Category Archives: Mars

Go Home Mars Rock, You're Drunk! (Interplanetary Rock Makes Selfie)

Look at the rock on the right, and the lack of rock on the left. (Our left.) It is being reported that this jelly-donut size rock appeared out of nowhere on the Martian surface between photographs.

mars_rock_mystery

There are several possible explanations for this.

1) It grew there.
2) It was ejected from a steam vent or something and flew there.
3) This is what a Martian looks like. It will eventually move on.
4) The robot that took the first picture tossed the rock up while driving by.
5) It is a jelly donut.
6) The rock was placed there to cover up a footprint.

What do you think?

I love it when stuff like this happens.

Actual Mars Rover Press Conference and Release

Despite rumors to the contrary, NASA actually does real, non-Parody science! And the famous press conference about Mars Rover happened today, and it was exactly as I predicted. Very, very interesting.

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples Curiosity’s arm delivered to an analytical laboratory inside the rover.

Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission demonstrates the laboratory’s capability to analyze diverse soil and rock samples over the next two years. Scientists also have been verifying the capabilities of the rover’s instruments.

Curiosity is the first Mars rover able to scoop soil into analytical instruments. The specific soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called “Rocknest.” The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale Crater still miles away from the rover’s main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp. The rover’s laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

“We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Curiosity’s APXS instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover’s arm confirmed Rocknest has chemical-element composition and textural appearance similar to sites visited by earlier NASA Mars rovers Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity’s team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of the arm’s sample-handling chambers. Sand was vibrated inside the chambers to remove residue from Earth. MAHLI close-up images of Rocknest show a dust-coated crust one or two sand grains thick, covering dark, finer sand.

“Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface,” said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. “This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive, letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it.”

CheMin’s examination of Rocknest samples found the composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass. SAM added information about ingredients present in much lower concentrations and about ratios of isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element and can provide clues about environmental changes. The water seen by SAM does not mean the drift was wet. Water molecules bound to grains of sand or dust are not unusual, but the quantity seen was higher than anticipated.

SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic Martian soil by NASA’s Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds — one-carbon organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM’s high sensitivity design.

“We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission’s main science destination on Mount Sharp.”

That’s the text of the press release. Click here to see the pretty pictures that go along with it.

NASA Mars Rover Press Results Leaked!

As you know, NASA is planning a press conference later today, but you don’t have to wait for the big news. It was leaked, and I’ve got it.

The NASA Curiosity Mars Rover has discovered something interesting and rather enigmatic. I understand NASA will be asking your help in trying to identify what it is.

At first, the object appeared as three enigmatic shapes, kind of gray in color, very near each other, spotted in a ground-oriented medium resolution image. This is what the Rover image looked like: Continue reading NASA Mars Rover Press Results Leaked!

NASA Press Conference Will Announce Voyager Captured by Alien Craft!

I’m kidding, I’m kidding, NASA did not say that. But I do think people need to take it down a notch with this whole blaming NASA for doing their press conferences wrong. As far as I know, the Curiosity Martian Laboratory Robot recently approached a non nondescript pile of dirt, analyzed the bejesus out of it as a test of the fancy dancy instruments on board, and everything worked. The pile of dirt was not interesting but they did to that pile of dirt what would have required 3,000 feet of laboratory floor space full of expensive equipment and a dozen technicians working for two months back in the day. But they did it with a Robot. On Mars. In a few days. And everything worked.

If you don’t think that is overwhelmingly exciting than you are either dead or have no idea how science works. That is incredibly amazing wonderful news.

So, when a NASA scientist became exuberant over the news that would be reported in the upcoming press conference and said he was really excited, science reporters and bloggers, jaded by the Mono Lake affair no doubt, assumed that only one thing could be that exciting: Martians. Nothing else. And then, when “rumors” went around suggesting that it was probably not Martians, it became time to crucify NASA again. That is not good science reporting, people. Don’t think you’re doing it right and NASA is doing it wrong.

I also think that the spoof site reporting that a blue plastic necklace had been found on the Angry Red Planet was pretty funny, and I think that NASA having that site killed was unnecessary. Those details are here.

Take it down a notch, people.

OK, there really will be a V-ger press conference and a Curiosity press conference in the near future.

OMG NASA IS HAVING MULTIPLE PRESS CONFERENCES IN A FEW DAYS WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE UNIVERZ????

Actually, NASA has press conference all the time. All the time. They’ve been doing this for years. The sudden concern that NASA is doing science by press conference, if it is a real concern, should have been brought up a long time ago. But really, there should not be a concern. The data that are collected on these various NASA Big Science Missions are studied by real live scientists who publish the results in peer reviewed journals. But they also have the press conferences.

Think about this for one minute. What if NASA had the rule that nothing they did would be reported to the press, but rather, only released via peer reviewed journals, often years after the actual mission activities were carried out, but they’d also let you stand a few miles away and watch launches. That’s it. No press conferences keeping people updated on the various missions as they reach various milestones. What would the people who watch this science and report on it and blog about it do then? They’d whinge about the lack of transparency, the lack of information, they’d say things like “Sure, sure, peer reviewed papers are great, but with this kind of science, with the huge public funding, and given the importance of the public interest, and the various milestones and stuff … well, they should have press conferences now and then, dammit!”

