Curiosity Closes in on its New ‘Home’ Sat, 04 Aug 2012 06:20:24 PM CDT
With Mars looming ever larger in front of it, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and its Curiosity rover are in the final stages of preparing for entry, descent and landing on the Red Planet at 10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6). Curiosity remains in good health with all systems operating as expected. Today, the flight team uplinked and confirmed commands to make minor corrections to the spacecraft’s navigation reference point parameters. This afternoon, as part of the onboard sequence of autonomous activities leading to the landing, catalyst bed heaters are being turned on to prepare the eight Mars Lander Engines that are part of MSL’s descent propulsion system. As of 2:25 p.m. PDT (5:25 p.m. EDT), MSL was approximately 261,000 miles (420,039 kilometers) from Mars, closing in at a little more than 8,000 mph (about 3,600 meters per second).
The gravitational tug of Mars is now pulling NASA’s car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, in for a suspenseful landing in less than 40 hours.
“After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere,” said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The spacecraft is healthy and on course for delivering the mission’s Curiosity rover close to a Martian mountain at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6 EDT). That’s the time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, give or take about a minute for the spacecraft’s adjustments to sense changeable atmospheric conditions.
No matter how interesting the big expensive science NASA does is, or how important the work is to understanding our planet and solar system or figuring out important problems, nothing is as cool as seeing your own house on a satellite photograph, as it were:
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded a scene on Jan. 29, 2012, that includes the first color image from orbit showing the three-petal lander of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit mission. Spirit drove off that lander platform in January 2004 and spent most of its six-year working life in a range of hills about two miles to the east.
Another recent image from HiRISE, taken on Jan. 26, 2012, shows NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander and its surroundings on far-northern Mars after that spacecraft’s second Martian arctic winter. Phoenix exceeded its planned mission life in 2008, ending its work as solar energy waned during approach of its first Mars winter.
This August, Mars Science Robot Curiosity will land on the surface of the Angry Red Planet equipped with a Penny to tell how big things are.
The camera at the end of the robotic arm on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has its own calibration target, a smartphone-size plaque that looks like an eye chart supplemented with color chips and an attached penny.
When Curiosity lands on Mars in August, researchers will use this calibration target to test performance of the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI. MAHLI’s close-up inspections of Martian rocks and soil will show details so tiny, the calibration target includes reference lines finer than a human hair. This camera is not limited to close-ups, though. It can focus on any target from about a finger’s-width away to the horizon.
Can you imagine driving around on roadless terrain with a four wheel drive vehicle for eight years and not ever changing a tire, getting a tuneup, adjusting the suspension, replacing the hydraulics or brakes, or doing any other service whatsoever on your vehicle? I’ve actually done that, and I’m here to tell you, you can’t do that!
But Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has, in fact, done it.
Opportunity was tasked to took around on the Martian surface for three months. The Space Robot landed on Mars on January 25th, 2004. During the last eight years, Opportunity has traveled great distances, taken amazing photographs, and done all kinds of science.
Opportunity’s Eighth Anniversary View From ‘Greeley Haven’
This mosaic of images taken in mid-January 2012 shows the windswept vista northward (left) to northeastward (right) from the location where NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is spending its fifth Martian winter, an outcrop informally named “Greeley Haven.”
Opportunity’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) took the component images as part of full-circle view being assembled from Greeley Haven.
The view includes sand ripples and other wind-sculpted features in the foreground and mid-field. The northern edge of the the “Cape York” segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater forms an arc across the upper half of the scene.
Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time and EST (Jan. 24, PST). It has driven 21.4 miles (34.4 kilometers) as of its eighth anniversary on the planet. In late 2011, the rover team drove Opportunity up onto Greeley Haven to take advantage of the outcrop’s sun-facing slope to boost output from the rover’s dusty solar panels during the Martian winter.
The image combines exposures taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in approximate true color. This “natural color” is the rover team’s best estimate of what the scene would look like if humans were there and able to see it with their own eyes.
Geologically, there are ways in which minerals move around and get deposited with rock. A common phenomenon is for a crack to form due to cooling of molten rock or an earthquake or something, and then this space gets filled in. Stuff might just fall into it. Liquidizer rock (magma) might intrude into it. Hot gasses containing residue might build up a deposit within it, or liquid water might flow through it leaving behind minerals, which fill the crack. The thing is, geologists have studied these processes and have a pretty good idea of what they are, how they work, and what they look like.
A newly found, buried deposit of frozen carbon dioxide — dry ice — near the south pole of Mars contains about 30 times more carbon dioxide than previously estimated to be frozen near the pole. This map color-codes thickness estimates of the deposit derived and extrapolated from observations by the Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The orbiter does not pass directly over the pole, and the thickness estimates for that area (with smoother transitions from color to color) are extrapolations.
Red corresponds to about 600 meters or yards thick; yellow to about 400; dark blue to less than 100, tapering to zero. The scale bar at lower right is 100 kilometers (62 miles). The background map, in muted colors, represents different geological materials near the south pole.
The estimated total volume of this buried carbon-dioxide deposit is 9,500 to 12,500 cubic kilometers (2,300 to 3,000 cubic miles).
Known variations in the tilt of Mars’ rotation axis can significantly reduce or increase the proportion of the planet’s carbon dioxide that is sequestered into this newly discovered deposit, climate models indicate. The Martian atmosphere is about 95 percent carbon dioxide, and this deposit currently holds up to about 80 percent as much carbon dioxide as the atmosphere does. Several-fold swings in the total mass of the Martian atmosphere can result from growing and shrinking of dry ice deposits on time scales of 100,000 years or less, the models indicate.
Rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover hold evidence of a wet, non-acidic ancient environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.
An outcrop that Spirit examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic.
NASA’s rovers have found other evidence of formerly wet Martian environments. However the data for those environments indicate conditions that may have been acidic. In other cases, the conditions were definitely acidic, and therefore less favorable as habitats for life.
Laboratory tests helped confirm the carbonate identification. The findings were published online Thursday, June 3 by the journal Science.
“This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and a co-author of the new report. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place. ”
Spirit inspected rock outcrops, including one scientists called Comanche, along the rover’s route from the top of Husband Hill to the vicinity of the Home Plate plateau which Spirit has studied since 2006. Magnesium iron carbonate makes up about one-fourth of the measured volume in Comanche. That is a tenfold higher concentration than any previously identified for carbonate in a Martian rock.
“We used detective work combining results from three spectrometers to lock this down,” said Dick Morris, lead author of the report and a member of a rover science team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.”The instruments gave us multiple, interlocking ways of confirming the magnesium iron carbonate, with a good handle on how much there is.”
Read the rest of the story, see pretty pictures, here.
Mars Orbiter has captured thousands of images in high resolution from the surface of the Grumpy Reddish Planet. The picture you see here is a chain of pit craters. That must have been one helluva noisy event. Reminds me of the walls at the Entebe Airport.
Anyway, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera takes pictures that are about 6 km wide and some greater amount long, wiht resolution down to as small as one meter. The pictures are being released a few at a time and you can access them here.
Look closely at this picture of Victoria Crater on Mars. Clicking on the picture will give you a really big file, but a much better look. There are a number of things you can see in this view of Victoria that you could not see on earlier version because this is a somewhat oblique view. The details are in the press release I reproduce below the fold. But the other thing you can see that is REALLY FREAKIN’ COOL is the mars rover tracks running along one side of the crater! Go ahead, see if you can find them! Continue reading New, Very Cool Image of Vic Crater, Mars→