited to life," said Charles Elachi, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Where conditions were habitable, later missions may look for evidence of life."

The Phoenix lander is expected to reach Mars on May 25, 2008 in an area farther north on the planet where it will study the icy subsurface for viable signs of life. The Mars Science Laboratory will launch in the fall of 2009.

Opportunity and Spirit, the two rovers operating presently on opposite sides of the Mars, were sent there with one mission in mind: finding evidence of water. The missions were expected to last a mere three months, but have far surpassed that due to the robots’ high endurance, and problem-solving ingenuity of NASA engineers back on Earth. The robots are now entering their fifth year exploring the Martian surface.

NASA press release
BBC story
Mars info
More about Mars (with less salt)


You know, this isn't the picture I'm talking about: Sorry.
You know, this isn't the picture I'm talking about: Sorry.Courtesy billypalooza
Ahoy, Buzzketeers! Put on your astronomy hats and your alien diapers, because Spirit, the Mars rover, has got something crazy to show you: a picture of a person (a Martian person) sitting on a rock on the surface of Mars! (Check out the link for the actual photos.)

“A person on Mars?” you say. “What would a person be doing on Mars?” I knew you would say that, because you’re such a doubter, and the answer is obvious from the picture: they’re waiting for a bus, clearly. At least that’s how the article describes it, and it makes sense, because there’s nothing else to do on the surface of Mars. Unless you’re into rocks.

“You know,” you add, “We’ve seen faces and stuff on Mars before. And they’re made of rock. And they don’t even look very facey when you really check them out.” I knew you would say that, too. Sure, they’re probably just made of rock, but if you’re waiting for a bus (and I didn’t see any buses on the way, so it looks like a long wait) on the frosty surface of mars, it probably helps to be made of rock. I mean, really, take off your astronomy hat for just a second, and put on your thinking cap, because you’ve got to try stepping outside the box on this one.

Pretty rad, huh? Although, I always thought Martians would be, I don’t know, greener.


Mars: Is the Red Planet on a collision course with an asteroid?
Mars: Is the Red Planet on a collision course with an asteroid?Courtesy NASA
The planet Mars may be in for a collision from an asteroid headed its way. Scientists from NASA have been tracking the 160-foot-wide asteroid for some time now, and say the odds of it hitting the Red Planet are about 1 in 75. Back in 1908, Earth was hit by a similar asteroid, near Tunguska, Siberia. That impact flattened millions of trees and is thought to have left a crater that is now a lake.

I remember the excitement I felt peering through my brother's telescope and seeing the effects of the Shoemaker-Levy comet when it collided with Jupiter back in July of 1994. You could just make out some of the dark holes punched into Jupiter's surface from the comet fragments. Very exciting considering we were witnessing it from over half a billion miles away.

The view of this possible impact could even be better. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently mapping the Martian surface, could capture a the best view of such an event - unless by chance this thing impacts in range of the cameras of one of the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, currently exploring the planet's environs.

If a collision does take place, it's expected to happen on January 30, 2008, which by the way is my birthday. What a great present that would be!

Associated Press story


Rolling discovery: The Mars rover Spirit, similar to this NASA rover called Fido, has made an unusual discovery of clues to life on Mars because of a bad wheel.
Rolling discovery: The Mars rover Spirit, similar to this NASA rover called Fido, has made an unusual discovery of clues to life on Mars because of a bad wheel.Courtesy NASA
There’s nothing quite as deflating, figuratively, as a getting a flat tire. And what about if you’re a space rover on Mars, where there’s no shop to go to get your tire fixed?

That’s what NASA’s Spirit Mars rover has been dealing with since its right front tire went bad nearly two years ago. It didn’t go flat, but it’s quit turning forcing NASA to move the rover around in reverse ever since, trailing the stuck wheel behind.

But nearly a year later, that astronomic misfortune has led to an interesting discovery. Ruts carved by the bad wheel last May churned up a bright spot in the rover’s wake.

Rover guiders turned the craft back to the colorful streak for a closer look and discovered that the rock contains high levels of silica. Upon further investigation, however, another nearby rock cracked open that was jam-packed with silica.

You’re wondering what’s the big deal?

Well, on Earth high levels of silica occur only in two places: hot springs or fumaroles, which are environments near volcanoes where acidic steam rises through cracks in the ground. In each of those environments on Earth, water is present and the area is teeming with life forms.

NASA Mars researchers are terming the discovery, made through these very accidental means, as one of the biggest breakthroughs to discovering life forms could have existed on the Red Planet.

By the way, if the bad wheel isn’t enough of a problem for Spirit, it’s also been through a bad dust storm which has coated much of its solar panels with grit. Because of that, it’s only operating at about 30 percent power and rover operators will soon be driving it up a higher altitude for a rest and to have the panels wind-cleaned.