Tag Archives: mars

Experience the Mars Rover Landing on Xbox

Experience-the-mars-rover-landing-on-xbox-927be8fea7

Remember Lunar Lander, the legendary Atari game from 1979, which used vector graphics to portray a (very simple, but fun at the time) lunar landing?

Well, 33 years later NASA has teamed up with Microsoft to create the Mars Rover Landing game for Xbox, giving gamers the chance to experience the “seven minutes of terror,” a popular description of the landing of Mars rover Curiosity.

Of course, NASA’s Mars Rover Landing game is far more complex than the ancient Lunar Lander; in fact, it’s quite close to the real thing, as it simulates three stages of Curiosity’s landing with a fair amount of details.

“We’ve tried to simulate that heart-pounding, sweat-dripping seven minutes using Kinect and using users’ control of their bodies to get the landing right,” said Dave McCarthy, manager of Microsoft’s Game Studios.

The Mars Rover Landing is available as a free download over at Xbox Live. If you’ve tried it out, let us know what you think in the comments!

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/mars-rover-landing-xbox/

Congress Just Gave NASA A Massive Budget For Next Year

Good news, everyone. NASAs latest budget has just been put forward by Congress and they have allocated the agency $750 million more than they requested. This means the agencys full budget for 2016 is $19.3 billion, which incredibly in an age of cutting costs is almost $1.3 billion more than last year.

The budget increases funding to several key programs at NASA, including its Commercial Crew program, its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the Orion spacecraft. “We are going back into space with Americans on American rockets, and we are going to Mars,” Senator Bill Nelson said yesterday.

Perhaps most interestingly, $175 million of the budget has been set aside for the Europa Multi-Flyby Mission, a spacecraft that will be sent to Europa in the early 2020s, and the budget dictates that NASA must include a lander for the surface of this icy moon of Jupiter. “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept,” it reads, reported Ars Technica.

A landerhas been touted for the upcoming Europa mission before, but NASA has not been keen to firmly commit to anything yet, as there are many unknowns about undertaking such a landing. It remains to be seen how they’ll go forward with this request.

Nonetheless, the large amount of funding essentially allows NASA to meet most of the other goals it has set itself. Crucially, they were given the $1.243 billion of funding for the Commercial Crew program that they have been pushing so hard for. Administrator Charlie Bolden recently told IFLScience that he counted this getting SpaceX and Boeings manned spacecraft up and running as one of the key goals of his time in office.

Wish you were here? Congress has told NASA they must senda lander to the surface of Europa. NASA

Elsewhere, planetary science has received a boost in the form of $1.631 billion $270 million above what the President requested. According to The Planetary Society, this “allows both the MER Opportunity rover and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to continue science operations.” The upcoming Mars 2020 rover, meanwhile, gets a $22 million boost.

The huge SLS, which Congress seems very keen to overfund, has been given $2 billion, $640 million above the $1.36 billion requested by the President. The SLS, if you arent aware, will eventually be used to take humans to Mars with the Orion spacecraft, which has been given an increase to $1.91 billion.

Of the areas to miss out on their requested levels of funding, one is the Earth Science Division, which received$1.921 billion less than the Presidents request but $149 million more than last year. Another is the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which gets $686 million $39 million less than requested, but $90 million more than last year.

The budget still needs to pass a vote in Congress this week, which seems likely at the moment, although a controversial surveillance bill was snuck in along with it. If it gets bythis test, the White House will almost certainly sign it into law.

Onto Europa, then.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/congress-just-gave-nasa-massive-budget-next-year

Radiation Exposure Won’t Stop a Manned Mission to Mars

Rover1

The risk of radiation exposure is not a show-stopper for a long-term manned mission to Mars, new results from NASA’s Curiosity rover suggest.

A mission consisting of a 180-day cruise to Mars, a 500-day stay on the Red Planet and a 180-day return flight to Earth would expose astronauts to a cumulative radiation dose of about 1.01 sieverts, measurements by Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument indicate.

