Tag: Mars

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.

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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.

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The Mars 2020 Rover (collab with Fraser Cain)

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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.

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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.

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To Get Humans To Mars, Making Space Food With Space Poop Is What We Need


Astronauts aboard the ISS drink recycled pee for a reason: we can only bring so much food and water to to space. Imagine how much more we need to take for that year-long journey to Mars.

Since bringing more resources means higher costs — the heavier a spacecraft is, the more fuel it needs, after all — scientists are looking to find ways to make self-sustaining vehicles.

A team of researchers from Penn State University, for instance, have developed a method to make space food with astronaut poop.

Disgusting? Well, the team’s technique doesn’t exactly turn the feces itself into food.

Instead, it uses microbes to break down solid and liquid human waste with anaerobic digestion, a process that doesn’t consume precious oxygen, similar to what happens inside our stomach when we eat.

During digestion, the fecal material produces methane, which is then fed to bacteria (Methylococcus capsulatus) naturally found in soil and already used to make animal pellets using a microbial reactor.

When the researchers tested their technique using artificial poop, the end result was biomass that’s 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats.

That’s what future spacefarers would eat — and what Mark Watney probably would’ve used as dip for his potatoes if he just had the equipment.

Team leader and Penn State professor Christopher House admits that “it’s a little strange,” but it’s like “Marmite or Vegemite where you’re eating a smear of ‘microbial goo.‘” We’ll bet space-poop goo is also an acquired taste.

In addition to being packed with nutrients, the goo is also relatively fast to make: researchers said they managed to remove 49 to 59 percent of the solids in the waste material within 13 hours during their tests.

That’s much faster than current waste management treatment methods, and as House said, it’s “faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.

The researchers also found potential food sources other than Methylococcus capsulatus during their tests.

When they tried growing microbes in either an alkaline or a high-heat environment to prevent the growth of pathogens, they discovered that a bacterium called Halomonas desiderata (15 percent protein and 7 percent fats) can thrive in the harsh conditions.

Another species of bacteria called Thermus aquaticus can live in environments reaching 158 degrees Fahrenheit, as well.

With a nutritional value that’s 61 percent protein and 16 percent fats, it’s yet another possible source of microbial goo grub for future astronauts.

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter And ESA’s Venus Express Are Using Atmosphere To Get Closer To The Planet

Mars has historically been unfriendly to Earth’s attempts to visit it. More missions have been attempted to Mars than to any other place in the Solar System except the Moon, and about half of the attempts have failed.

Some of these failures occurred because Mars was the first planet Earth attempted to explore, and the early exploration attempts taught us many lessons that have made subsequent missions more successful.

But many failures have occurred relatively recently, proving again and again that space exploration is very, very difficult.

But since 1996, Mars exploration has undergone a Renaissance, with data from four orbiters and four landed missions developing a revolutionary new view of Mars as an Earth-like world with a complex geologic history.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

This first mission of ESA’s ExoMars program consists of a Trace Gas Orbiter plus an Entry, descent and landing Demonstrator Module, known as Schiaparelli (which transmitted data during its descent before crash landing on the martian surface).

The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is searching for evidence of past water on Mars, using the most powerful camera and spectrometer ever sent to Mars.

Its cameras are also helping in the search for landing sites for future Mars rovers and landers, and to monitor martian weather on a day-to-day basis.

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NASA Plans To Put Nuclear Reactors On MARS To Power A Human Colony

The first humans to settle on Mars could have small nuclear power stations responsible for providing energy.

That’s because NASA is currently working on an £11 million project to develop nuclear fission reactors that could work on the red planet .

The space agency has built several 6.5ft (1.98m) reactors and is due to start testing them here on Earth.

Each reactor splits uranium atoms in half to generate power and, if they pass the initial tests, they could be shipped to Mars to be tested there.

Any human colony on the harsh planet will need power to generate oxygen, water, light, heat and electricity for recharging vehicles and scientific equipment.

Each nuclear reactor can produce up to 10 kilowatts of power – enough to support two people on an expedition mission to the planet.

That’s according to a 2008 paper in which NASA estimated that an eight-person expedition would need 40 kilowatts of power.

This isn’t the first time the US space agency has experimented with nuclear reactors in space.

Back in the 1960s it had a so-called SNAP (Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) program that developed, among other things, the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).

This is, in effect, a small lump of decaying plutonium-238 that gives off heat and power as it breaks down.

Lee Mason, who oversees power and energy storage technology development at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, said that these new reactors will be the “first time we operate a fission reactor that could be used in space since [the] 1960s SNAP program.”

Successfully installing a power source on Mars is going to be a key part of establishing humans on the planet.

Fission reactors are a better choice than solar panels because of Mars’ distance from the sun and their resistance to the planet’s infamous dust storms.

We’ve landed some really cool things on Mars and they’ve had some pretty remarkable power systems … but they’re not going to cut it for human missions,” Mason said during last month’s Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C.

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Scientists Discover Massive Ice Sheets On Mars

Scientists have discovered large sections of underlying water ice on Mars, opening new possibilities for future exploration of the planet.

On Friday’s issue of journal Science, a team of researchers led by U.S. Geological Survey planet geologist Colin Dundas have presented eight Martian regions where erosion has occurred.

Using HiRise, a powerful camera installed on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scientists have found thick ice sheets at the red planet’s mid-latitudes.

The large deposits of water ice are believed to be buried a meter or two below the surface at unexpectedly low latitudes and extend up to 100 meters tall.

What’s more, the deposits found appear to be made of pure ice.

Moreover, researchers believe it’s possible that the layers of subterranean ice could be holding a record of Mars’ past climate.

More importantly, the large deposits of ice could potentially be a huge source of water for future human exploration of the red planet.

A few years ago, the Mars Reconnaissance beamed back data and high-resolution images showing a pale sliver of blue among the red dust covering the planet.

Upon looking at the images, Dundas and his team discovered eight steep cliffs of what appears to be pure ice.

This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought,” Dundas said.

This is not the first time that ice was found on Mars. It’s long been known that ice covers the poles, and MRO’s radar instruments have detected signs of thick, buried ice across the red planet’s belly.

Some researchers suspect that these ice deposits are remnants of glaciers that existed millions of years ago when Mars’ spin axis and orbit were different.

The main difference is that back then, scientists have no way of determining the ice’s depth and properties.

Now that scientists have more leads as to the properties of the ice found underneath the planet’s surface, future Mars explorers will have more to go on as soon as they are able to land on it.

Since large reserves can be found a meter or two beneath the planet’s surface, it could be easier for human explorers to mine the ice content and then use it to support further missions.

Once humans are able to use Mars’ large reserves of water ice for drinking, for growing crops, and for generating fuel, the idea of a sustainable human base doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

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.

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Pass it on: New Scientist