Tag: Mars

NASA Is Actually Sending A Helicopter To Mars

NASA will include a small, autonomous helicopter in the agency’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, officials announced today (May 11).

The craft will undergo a 30-day test campaign once it reaches the Red Planet to demonstrate the viability of travel above the Martian surface with a heavier-than-air craft.

NASA has a proud history of firsts,” NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement.

“The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery and exploration missions to Mars.”

The Mars Helicopter’s development began in 2013 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. It’s just under 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms), and its body is about the size of a softball, NASA officials said in the statement.




It will carry solar cells to charge up in the light of the sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the Red Planet.

The helicopter’s twin blades will whirl at about 10 times the rate of a helicopter’s blades on Earth — at 3,000 rpm — to stay aloft in Mars’ thin atmosphere.

Mars 2020 is slated to launch in July of that year on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and the mission should arrive at Mars in February 2021.

The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.

The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the rover’s belly pan, officials said.

Once the rover reaches the planet’s surface, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move to a safe distance to relay commands; controllers on Earth will direct it to take its first autonomous flight.

The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time — up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won’t affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover’s mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access currently unreachable locations.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Water On Mars: Exploration & Evidence

Liquid water may still flow on Mars, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to spot. The search for water on the Red Planet has taken more than 15 years to turn up definitive signs that liquid flows on the surface today.

In the past, however, rivers and oceans may have covered the land. Where did all of the liquid water go?

Why? How much of it still remains?




Liquid water appears to flow from some steep, relatively warm slopes on the Martian surface.

Features known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) were first identified in 2011in images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The dark streaks, which appear seasonally, were confirmed to be signs of salty water running on the surface of the planet.

If this is correct, then RSL on Mars may represent the surface expression of a far more significant ongoing drainage system on steep slopes in the mid-latitudes,” a research team member said.

In 2015, spectral analysis of RSL led scientists to conclude they are caused by salty liquid water.

When Mariner 9 became the first craft to orbit another planet in 1971, the photographs it returned of dry river beds and canyons seemed to indicate that water had once existed on the Martian surface.

Images from the Viking orbiters only strengthened the idea that many of the landforms may have been created by running water.

Data from the Viking landers pointed to the presence of water beneath the surface, but the experiments were deemed inconclusive.

The early ’90s kicked off a slew of Mars missions. Scientists were flooded with a wealth of information about Mars.

Three NASA orbiters and one sent by the European Space Agency studied the planet from above, mapping the surface and analyzing the minerals below.

Some detected the presence of minerals, indicating the presence of water. Other data measured enough subsurface ice to fill Lake Michigan twice.

They found evidence for the presence of hot springs on the surface and sustained precipitation at some areas. And they found patches of ice within some of the deeper craters.

Impact craters offer a view of the interior of the red planet.

Using the ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists were able to study rocks ejected from the planet’s interior, finding minerals that suggested the presence of water.

Curiosity has found yet more evidence of water flowing on ancient Mars.

The 1-ton rover rolled through an ancient stream bed shortly after touching down in August 2012, and it has examined a number of rocks that were exposed to liquid water billions of years ago.

Mars missions aren’t the only way to search for water on Mars. Scientists studying rocks ejected from the Red Planet found signs that water lay beneath the surface in the past.

While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet’s history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites,” lead author Lauren White, of the JPL, said in a statement.

On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look at meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

Mars Surface May Be Too Toxic For Microbial Life

mars surface

The combination of UV radiation and perchlorates common on Mars could be deadly for bacteria.
The hope for Martian life took another blow today. As Ian Sample at The Guardian reports, a new study suggests that in the presence of ultraviolet light, perchlorates, a class of chemical compounds widespread on Mars’ surface, turn deadly for bacteria.

The presence of perchlorates isn’t new. Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft detected perchlorates when they landed on the Martian surface in 1976. Since then, other spacecraft have confirmed the presence of the compounds. The 2009 Phoenix lander found that perchlorates make up between 0.4 and 0.6 percent of the soil sample it collected.




