Tag Archives: mars

That Orion Thing Is Great!

Watch the Orion test flight:


Why is it great? Well, speaking as a Gemini (not my horoscope sign, but the space program going when I first gained sentience) …

<li>First, it is big, fast, cool looking.  It actually looks like a rocket that might have been designed a decade before they ever actually made any rockets.  It is almost Deco.</li>

<li>Second, they got a guy from the 1960s -- with that slightly, nasal, black and white voice people spoke in back then -- to call the <del datetime="2014-12-06T02:10:27+00:00">race</del> <em>launch</em>. </li>

<li>Third, Orion is really good at taking selfies. </li>

<li>Fourth, it didn't take long. The whole thing was like literally tl;dr.</li>

Oh, and fifth: It worked! Didn’t blow up or anything!

Apparently, the rocket that shot this unit into space is small compared to the one they’ll be using in the future. (More info on the project here.)

Onward to Mars! Finally!

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.


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.

"They seem to be crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle" (New Mars Find)

Remember Rover? Rover is still finding stuff, and this latest find is strange, enigmatic, interesting, and worthy of further investigation. So far there is only a press release from NASA, here:

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Reveals Geological Mystery

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s long-lived rover Opportunity has returned an image of the Martian
surface that is puzzling researchers.

Spherical objects concentrated at an outcrop Opportunity reached last week differ in several ways
from iron-rich spherules nicknamed “blueberries” the rover found at its landing site in early 2004 and
at many other locations to date.

Opportunity is investigating an outcrop called Kirkwood in the Cape York segment of the western
rim of Endeavour Crater. The spheres measure as much as one-eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) in
diameter. The analysis is still preliminary, but it indicates that these spheres do not have the high iron
content of Martian blueberries.

“This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission,” said Opportunity’s principal
investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Kirkwood is chock full of a dense
accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries,
but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock
outcrop on Mars.”

The Martian blueberries found elsewhere by Opportunity are concretions formed by action of
mineral-laden water inside rocks, evidence of a wet environment on early Mars. Concretions result
when minerals precipitate out of water to become hard masses inside sedimentary rocks. Many of the
Kirkwood spheres are broken and eroded by the wind. Where wind has partially etched them away, a
concentric structure is evident.

Opportunity used the microscopic imager on its arm to look closely at Kirkwood. Researchers
checked the spheres’ composition by using an instrument called the Alpha Particle X-Ray
Spectrometer on Opportunity’s arm.

“They seem to be crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle,” Squyres said. “They are different
in concentration. They are different in structure. They are different in composition. They are different
in distribution. So, we have a wonderful geological puzzle in front of us. We have multiple working
hypotheses, and we have no favorite hypothesis at this time. It’s going to take a while to work this
out, so the thing to do now is keep an open mind and let the rocks do the talking.”

Just past Kirkwood lies another science target area for Opportunity. The location is an extensive pale-
toned outcrop in an area of Cape York where observations from orbit have detected signs of clay
minerals. That may be the rover’s next study site after Kirkwood. Four years ago, Opportunity
departed Victoria Crater, which it had investigated for two years, to reach different types of
geological evidence at the rim of the much larger Endeavour Crater.

The rover’s energy levels are favorable for the investigations. Spring equinox comes this month to
Mars’ southern hemisphere, so the amount of sunshine for solar power will continue increasing for

“The rover is in very good health considering its 8-1/2 years of hard work on the surface of Mars,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Energy production levels are comparable to what they were a full Martian year ago, and we are looking forward to productive spring and summer seasons of exploration.”

NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003, and both completed
their three-month prime missions in April 2004. They continued bonus, extended missions for years. Spirit finished communicating with Earth in March 2010. The rovers have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in

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.

Life on Mars?

A computer model of the formation of Olympus Mons (a big giant mountain on Mars) indicates that this geological formation should contain pockets of water.

The scientists explained that their finding is more implication than revelation. “What we were analyzing was the structure of Olympus Mons, why it’s shaped the way it is,” said McGovern, an adjunct assistant professor of Earth science and staff scientist at the NASA-affiliated Lunar and Planetary Institute. “What we found has implications for life – but implications are what go at the end of a paper.”

This water would be liquid. Warm, in fact. And thus, the prospect of life.

I’m going off a press report here, but it sounds interesting. The paper was published in Geology, and at the moment I’m having a bit of trouble getting a copy of it. More later, maybe.