To put that in perspective: The European Space Agency generally limits its astronauts to a total career radiation dose of 1 sievert, which is associated with a 5% increase in lifetime fatal cancer risk.

“It’s certainly a manageable number,” said RAD principal investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a study that reports the results Monday in the journal Science.

A 1-sievert dose from radiation on Mars would violate NASA’s current standards, which cap astronauts’ excess-cancer risk at 3 percent. But those guidelines were drawn up with missions to low-Earth orbit in mind, and adjustments to accommodate trips farther afield may be in the offing, Hassler said.

“NASA is working with the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine to evaluate what appropriate limits would be for a deep-space mission, such as a mission to Mars,” Hassler told SPACE.com. “So that’s an exciting activity.”

The new results represent the most complete picture yet of the radiation environment en route to Mars and on the Red Planet’s surface. They incorporate data that RAD gathered during Curiosity’s eight-month cruise through space and the rover’s first 300 days on Mars, where it touched down in August 2012.

The RAD measurements cover two different types of energetic-particle radiation — galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are accelerated to incredible speeds by far-off supernova explosions, and solar energetic particles (SEPs), which are blasted into space by storms on our own sun.

RAD’s data show that astronauts exploring the Martian surface would accumulate about 0.64 millisieverts of radiation per day. The dose rate is nearly three times greater during the journey to Mars, at 1.84 millisieverts per day.

But Mars’ radiation environment is dynamic, so Curiosity’s measurements thus far should not be viewed as the final word, Hassler stressed. For example, RAD’s data have been gathered near the peak of the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, a time when the GCR flux is relatively low (because solar plasma tends to scatter galactic cosmic rays).

Curiosity’s radiation measurements should help NASA plan out a manned mission to Mars, which the space agency hopes to pull off by the mid-2030s, Hassler said. And they should also inform the search for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet — another top NASA priority.

For example, the new RAD results suggest that microbial life is unlikely to exist right at the Martian surface, Hassler said. But future missions may not have to drill too deeply underground to find pockets of Mars life, if it ever existed.

“These measurements do tell us that we think it could be viable to find signs of possible extant or past life as shallow as 1 meter deep,” Hassler said.

The new study is one of six papers published in Science Monday that report new results from Curiosity. Most of the other studies present evidence that the rover has found an ancient freshwater lake that could have supported microbial life for tens of thousands, and perhaps millions, of years.

Image: Euclid vanderkroew

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/12/09/radiation-mars-curiosity-rover/

Hubble Takes A Celebratory Snap Of Mars As It Nears Its Closest Approach

NASA has released a celebratory portrait of Mars in anticipation of its close approach to us later this month.

TheHubble Space Telescope snapped this particularly cool image of the Martian marble just last week, on May 12. Mars has been one of the favorite subjects ofHubblesince it launched in 1990, but thisimage was captured at a particularlyinteresting time, when it was a mere 80 million kilometers (50 million miles) away from Earth.

Mars is going to make its closest approach to Earth in over a decade on May 30, when it will be 75.3 million kilometers (46.8 million miles) from Earth. Pretty amazing stuff, considering it canbe as distant as 401 million kilometers (249 million miles) away. Unfortunately though, it wont make the Red Planet much more visible to the naked eye.

As you can see (below), the image details Mars’clouds (seen in blue around its edges), its multiple craters and basins, along with its iconic rusty landscape. The imaging techniques, which pick up on multiple wavelengths of light, reveal details as small as 32 kilometers (20 miles) across.

Check out an annotated version of the image below and click here to read more about Mars’ ensuing closest approach.

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/hubble-take-celebratory-snap-mars-it-nears-its-closest-approach

What sort of life could Mars have supported?

The main purpose of the NASA rover Curiosity’s mission on Mars is to determine whether the Red Planet ever had an environment conducive to microbial life and to find the chemical building blocks of life. The spot that was chosen for Curiosity’s landing, the 3.8 billion year old Gale Crater, is situated near the planet’s equator. It is an area rich in minerals that form in the presence of water and Curiosity is searching for conditions that could be conducive to extremophile lifeforms. 

