Tag Archives: mars

North America To Scale On Various Planets In Our Solar System

We’ve all seen images comparing the size of Earth with that of other planets in the solar system. The problem, John Brady of Astronomy Central realized, is that these images assume a grasp of Earth’s scale. So Brady decided to do something different and compare astronomical objects with pieces of the planet his readers may be familiar with

Suddenly, with the huge continent of North America dwarfed by Jupiter’s storms, the universe seems an even larger place. In the other direction, Mars looks so much more human-scaled.

John Brady/Astronomy Central. How the U.S. and Canada would measure up to Mars.

Brady has also reversed the process, showing what the solar system’s largest mountain, Olympus Mons, would look like if it replaced the Grand Canyon as Arizona’s prime tourist attraction. At 26 kilometers (85,000 ft) high, it would truly be a wonder, since the Earth’s greater gravity restricts mountains to a third of that size or less.

John Brady/Astronomy Central. If located appropriately, Olympus Mons would cover the whole state of Arizona.

Not everything makes us feel small. If you live in Liverpool, UK, you might be tempted to go for a bike ride around the area that Brady shows would be encompassed by a neutron star, or make an equivalent image for your own home with the help of satellite photos.

John Brady/Astronomy CentralNeturon stars really are the size of a city.
Brady told the Huffington Post, “I got the ‘North America on Jupiter’ image to scale by looking at size comparisons on NASA images of Earth compared to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The Mars image with North America placed over it was done by knowing the diameter of the red planet, then finding the distance between two U.S. cities. I used New York and San Francisco.” 

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/universe-north-american-scale

Curiosity Rover in Good Health on Martian Surface

Curiosity-rover-in-good-health-on-martian-surface-1bdc41f179

NASA’s huge Curiosity rover appears to have survived its harrowing Mars landing Sunday night in fine form, and it’s now gearing up for its two-year mission on the Red Planet’s surface.

News that the 1-ton Curiosity rover touched down safely inside Mars’ Gale Crater came in at 10:32 p.m. PDT Sunday (1:32 a.m. EDT and 0532 Monday), though the six-wheeled robot actually landed about 14 minutes earlier. (That’s how long it takes signals to travel from the Red Planet to Earth.)

The rover seems to be in good health after being lowered to the red dirt by a rocket-powered sky crane — a maneuver that had never been attempted before on another planet. And Curiosity has made the mental switch from entry, descent and landing mode to surface mode seamlessly, team members announced today.

“She is in surface nominal mode,” Curiosity mission manager Mike Watkins, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters here at JPL today. “The surface mission of Curiosity has now begun.”

The rover is reporting no serious anomalies or glitches, Watkins added. Initial checks of the car-size vehicle’s 10 science instruments look good, though fully vetting their condition will take weeks or months.

Like Curiosity itself, the rover’s handlers are now transitioning to surface mode. The biggest activity on the docket for today — its first Martian day, or Sol 1 — is deploying Curiosity’s high-gain antenna. This operation should begin at around 6 p.m. PDT (9 p.m. EDT; 0100 GMT Tuesday), officials said.

“This allows us to talk directly to the Earth with enough gain that it can actually send data to us, and be more easily talked to by us,” Watkins said.

The antenna will take some of the communications pressure off NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, which have been relaying word from the rover back to Earth. Confirmation of last night’s successful touchdown, in fact, came via the venerable Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001.

Curiosity will also take a five-hour reading today with its Radiation Assessment Detector instrument, or RAD, which gathered data for much of the rover’s eight-month space cruise.

“That’s not a checkout; that’s 100% data collection,” said Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, a professor at Caltech in Pasadena.

On Sol 2, Curiosity will deploy its head-like mast and take some panoramic photos of its surroundings with its navigation cameras, Watkins said. The rover has already sent home a handful of pictures snapped by its hazard-avoidance cameras.

All of these activities are geared toward making sure Curiosity is fully functional and ready to rove. The robot’s main mission is to determine if the Gale area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life. It will study the rocks and soil of Gale and Mount Sharp — the mysterious 3-mile-high mountain rising from the crater’s center — for at least the next two Earth years.

So while landing was a huge moment and a major accomplishment, Curiosity’s quest has only just begun.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface,” Grotzinger said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/06/curiosity-rover-in-good-health/

Asteroid Spaceship And Fusion-Powered Pluto Orbiter Among New Funded NASA Projects

Managinga space agency requires being constantly at the forefront of science and technology, so for the last 18 years NASA has invested incutting-edge projects that make up the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

For 2016, NASA has selected 13 projects for the NIAC Phase I, which will test pioneering technologies for planetary exploration and long-distance astronomy. Each project will receive about $100,000 for nine months to support the initial definition and feasibility of these concepts.

The latest NIAC selections include a number of concepts for planetary and robotic exploration, said Steve Jurczyk, NASAs associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement. NASA continues to value early stage concept studies for our future missions.

The projects vary in scope and breadth. Among themaretwo interesting ideas for icy moon exploration. The first, called NIMPH, focuses on a tiny lander that would collect a surface sample, convert materials into propellant, and lift off from Europa (or another icy moon) to then fly back to Earth. The second idea takes a page out of Jules Verne’s book and focuses on a tethered rover that wouldclimb down a cryovolcano and deploy a submarine to explore Enceladus or Europa’ssubsurface ocean.

The rest of Phase I concepts havea good share of innovative technologies. Theres TANDEM, a new lightweight landing system;acurious concept calledBrane Craft, an ultra-thin spacecraft that could be used to remove orbital debris at a fraction of the current cost; andProject RAMA, which wouldturn asteroids into automatic spaceships and move them out of dangerous orbits, or take them closer to Earth to be mined.

Artists depictionof the TANDEM concept.Included is thedeployable heat shield and tensegrity structure for high-risk landing zones during extreme environmental missions.Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Planets are also on the target list. Venus has only been explored by a handful of probes due to its surface temperature, which is high enough to melt electronics. For this reason, scientists are looking into AREE, a mechanical lander that would collectsamplesand send them back using transport balloons. Another venus-focused project is VIP-INSPR, which wouldexplore how to generate power on Venus using its toxic atmosphere.

NASAs Journey to Mars could also come to benefit from some of these projects. Theres a project focused on planning the most cost-efficient way for crew and cargo to get to Mars, and another looking for a way to harness microorganisms to use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics.

The New Horizons and Dawn missions have also brought focus to the smaller but numerous objects in the Solar System. A laser-armed probecould be employed to study the composition of smaller objects from orbit, whileelectrically charged gliderscould use atmospheric plasma to fly around comets and asteroids.In addition, Pluto could receive an orbiter and lander powered by nuclear fusion.

The final project looks at the echo fromthe periodic oscillation of stars due to gravitational interactions with their planets. This technique could provide continent-level imaging of exoplanets, and it would be more cost effective than current imaging technologies.

The 2016 NIAC Phase I competition was fierce, as usual. All of the final candidates were outstanding, and limiting the choice to what fit in our budget was difficult, said Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive, in the statement. We hope each new study will push boundaries and explore new approaches thats what makes NIAC unique.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-has-selected-its-advance-concept-projects-2016

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