Yes, that is what would be said.

So, here, I will present the information on the upcoming press conferences, as provided by NASA, so you can see what it is all about.

11.29.2012
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Update Set In San Francisco About Curiosity Mars Rover

PASADENA, Calif. — The next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars’ Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

Audio and visuals from the briefing also will be streamed online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl .

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

2012-377b

Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster 818-354-9452/ 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
veronica.c.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov/ guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

NASA to Host Dec. 3 Teleconference About Voyager Mission

November 29, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) on Monday, Dec. 3, to discuss the latest findings and travels of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, have been speeding through the outer reaches of our solar system and sending back unprecedented data about the bubble of charged particles around our sun. They were launched in 1977 and have traveled farther from Earth than any other spacecraft.

Audio and visuals of the event will be streamed live online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2 .

For more information about the Voyager mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager and http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov .

Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

2012-379b


Photograph of Alien Spacecraft by Flickr user Markusram

Did Curiosity Find an Artifact on Mars?

Quite possibly. Here’s a picture of it:

Image from NASA. Obviously.

There’s a pretty good chance that this is a manufactured object and not some natural thingie that formed on the surface of Mars by Mars-esque natural processes. But, if that’s true, then there’s a pretty good chance that the object, formed by an intelligent being, is just some piece of junk that fell off of one of the alien space ships that has landed on Mars recently. Alien to Mars, sent by Earthlings.

It reminds me of this one time… we were doing survey in a certain region which shall remain nameless, and finding lots of stone tools and stone tool fragments. Then, all of the sudden, we found a bunch of flakes and a very half baked bifacial tool all sitting together on top of a rock, almost as though some early hominid had just arrived a few hours or days earlier, from a time machine presumably, and did some flintknapping right there.

Of course, this was the archaeologists who had surveyed the area the year before my crew was there wondering if the stone they were seeing around was flake-able. It was. But they shouldn’t have done that; in a few more decades, those artifacts may end up looking a lot like real old stone tools and would confuse use. Always do your flaking below high tide, as it were, where the stuff will be disappeared by natural processes of erosion in no time.

Curiosity is curios. So, the planned mission activities for the next while will be put off while this metalish looking thing is investigated. Just in case.

Which is more likely to be real, Ghosts or Martians?

Do ghosts really exist?

Is there life on Mars?

Despite what one might think, what with large class sizes and the homogenization of culture caused by TV and Fast Food, the fact remains that clumps of high school students organized into classes can vary widely from one another. Each year has its own characteristics, and each classroom-sized bunch of them, taking a particular course together, can be very different from the next. A teacher I know has ended up this year with a science class with a large proportion of students who believe that ghosts are real, and while they are at it, they also seem to think there is a high probability that Bigfoot is real, and probably the Loch Ness Monster and most conspiracies one might care to mention. I don’t think it is the whole class, just a half dozen students or so, but enough that the existence of ghosts has become a background theme in the patter that accompanies the usual classroom activities such as arriving at the beginning of class, asking permission to go to the bathroom during class, and leaving at the end of class.

From "Mars Attacks" which, if you have not seen, you must see.
So the other day the question of life on Mars came up; a student had pointed out the discovery of mysterious globe-shaped objects on the surface of the distant planet. During the ensuing conversation the teacher noted how exciting it would be to discover evidence of past or present life on Mars, and further noted that such a finding is well within the range of possibilities.

“Wait a second … You are telling us that you don’t think Ghosts are real but you believe in Martians?” Continue reading Which is more likely to be real, Ghosts or Martians?

Curiosity Animation

The “Next Media” animation company used to send me several animations a week (a few a day for a while) but then they were bought out by a major media outlet (can’t remember which one) so most of the emails I get from them now are about how great they are, rather than providing much current content. But today I got a not-very-current animation that seems pretty good and I thought you might like it, of the Mars Curiosity landing and field research:

OK, Now they’re just playing around with the hardware…

Today, NASA did something never before done, and well, not all that impressive.

Charles Bolden of NASA spoke some words into a microscope, and this voice stream was sent to the Curiosity Rover on Mars, which then sent it back. Hey, I just spent the last 15 minutes swapping monitors around on my computers, and those monitors had cables that had been secured with cable ties and that ran through conduits and stuff. I’m thinking what I did was harder.

According to NASA, Bolden said:

The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future.

Later, some other guy said, on Earth and to other Earthlings:

“With this voice, another small step is taken in extending human presence beyond Earth, and the experience of exploring remote worlds is brought a little closer to us all,” said Dave Lavery, NASA Curiosity program executive. “As Curiosity continues its mission, we hope these words will be an inspiration to someone alive today who will become the first to stand upon the surface of Mars. And like the great Neil Armstrong, they will speak aloud of that next giant leap in human exploration.”

The pingback from Bolden was played at a press conference (“live”) while neat pictures from Mars were shown.