While perchlorates, which are composed of chlorine and oxygen, are toxic to humans, microbes typically love the stuff. And researchers have been optimistic that their presence could support bacterial life on Mars. Some bacteria on Earth use naturally occurring perchlorate as an energy source.
The compound also lowers the melting point of water, which could improve the chance of liquid water existing on the Red Planet. But the latest study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that in the presence of ultraviolet light perchlorate is not so microbe-friendly.

Mars has a thin atmosphere, which often leaves its surface bathed in UV rays. And when heated, chlorine-based molecules like perchlorates cause heavy damage to living cells.

“We knew before that any life would have an incredibly hard time to survive on the surface, and this study experimentally confirms that,” Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Washington State University not involved in the study.
mars surface
It’s also possible that hypothetical Martian bacteria could be much tougher than the common Bacillus subtilis. On Earth, researchers have found all types of extremophile organisms with the ability to survive under intense heat and pressure, in the presence of acid, without water and even inside rocks.
“Life can survive very extreme environments,”  says co-author Jennifer Wadsworth .“The bacterial model we tested wasn’t an extremophile so it’s not out of the question that hardier life forms would find a way to survive.”
Please like, share and tweet this article.
Pass it on: Popular Science

Mars InSight: NASA’s Journey Into The Red Planet’s Deepest Mysteries

As early as 4:05 a.m. PDT on May 5th, those on the West Coast of the United States will have the chance to witness an interplanetary launch for the first time.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will carry NASA’s InSight spacecraft into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, California.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a lander bound for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’s Northern hemisphere.

There, it will gather data on the crust, mantle and core of Mars. It will also listen for tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

Though the launch represents the beginning of InSight’s expedition, in another way, it is the end of a long journey. NASA delayed the lander’s original launch in 2016 after discovering a problem with a key instrument.

This second chance at the mission gives planetary scientists another opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.




A Look Inside Mars

As the date of the launch approaches, planetary scientists are gearing up for a wealth of new information that will provide clues into how rocky planets form, show how Mars evolved over time, and provide one of the most complete records of regional weather on Mars that we’ve ever had.

These experiments could shed light on the history of the Earth and other rocky planets in the cosmos, as well as lay groundwork for future human exploration of the Red Planet.

Scientists are looking to gather information on the basic structure of Mars—for example, the thickness of its crust and the composition of its mantle and core.

These discoveries will give insight into the formation of rocky planets in general because, unlike Earth, the underlying crust of Mars appears to have been stable for the life of the planet, says Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator and a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While none of the material in the Earth’s core is more than 100 million years old, Banerdt explains that there is evidence that Mars hasn’t undergone a major reworking since 4.2 to 4.3 billion years ago.

The deep interior is relatively pristine,” he says.

Three Key Experiments

To look inside Mars, InSight will conduct three major experiments.

  • The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) is a seismometer that will monitor quakes and internal activity, allowing scientists to draw conclusions about the history and structure of the Red Planet.
  • The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) will measure how much heat is coming from the interior of the planet, how heat flows underground, and paint a picture of how heat has been driving geologic and internal processes under the surface. Banerdt says this gives scientists an idea of how the interior of Mars has evolved over time.
  • Finally, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) will use radio signals between the lander and Earth to detect “rotational wobbles,” which reveal properties of the core and the way the core interacts with the mantle.

Assuming clear weather, InSight’s launch will be visible in person from Santa Maria, California, to San Diego, California. NASA provides information on both official viewing sites and informal viewing sites on a launch page.

For those not on the West Coast, NASA will stream the launch online at NASA.gov/live, which will be mirrored directly below the day of the launch.

Video of the launch will be available on demand later at YouTube.com/NASAJPL/live and Ustream.tv/NASAJPL.

The launch window for InSight begins at 4:05 a.m. PDT on May 5th and runs through June 8th. Those who witness the rocket’s progress through the sky in the early morning hours can decide whether to wave goodbye or hello.