So whereabouts on Earth would you find an environment similar to ancient Mars? The Dry Valleys of Antarctica are considered by many to have the most Mars-like conditions of anywhere on Earth. Researchers have found diverse life forms dating back nearly a hundred thousand years in subglacial lake sediments in Antarctica and have discovered microbial life within the frozen brine of Lake Vida, also in Antarctica.

Another location on Earth that could indicate what type of life there could be on Mars is Chile’s Atacama Desert. The Desert has been one of the driest, most inhospitable places on Earth for the last twenty million years. But researchers from Spain’s Centre of Astrobiology and Chile’s Catholic University of the North have discovered microbes even in this unforgiving terrain, more than 1.8 metres below the surface of Atacama’s hypersaline substrates. The bacteria and archaea microorganisms survive on salt and moisture trapped by the formations; they thrive without any oxygen or sunlight.

The researchers used SOLID (Signs of Life Detector), which uses a biochip loaded with up to 450 antibodies which can be used to identify varieties of biological material, including DNA and sugars. The microorganisms have been found developing in a habitat rich in halite and other highly hygroscopic compounds (anhydrite and perchlorate) that absorb water. Saline deposits are known to exist on Mars so it is not a huge leap to think that hypersaline environments may also exist underground there. One of the impediments to potential Martian life is that of the low temperature; this would not be a problem if the substrates are of sufficiently high saline content as the freezing point of water then lower to -20 degrees Celsius.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/what-sort-life-could-mars-have-supported

Facebook Stats Reveal Men Most Interested in Mars Rover Landing

Facebook-stats-reveal-men-most-interested-in-mars-rover-landing-cef27e0b5e

As space enthusiasts worldwide tuned in online to watch and follow the historic landing of the NASA rover Curiosity on Mars earlier this week, Facebook found that men were significantly more interested in the event than females.

Although Facebook didn’t provide percentages for the male to female ratio, it said men ranked 6.08 on a buzz scale of one to 10, compared to an overall score for women of 4.76.

Using a tool called the Talk Meter, Facebook examined how much buzz the Mars landing generated across the social network and noted trends in age, demographic and location. It tracked search terms such as “Curiosity” and “Mars” and conducted searches during the time period that the rover landed around 10:00 p.m. PT.

“We looked at the increase in the fraction of chatter containing these terms compared to the baseline, which is what the chatter was for these terms one week before,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. “We take the difference in fractions and hit it with a logarithm scale (1-10).”

Although teenagers expressed the least interest in the landing, Facebook said buzz surrounding Curiosity occurred across all adult age ranges. It was most popular among the 25 to 34 age group.

Due to the local timing, chatter was significantly higher in the Western part of the United States with California, Oregon and Washington state bringing in the most general interest on Facebook. But Washington, D.C. — the home of NASA’s headquarters — brought in similar scores to California, and spikes were also seen in Utah and Colorado.

Meanwhile, U.S. Facebook members cheered on their home country’s journey to Mars more than any other nation, bringing in a buzz score of (5.45). Facebook users from Canada (5.37) showed the second most interest, followed by Costa Rica (5.29), New Zealand (4.94), Australia (4.88), China (4.54) and Israel (4.53).

European countries didn’t top the list because most were asleep while the events took place, Facebook noted.

To put those scores in perspective, Facebook did previous analysis on other major events such as the Royal Wedding in the U.K. (8.4), the U.S. Super Bowl (8.7) and the Hunger Games premiere (6.4).

Did you use social media to follow the rover landing? Which sites did you use? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS: Curiosity Lands on Mars: NASA’s Behind the Scenes Images

Mark Your Calendar for Spring Meteor Showers and Eclipses

Lunar-eclipse

As the Moon passed almost directly through the center of Earth’s shadow on July 16th, sky gazers in the Pacific hemisphere were graced by a lingering lunar eclipse.

From eclipses and planets to meteor showers galore, the northern spring season of 2014 will bring a number of eye-catching celestial sights for stargazers on Earth.

