Stories tagged Mars rover


Hey, y'all!

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!


The Curiosity rover: It's going to look for signs of Mars' past habitability. Also, it's way bigger than the other Mars rovers; about 2,000 pounds, and the size of a compact car.
The Curiosity rover: It's going to look for signs of Mars' past habitability. Also, it's way bigger than the other Mars rovers; about 2,000 pounds, and the size of a compact car.Courtesy NASA JPL
Wait, 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:

August 4!


SpiritCourtesy xkcd
The 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.

There it is! A lonely log!: It's on the left side of the picture, underneath the image of a distant Martian YMCA.
There it is! A lonely log!: It's on the left side of the picture, underneath the image of a distant Martian YMCA.Courtesy NASA
Oh 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.

Meanwhile, killjoys and critical thinkers are pointing out that it isn't so much a log as it is a rock, and that there are similar rocks all around.

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.


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.


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.


Mars rovers caught in severe dust storm.

"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."

On Tuesday, July 17, the output from Opportunity's solar Mars rover
Mars rover
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.