In either case, it will be a moment to watch.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

The Mystery Of The Giant ‘Honeycombs’ On Mars

MRO captured a look at the features with the Context camera and its HiRISE instrument, revealing greater detail.

Each cell is about 5-10 kilometers (3-6 miles), with rippling sand that suggests the region may have been subjected to wind erosion.

But, there may be other processes shaping the land as well.

Exposures of bedrock seen within the cells resemble features formed as dykes, NASA explains.

These are typically associated with volcanic activity.

According to NASA, “the lack of impact craters suggest that the landscape, along with these features, have been recently reshaped by a process, or number of processes that may even be active today.

“Scientists have been debating how these honeycombed features are created, theorized from glacial events, lake formation, volcanic activity, and tectonic activity, to wind erosion.”




Recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a potential sand-producing region that could be feeding the red planet’s stunning expanse of dunes.

In a breathtaking new image, the space agency revealed a look at the sloping sediments near the boundary of Mars’ Southern highlands and Northern lowlands.

The image shows dark material is being eroded from layers of the bedrock in a massive surface depression, indicating the sand grains were not carried there by wind, according to NASA.

The image, captured by MRO’s Context Camera, shows linear markings in the huge depression that appear to slope downward.

This helps to tell the story of the processes taking place at the surface.

The grains of sand that make up sand dunes on Earth and Mars have a hazardous existence because of the way that they travel,” NASA explained.

Wind-blown sand is lifted above the surface of each planet before crashing onto the ground and bouncing in a sequence of repeated hops, a process called saltation.

“Sand grains can also roll along the ground as they are blown by the wind, and they are also jostled by other sand grains that are similarly flying across the surface.”

As these impacts repeat, the sand grains are worn down and smoothed out, eventually forming their spherical shape.

And, the tiny fragments that break of add to Mars’ dust deposits.

Over time, this process destroys the grains entirely – but, the region spotted in the image may help to keep Mars’ dunes going.

As Martian winter gives way to spring, the snow-covered features on the red planet begin to change form, driven by an influx of sunlight.

It might sound familiar to the seasonal changes that take place here on Earth – but, in Mars’ northern hemisphere, the snow and ice speckling the landscape is made not of water, but carbon dioxide.

And, when this ‘dry ice’ is exposed to the sun, it creates remarkable patterns across the surface.

A recent captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed a look at these features, showing how ice, sand, and gases react to form wave-like designs that ripple across the dunes.

The image was captured on May 21, 2017 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, according to NASA.

At this time, spring was underway in the Northern hemisphere.

The Martian surface is covered in all sorts of remarkable features that have been brought to light by the spacecraft over recent years.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Is Building A Shuttle-Era Cargo Module To Become Deep Space Habitat Prototype

An aluminum cargo container, built more than 15 years ago to move large equipment to space, will be transformed into a prototype of a space habitat where astronauts would live during long missions.

The project is a step toward NASA’s next big human spaceflight project called the Deep Space Gateway, a “spaceport” in the moon’s orbit where astronauts would live for up to a year.

NASA’s goal is to have it up and running by the mid-2020s, and from there, the space agency hopes to gain some experience and develop capabilities needed to push farther into the solar system, specifically to Mars.

Colorado-based Lockheed Martin, a NASA contractor, announced last week that it will refurbish the cargo space container into a habitat prototype.

It won’t look like much on the outside — just a massive cylindrical metal container, about 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter.




The interior will be turned into a living quarter, with robotics work stations for astronauts, a place to exercise and storage spaces for food, water, toiletries — “all the things you need to live and be happy in space,” said Bill Pratt, of Lockheed Martin.

It is easy to take things for granted when you are living at home … Something as simple as calling your family is completely different when you are outside of low Earth orbit,” Pratt said in a news release.

“While building this habitat, we have to operate in a different mindset that’s more akin to long trips to Mars to ensure we keep them safe, healthy and productive.”

Named Donatello, the cargo container was one of three built by the Italian Space Agency in the 1990s to serve as “moving vans” carrying equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the International Space Station, a large spacecraft orbiting the Earth and where astronauts have lived since 2000.