Weather permitting, some of the best spring night sky events could be readily visible without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, even from brightly-lit cities. But you’ll need to know when and where to look to make the most of the season.

I’ve always felt that many astronomers started their careers as perceptive children who responded to the thrill of witnessing a noteworthy astronomical event. So whether you want to impress a youngster, or you’re simply hoping to witness a head-turning astronomical event for yourself, it always helps to be ready in advance by marking your calendar and highlighting a number of these special dates:

April 14 and 15: Mars’ closest approach in 2014 and a total eclipse of the moon

During the overnight hours of April 14 and 15, it will be a night for viewing first Mars and later the full moon.

First, Mars will come to within 57.4 million miles of our planet, making its closest approach to us since Jan. 3, 2008. All through the night, Mars will resemble a dazzling star shining with a steady fiery-colored tint making it a formidable sight; its brightness will match Sirius, the brightest of all the stars.

As a bonus, later that very same night (actually during the early hours of April 15) North America will have a ringside seat to see a total lunar eclipse when the Full Moon becomes transformed into a mottled reddish ball for 78 minutes as it becomes completely immersed in the shadow of the Earth.

This total lunar eclipse will be the first one widely visible from North America in nearly 3.5 years. The Americas will have the best view of this eclipse, although over the Canadian Maritimes, moonset will intervene near the end of totality. Of special interest is the fact that the moon will appear quite near to the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, during the eclipse. They actually will be in conjunction a couple of hours prior to the onset of totality, but they’re still relatively near to each other when the eclipse gets underway.

April 22: The Lyrid meteor shower

Rather favorable circumstances are expected for this year’s Lyrid meteor shower, predicted to be at maximum this morning. The radiant, located near the brilliant bluish-white star Vega, rises in the northeast about the time evening twilight ends, and viewing will improve until light from the last-quarter moon begins to interfere just after 2 a.m. your local time.

Under the best conditions, 10 to 15 members of this shower can be seen in an hour by a single observer. The Lyrids remain about a quarter of their peak number for about two days. These bright meteors are associated with Thatcher’s Comet of 1861.

April 28 and 29: A Ring Eclipse that nobody will see?

It is quite possible that only penguins will witness the annular solar eclipse, also known as a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. That’s because it will occur within the uninhabited region of Wilkes Land in Antarctica.

Those living in southernmost parts of Indonesia as well as Australia (where it will be autumn) will at least get a view of a partial eclipse of the sun. Because the axis of the moon’s antumbral shadow misses the Earth and only its edge grazes Antarctica, it makes an accurate prediction of the duration of annularity all but impossible.

May 6: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower — “shooting stars” spawned by the famed Halley’s Comet — is scheduled to reach maximum early this morning. It’s usually the year’s richest meteor display for Southern Hemisphere observers, but north of the equator the Eta Aquarid shower is one of the more difficult annual displays to observe.

From mid-northern latitudes, the radiant (from where the meteors appear to emanate) rises about 1:30 a.m. local daylight time, scarcely two hours before morning twilight begins to interfere. At peak activity, about a dozen shower members can be seen per hour by a single observer with good sky conditions from latitude 26 degrees North, but practically zero north of latitude 40 degrees. The shower remains active at roughly one-half peak strength for a couple of days before and after the maximum. Conditions this year are excellent; the moon is absent from the predawn sky for more than a week around maximum.

May 10: Saturn at opposition

The ringed planet Saturn reaches opposition; it rises in the east-southeast at dusk, is due south in the middle of the night and sets in the west-southwest at dawn. Once it gains enough altitude, it appears similarly as bright as the zero-magnitude stars Arcturus and Vega.

Saturn’s famous rings appear much more impressive than in recent years, since they are now tipped by 21.5 degrees from edge on.

May 24: Possible outburst of bright meteors

Perhaps the most dramatic sky event in 2014 could come at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. In the predawn hours of Saturday, May 24, our planet is expected to sweep through a great number of dusty trails left behind in space by the small comet P/209 LINEAR.

