The Mars rover, Curiosity, has made an historic drilling into rock on the surface of Mars. The feat is a first in planetary exploration.
"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," said John Grotizinger, the mission's lead scientist.“
The next step is to have the extracted gray powdered rock analyzed by Curiosity's on-board laboratory to determine the sample's chemistry and mineralogy,
Tonight, as you're wondering if your level 81 dark elf mage and her sweet double-enchanted dragonscale armor makes up for the girlfriend you lost playing Skyrim, turn your xbox over to the live streaming of the landing of the new Mars rover, Curiosity. Because it's right there on your console's dashboard!
It's really a win-win situation. Arborea Darkshadow can wait a few minutes, I'm sure, and you'll either get to witness an action-packed landing of a big new Mars rover, or you'll get to see the hopes and dreams of hundreds of scientists and engineers crash and disintegrate on the cold surface of a dead planet millions of miles away!
You know what JGordon will be doing approximately 12 hours from now? Definitely not watching the Curiosity landing! But that's only because I don't have an internet connection at my apartment. No, I'll probably be forcing the cat to participate in the St. Paul Cat Olympics. As far as I know, there will be only one contestant, but it promises to be hilarious! Why? Because she probably can't swim very well.
Mars! Be there!
Courtesy NASA JPLWait, who was I quoting in that headline? Me. I was quoting me, from when I described the upcoming Mars rover landing in my head as "pretty frickin' awesome." Or ... that was very nearly what I thought, but the specifics of what goes on in my brain pit are for adult ears only.
Which adult? This one. Me.
Anyway, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced a video about how the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity will go down, when the spacecraft carrying it reaches the Martian atmosphere on August 4. As you'll see when you watch the video below, there's dramatic music, scientists and engineers speaking dramatically, and dramatic flashing graphics. All very nice and of high production value, but it makes me want to say, "Hey, don't be dorks, dorks. Geez."
But I can't. Because it actually looks pretty awesome. The spacecraft is going to enter the atmosphere going 13,000 miles an hour, which will heat it up to about 1600 degrees. Then a giant, super tough parachute will shoot out, and slow it down to a couple hundred miles an hour. And then the capsule will break open (before it hits the ground), and another flying device will fall out, the "Sky Crane." The Sky Crane will use rockets to zoom away, and then hover above the surface of the planet. It will then lower the actual rover down on a cable. Once the rover touches down, the crane will blast off again, so it doesn't crash into the rover. Pretty amazing. Take a look:
Courtesy xkcdThe current Mars rovers are, not surprisingly, still on Mars. The surprising bit is that one, Opportunity, is still operating, nearly seven years after landing. The other, Spirit, is stuck, possibly in a hibernation mode, and could "wake up" during the Martian summer solstice , this coming March. It’s pretty incredible that these rovers operated so long after they landed – in Opportunity's case 20 times longer and counting.
And, orbiting above the rovers is the Odyssey spacecraft, which last week broke the record for longest-working spacecraft at Mars. The previous record was set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.
And amidst all this history, a little under a year from now, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity will be launched and is scheduled to land in August 2012. Curiosity is also a rover, but is larger than either Opportunity or Spirit. Its mission is to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.
Courtesy NASAOh my goodness! It's not my favorite Lil', but that lil' Mars rover has gotten some good shots of the red planet. There were those Yeti prints that turned out to be made by the rover itself, and then there was that rocky little person sitting on a rock.
And now there's this: the rover has discovered a log on Mars. Blogging experts the world over are claiming that this is finally proof of forests on Mars, forests that NASA and the US government have been keeping from us.
Normally I'm all for finding logs and footprints on Mars, but getting excited about a Martian log that isn't actually a log is sort of missing the point: it's a freaking Mars-rock, and it doesn't have to be a log to be interesting. An unusual looking rock on another planet might tell us something about the planet's geological processes... but only if we accept that it is, in fact, a rock.
Plus, there are probably other, real-er logs lying just outside of the camera frame. I'm content with those.
Courtesy billypaloozaAhoy, 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.
Courtesy NASAThere’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.
"A raging dust storm on Mars has cut power to NASA's twin rovers to dangerously low levels, threatening an end to the mission. One or both rovers could be damaged permanently or even disabled, officials said." Space.com
On Tuesday, July 17, the output from Opportunity's solar
panels dropped to 148 watt hours, the lowest point for either rover. On Wednesday, Opportunity's solar-panel output dropped even lower, to 128 watt hours. Mission control has ordered the Mars rover to stop communications for two days. Engineers calculate that skipping communications sessions should lower daily energy use to less than 130 watt hours.
If the sunlight is further cut back for an extended period, the rovers will not be able to generate enough power to keep themselves warm or operate at all, even in a near-dormant state. Science @NASA.
If you have a high speed internet connection I recommend viewing this video. I wonder if it will ever get back out?
NASA video explaining Opportunity's plunge into Victoria Crater.
The BB-sized spherules are thought to be composed of hematite, iron oxide that leaches out of the soil as ground water rises up through it. Three years ago, when Opportunity first landed on Mars, millions of the tiny concretions were seen covering the Martian surface around its landing site at Eagle crater. A depression containing a concentration of the berries allowed Opportunity’s Mössbauer spectrometer (an instrument designed to identify iron-bearing minerals) to analyze the spheres’ composition. The test results displayed typical outcrop characteristics, but showed intense hematite signature.
Scientists think the concretions are similar to those found on Earth in the Utah desert, and elsewhere. Commonly called “Moqui Marbles”, these larger concretions litter the ground in many areas in the Utah desert, and are cherished among New-Age devotees for their supposed metaphysical powers.
I found similar concretions at Como Bluff in Wyoming last fall. Como is an historic dinosaur bone yard carved out of an anticline just north of Laramie. The well-known Morrison Formation , from which the dinosaur fossils weather out, is composed of river and floodplain deposits laid down during the Late Jurassic Period. The Morrison outcrops in a number of western states.
Concretions on Earth form when ground water rises up through strata of compacted soil, seeping into joints and between layers, where minerals in the water precipitate out slowly over long periods of time. Scientists believe the same process has taken place on Mars.
As Opportunity moved across Meridiani Planum and upwards toward the rim of Victoria, the number and size of blueberries has decreased. But as the rover’s neared Victoria’s rim, the trend has reversed.
The terrain there was "full of great big juicy blueberries again," said rover chief scientist Steven Squyres last month at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. "That was a surprise to us."
The impact that created Victoria Crater smashed deep below the surface and into the blueberry layer, throwing thousands of the concretions around the crater’s rim.
The concretions add to the growing evidence of water on the Red Planet. During it’s trek toward Victoria, Opportunity spotted ripple marks in Endurance crater leading scientists to speculate that water, which is mostly present underground, sometimes flows out on the surface. Recent gully activity was also noticed just a few weeks ago in photos taken by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor.
Just how deep the water level is won't be known until Opportunity descends into the Victoria Crater in a few months, and studies the outcrops there.
"As we go down, we'll cross a bathtub ring," marking the highest level the water reached, Squyres said.