Donatello was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from Italy in 2001.

While the two other cargo containers, called Leonardo and Raffaello, flew on several shuttle missions to the International Space Station, Donatello was never used.

Lockheed Martin will refurbish Donatello at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The work would take about 18 months.

Although Donatello was originally built to be flown to space, the refurbished hardware won’t make it there, Pratt said.

Lockheed will turn over its prototype to NASA, which will then start looking at building the actual habitat, Pratt said.

The Deep Space Gateway habitat will be docked to a spacecraft called Orion, the “exploration vehicle” that will carry astronauts to space.

Lockheed Martin is one of six U.S. companies NASA contracted to build habitat prototypes for the spaceflight project.

The Deep Space Gateway, which focuses on sending astronauts on extended missions in the moon’s orbit, is a far more modest goal than reaching Mars.

But, as The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach wrote, it’s more technologically doable in the near term under plausible budgets.

NASA said it hopes to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

The Mars 2020 Rover (collab with Fraser Cain)

Set up a free Brilliant account at http://www.brilliant.org/answerswithjoe/ And the first 295 to sign up for a premium account get 20% off every month!

The Mars Curiosity Rover is one of the most successful planetary missions of all time. Here’s how NASA plans to follow that up – the Mars 2020 Rover

 

Science Objective A: Explore once potentially-habitable areas

Science Objective B: Seek bio signatures

Science Objective C: Sample Caching

Science Objective D: Demonstrate in-situ resource utilization.

And here are the instruments that will make that possible. It contains 2 cameras on the probe’s mast, one called Mastcam-Z, which is the main “eye” for the rover.

It can take 360 degree panoramic 3D views with an advanced zoom that can see something the size of a housefly from the distance of a soccer field. And the second camera is called SuperCam.

This can actually do a spectrographic analysis of a rock’s chemical makeup from over 20 feet away by burning a hole in the rock as small as the point of a pencil.

This was developed in conjunction with a team from France. PIXL, or Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry will examine rock and soil samples for signs of ancient microbial life and can take extremely close up images of soil samples down to the size of a grain of salt. MEDA, the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer is a contribution from a team in Spain, it’s a tiny weather lab that measures wind speed, temperature and humidity and also gathers data about dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.

RIMFAX, the Radar Imager for Mars Subsurface Experiment from Norway is basically like a sonogram that see tens of meters below the ground and detect elements down to the centimeter. This will help find underground water and ice on Mars. The aptly named SHERLOC, or Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals is a big sciency way of saying it looks for signs of ancient life with UV light, much like forensic investigators at crime scenes.

Hence, Sherlock. But SHERLOC will carry a couple of interesting things with it, one is a Mars meteorite for calibration purposes.

There’s a handful of meteorites found here on Earth that we know were once a part of Mars that were blasted away in an asteroid impact, then travelled through the solar system and eventually landed on Earth.

SHERLOC is going to carry a piece of one of those meteorites to use to calibrate its laser on the Martian surface, which means this will be the first time a piece of martian rock will be returned to Mars. The other thing is it will be carrying samples of materials that may be used to make Martian spacesuits, to see how well they fare in the Martian environment. And last but definitely not least is MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment.

This is the module that will be testing in situ resource utilization techniques in the hopes of turning the CO2 in the martian atmosphere into oxygen, just like a tree. The rover will also contain a special microphone, giving us the first sound recordings from the surface of Mars.

NASA Rovers Set New Record For Longest Mission On Mars

NASA’s long-lived twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have set a new endurance record on Mars, with Opportunity hot on the heels of its sister robot for the title of longest-running mission on the Martian surface.

Opportunity today matched the Mars mission lifespan of NASA’s iconic Viking 1 lander, which spent six years and 116 days (for a total of 2,245 days) working on the red planet in the mid 1970s and early 80s.

If Opportunity survives three weeks longer than its older robotic twin Spirit, which has been silent for weeks but may actually be hibernating, the rover will take the all-time record for the longest mission on Mars.