This unusual cosmic interaction might possibly result in an amazing, albeit brief display of meteors — popularly known as “shooting stars” — perhaps numbering in the many dozens . . . or even hundreds per hour. Nobody knows exactly how many meteors will be seen, but several meteor scientists believe that because the particles will be unusually large, the meteors will be outstandingly bright.

May 25: Mercury attains its greatest elongation

The planet Mercury will reach its greatest elongation, or greatest angular distance, east of the sun on this night. This is Mercury’s best evening apparition of the year; it sets about 100 minutes after sunset. An hour after sunset, look low above the west-northwest horizon; the speedy planet should be easily visible as a yellowish “star.”

Mercury will appear somewhat brighter up to two weeks before this date, and noticeably dimmer for about a week afterwards.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/01/spring-stargazing-guide/

Curiosity Rover’s Next Mars Adventure: Mount Sharp

Mountsharp

NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.

Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.

While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.

“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.

Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.

Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).

“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”


Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.

Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.

The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.

Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.

“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”

Images courtesy of NASA

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/06/nasa-curiosity-mount-sharp/

Extreme Methane-Producing Microbes Found At Earth’s Surface Hint At Life On Mars

Not all microbes are created equal. Some of them are particularly resilient, and can live without sunlight in soaring temperatures at perpetually dark depths, including within Earths crust itself.

It has long been thought that extremely hardy organisms should only be found in extreme environments, but a new study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences reveals that, sometimes, certain mischievous microbes turn up where they shouldnt be. Methane-producing microbes, those often found in deep-sea hydrothermal vent systems, have just been discovered in a set of freshwater springs in Sonoma County, California.

The freshwater emerges up through a set of serpentinized rocks, a geological alteration feature that indicates that circulating, high-temperature, high-pH fluids have been moving through the region. Active serpentinization processes often occur deep underground and within oceanic crust, and the microbes living in these areas use its chemical byproducts to produce energy. The fact that they now clearly exist at the surface too is thoroughly unorthodox.

As our technologys expanding, were able to look outside of the box a little to capture some of these groups [of microbes], Matt Schrenk, a microbiologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. As were beginning to look into some of these natural environments [deep underground], our view of the microbial world, and of life in general, is really expanding.

Previous analysis of the water from the area suggested that the high concentrations of methane may be down to microbes rather than non-biological chemical processes, including active serpentinization. In order to confirm this, water samples were taken back to a laboratory, and the team exposed them to a variety of conditions.

In the samples that were sterilized, no methane was ultimately produced; conversely, samples with live microbes contained up to 650 percent more methane than the sterilized ones. With the serpentinization reactions removed from the equation, it was concluded that a set of microbes in the water were responsible for methane production, also known as methanogenesis.

These methane-detecting organisms likely belong to the archaea domain, single-celled microorganisms that, despite having similar ecological roles to bacteria, are in fact physiologically distinct.

This discovery brings with it several revelations. Firstly, methanogens organisms thatmanufacture methane are likely found in a wider variety of environments around the world, and possibly on other worlds, than previously thought.

The Cedars is a small, isolated set of springs flowing out of a large patch of red rock in Sonoma County, California. The Cedars is one of the few easily-accessible sites of active serpentinization on land. Lukas Kohl

Methane has recently been detected in Mars atmosphere, and many have suggested that serpentinization is the culprit. This new microbial discovery suggests that its possible that archaea at or near the Martian surface, perhaps within patches of high-pH water, may be responsible for pumping methane into the atmosphere instead.

Secondly, as these microorganisms appear to be able to convert carbon dioxide into methane as part of their metabolic processes, researchers in the area may have to rethink their carbon sequestration efforts. Using technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is all well and good when it comes to militating against climate change, but if this is locked up in this methanogen-containing soil as a form of carbonate, it will be rapidly converted it to methane a shorter-lasting but far more powerful greenhouse gas.

Image in text: Another example of a methane-generating microorganism, typically of the archaea domain. Maryland Astrobiology Consortium, NASA, and STScI

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/extreme-methane-producing-microbes-found-surface-hint-life-mars