The telephoto images beamed back to Earth show a scene of eroded knobs and gulches on a mountainside, with geological layering clearly exposed. The new views were taken by the 100-millimeter telephoto lens and the 34-milllimeter wide angle lens of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument. Mastcam has photographed the lower slope of the nearby mountain called Mount Sharp.

A little Skype, a little Webcam…

Onto more serious matters, some actual science was reported at the press conference.

…the rover team reported the results of a test on Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which can measure the composition of samples of atmosphere, powdered rock or soil. The amount of air from Earth’s atmosphere remaining in the instrument after Curiosity’s launch was more than expected, so a difference in pressure on either side of tiny pumps led SAM operators to stop pumping out the remaining Earth air as a precaution. The pumps subsequently worked, and a chemical analysis was completed on a sample of Earth air.

“As a test of the instrument, the results are beautiful confirmation of the sensitivities for identifying the gases present,” said SAM principal investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We’re happy with this test and we’re looking forward to the next run in a few days when we can get Mars data.”

Here’s a video of the Voice from Outer Space and the pictures they showed:

And, as long as we are showing videos, here are Bolden’s remarks regarding the passing of Neil Armstrong.

Curious about Curiosity?

Here’s the last few news reports:

August 21:

NASA’s Curiosity Studies Mars Surroundings, Nears Drive

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been investigating the Martian weather around it and the soil beneath it, as its controllers prepare for the car-size vehicle’s first drive on Mars.

The rover’s weather station, provided by Spain, checks air temperature, ground temperature, air pressure, wind and other variables every hour at the landing site in Gale Crater. On a typical Martian day, or “sol,” based on measurements so far in the two-week old mission, air temperatures swing from 28 degrees to minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 to minus 75 Celsius). Ground temperatures change even more between afternoon and pre-dawn morning, from 37 degrees to minus 132 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to minus 91 Celsius).

“We will learn about changes from day to day and season to season,” said Javier Gómez-Elvira of the Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain, principal investigator for the suite of weather sensors called the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).

Within a week or so, daily Mars weather reports from Curiosity will become available at: http://cab.inta-csic.es/rems/marsweather.html or bit.ly/RzQe6p .

One of the two sets of REMS wind sensors is not providing data. “One possibility is that pebbles lofted during the landing hit the delicate circuit boards on one of the two REMS booms,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We will have to be more clever about using the remaining wind sensor to get wind speed and direction.”

An instrument provided by Russia is checking for water bound into minerals in the top three feet (one meter) of soil beneath the rover. It employs a technology that is used in oil prospecting on Earth, but had never before been sent to another planet.

“Curiosity has begun shooting neutrons into the ground,” said Igor Mitrofanov of Space Research Institute, Moscow, principal investigator for this instrument, called the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, or DAN. “We measure the amount of hydrogen in the soil by observing how the neutrons are scattered, and hydrogen on Mars is an indicator of water.”

The most likely hydrogen to be found in shallow ground of Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, is in hydrated minerals. These are minerals with water molecules, or related ions, bound into the crystalline structure of rocks. They can tenaciously retain water from a wetter past after all free water has gone.

Curiosity will soon have a different patch of ground beneath it. Today, the six-wheeled rover wiggled its four corner wheels side to side for the first time on Mars, as a test of the steering actuators on those wheels. This was critical preparation for Curiosity’s first drive on Mars.

“Late tonight, we plan to send Curiosity the commands for doing our first drive tomorrow,” said Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of JPL.

August 22:

NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity’s drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

NASA has approved the Curiosity science team’s choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Today’s drive confirmed the health of Curiosity’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission’s lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.

“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” Heverly said.

Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover’s mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft’s landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.

The instrument’s principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. “These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit,” Weins said.

Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His groundbreaking works include “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of “Moby Dick,” and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.”

Upcoming:

NASA Announces Aug. 27 Mars News Conference

NASA will hold a televised news conference at 2 p.m. PDT (5 p.m.EDT), Monday, Aug. 27, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., about the activities of its Curiosity rover mission on Mars. The event will feature new images, an update of the rover’s progress, and a special greeting by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Televised news conferences are broadcast live on NASA TV and online at: http://www.nasa.gov/ and http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

The Mars Curiosity team is operating on Mars time. The Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. Media events are scheduled based on team availability and are subject to change. Updates of event times will be posted at:

http://go.nasa.gov/curiositytelecon

For information about NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, including the Curiosity rover, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

It worked!

Never mind the heat shield, the parachute, the thruster-guided landing, all of that. Curiosity went to Mars to carry out experiments using Big Science Gear and now it is confirmed that at least one set of gear works!

The method is laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, in which very high power but short burst laser light is focused on a thing, and the matter the thing is made up of is drastically altered in such a way that it gives of a signal that can be picked up by instruments also pointed at the thing, to produce a spectrosopic signature.

There is no useful analysis of the data yet, but NASA scientists seem to think the laser blasting and analysis of the rock, known as Coronation (yeah, they name the rocks) by the ChemCam devise worked better than expected. This first effort was a combined test and calibration. Stay tuned for science.

Details here.