The two solar-powered rovers recently experienced their fourth Martian winter solstice – the day with the least amount of sunlight at their respective spots on Mars – last May 12, 2010.

Opportunity and Spirit were initially slated for only 90-day missions to explore the geology and chemistry of their respective landing sites.




But they blew past those deadlines and have continued their missions for far longer than NASA engineers ever thought possible.

In January of 2010, they each celebrated their sixth anniversary on Mars. That means right now both rovers are in the midst of their seventh Earth year exploring the red planet.

Spirit touched down on the surface of Mars in January 2004, ahead of Opportunity, but fell silent on March 22, when it skipped a planned communications session with controllers on Earth.

The beleaguered Spirit rover has been out of communication for weeks after entering a low-power hibernation mode once winter sat in and temperatures dropped along with the sun dipping in the sky, leaving Spirit with insufficient power to properly function.

The rover may wake up with the arrival of the Martian spring, and if so, will keep its hold on the record for the longest mission.

Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004 while Opportunity touched down on Jan. 25 (Eastern Time) of that year. So Opportunity would have to survive at least 22 days longer than its twin to take the Martian mission title.

But, because Spirit is out of contact, mission managers may not know for several weeks whether or not it has survived and was still in operation on its record-setting day.

Opportunity, which is doing fine, is expected to breeze past Viking 1’s 2,245-day record today with no problems. The rover also hit another milestone in March, passing the 20-kilometer (12.43-mile) mark.

While Opportunity could swipe the Mars surface mission record from Spirit, it has a long way to go to take the title for longest mission in the Martian neighborhood.

Opportunity has been steadily roving toward a huge Mars crater called Endeavour since mid-2008, when it finished its last crater pit stop Victoria Crater.

Photos from the rover show the rim of Endeavour in the distance with vast plains of Martian sand etched with ripple-like dunes.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

If Asteroids Don’t Destroy Elon Musk’s Space Tesla, Radiation Will, Experts Say

Its billion-year mission: To circle the sun, to hopefully not crash into Mars, to boldly go where no car has gone before.

Elon Musk’s old Roadster became the first car in history to be blasted into space on Tuesday, riding the successful test launch of the Falcon Heavy mega rocket to an orbital path that’s projected to send it out to Mars—or maybe even further.

In a tweet, Musk reported that the “third burn” procedure to push the Roadster out of Earth’s orbit worked a little too well, with the trajectory now slated to reach the edge of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

But as Live Science reported, big space rocks aren’t really the most significant threat to the spacefaring sports car.




No, that would be good ol’ radiation, which has the potential to mostly disintegrate the Tesla Roadster within a year or two, according to William Carroll, an Indiana University chemist and molecular expert.

Without the protection afforded by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, the Roadster will be bombarded by radiation that will eventually tear apart anything not made of metal on the car.

All of the organics will be subjected to degradation by the various kinds of radiation that you will run into there,” Carroll said, noting that the term “organics” in this case includes not only fabric and leather but all plastic components as well as the car’s carbon fiber body.

Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn’t give them a year.”

Musk’s cherry-red Tesla already survived a full blast of radiation as it traveled through the planet’s Van Allen belt on its way out of Earth’s orbit, but the extended timeline of its journey creates a much different situation; eventually, the spacefaring Roadster could wind up stripped down to its aluminum chassis.

Any metal parts that do survive probably won’t look exactly the same either; Carroll added that it would be nearly impossible to avoid micrometeoroids that will pockmark exposed surfaces a thousand times over.

Live Science also got in touch with Richard Sachleben, a member of the American Chemical Society’s expert panel, who “largely agreed” with Carroll’s points, though he thought the Tesla might stay intact for a little longer than a year.

A direct impact with an asteroid could always change that timeline, though.

Then again, even if some future human were pluck it out of orbit and haul it home to see if it still works, it wouldn’t run: Musk & Co. reportedly stripped the car’s powertrain entirely before mounting it on the rocket.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science