Tag Archives: World

West Antarctic Glaciers Speeding Toward the Sea, Study Finds


This aerial photo of Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, shows the New York skyline and harbor after Superstorm Sandy struck the city.
Image: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Bad news from the Southern Hemisphere: the West Antarctic ice sheet is shedding ice at an accelerating rate, with six large glaciers in this region discharging nearly the same amount of ice as the entire Greenland ice sheet, according to a new study.

The study is the first to combine observations from satellites, radar data, and other remote sensing methods to construct a long-term record of ice movement trends for six of the fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica.

Published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the study examines glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica. The glaciers in this region include the Pine Island Glacier, which made headlines in recent years by discharging massive icebergs into the ocean.

This region also encompasses the Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, each of which are behemoths in their own right.

A research team from the University of California at Irvine and NASA found that the total amount of ice coming off these glaciers has increased by 77 percent since 1973, with much of that increase coming since 2000. Together, these glaciers drain one-third of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or about 158 million square miles of ice, the study said.

We need to know how quickly and extensively parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet are melting in order to accurately project how high global sea levels are likely to rise during the next several decades. It’s melting land-based ice, not the melting North Pole sea ice, that contributes to rising seas.

Pine Island Glacier

A massive crack running about 18 miles Pine Island Glacier’s floating tongue in 2011.

Image: NASA

According to a 2013 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average global sea level rise will likely be in the range of 10.2 to 32 inches by the end of the century, depending on the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions between now and then.

If emissions continue on a business as usual path, which has been the trend in recent years, the IPCC said global average sea level rise could be closer to 40 inches — which would doom some low-lying coastal cities and nations, from Bangkok to Miami and Bangladesh.

Illustrating the high stakes involved in the fate of West Antarctica, the study found that these six glaciers contributed about 10% of all the global average sea level rise that occurred between 2005 and 2010. If all six glaciers were to melt completely (which is not expected to happen during this century), global average sea level would rise by a catastrophic 3.9 feet, the study said.

The new study also found, for the first time, that West Antarctic glaciers are not only flowing faster at the point where their base meets the ocean, which is known as the grounding line. Instead, areas as far inland as nearly 160 miles are also speeding up their march to the sea.

Until this study, it was not known that sections of glaciers deep into the interior are also speeding up their movement. This is a troubling sign because of what it implies for sea level rise in the future, according to the study’s lead author, Jeremie Mouginot of the University of California at Irvine.

“Increased ice discharge will have an impact on how [much] the sea level is going to rise,” Mouginot told Mashable.

Mouginot says most of the action is taking place at the grounding line, then having ripple effects inland.

In the same way that plaque slowly rots a tooth until it falls out, mild ocean temperatures are thought to be causing ice to thin and retreat where these glaciers meet the sea. This is likely setting in motion a chain of events that results in a far more unstable glacier.

Sea level rise

Projections of global mean sea level rise over the 21st century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The grounding line positions of these glaciers have been retreating at a rate of 0.6 miles per year, the study found, which is among the fastest rates of glacier retreat in the world.

According to Mouginot, all six of the glaciers in this study come into contact with the same body of water, which indicates that higher sea surface temperatures are likely playing a role in speeding up melting. Other studies have found evidence for this in other parts of the globe, including Greenland, and in other parts of Antarctica.

“I think there is more warm ocean going beneath the ice shelf,” Mouginot says.

It’s not absolutely clear exactly what is causing ocean temperatures to increase in that area — but global warming from the increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is almost certainly playing a role.

“What I can say is, if you look at Greenland, it is changing, and West Antarctica is changing a lot,” Mouginot says. “And they are really far apart from each other. I don’t think it’s a regional change occurring. I think it’s more global.”

The IPCC is scheduled to release another major climate report on Sunday evening eastern time, which is expected to detail some of the likely impacts of global sea level rise during the next several decades, among other findings.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/28/west-antarctic-ice-melting-sea-level/

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than We Thought


A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Space-Time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.


Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Warp-Drive Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

Image courtesy of Harold White

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/warp-drive-may-be-more-feasible-than-we-thought/

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon


There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/

Want to Run Code on the ISS? There’s a Competition For That


Any high school-aged coders with a love for space and NASA out there? Read on.

Zero Robotics, a robotics programming competition set up through MIT, is entering its fourth year — and there’s still a day left to register.

Here’s how it works: Students can sign up in teams for free on the website. Over the course of the semester, they compete head-to-head with other teams in writing programs — sort of situational, scenario-based challenges. Gradually, the challenges get more difficult. Then, after several phases, finalists are selected to compete in running code for the International Space Station (ISS) — which is broadcast live by an astronaut on board the ISS.

Since 2009, the competition has allowed participants to compete in a series of coding challenges through an online platform.

“There’s a whole ranking system that tells them how well they’re doing as they’re going through it,” said Jake Katz, co-founder of the competition and research assistant in the Space Stations laboratory at MIT. “And throughout the course of the season, the game gets slightly more complex. They start out in two dimensions and then they will soon, around Oct. 5, be going into 3-D competition — then we add some additional challenges towards the end.”

The original kick off for this year’s competition was on Sept. 8. But, Katz said, there’s still a day left to register.

“There have been people participating so far, and are already off and running with it, but it’s still possible to join in and make a submission for the first phase,” he said. “We have 75 teams so far, and that’s just from the U.S.”

There are an additional 43 teams from 19 other countries, he said.

The competition is sponsored by NASA, DARPA, TopCoder, Aurora Flight Sciences, CASIS and MIT. TopCoder, a programming company, designed the platform the games are played on.

“In 2009, when we started, we had just two teams competing against each other,” Katz said. “Just two years later, we had about 100 teams from all over sign up.”

Check out the promotional video below:

What kind of code would you write to run on board the ISS? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/26/zero-robotics-mit/

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days


The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/

New Tool for Hurricane Trackers: Drones


Federal hurricane trackers this year will be experimenting with powerful new tools: unmanned boats and aircraft, including a massive drone more known for spying on battlefields than monitoring nature’s violence.

Researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are hoping a pair of military-surplus Global Hawk spy drones can provide new insight into the storms that routinely ravage the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, won’t be keeping an eye on Hurricane Isaac, which barreled down on the Gulf Coast on Tuesday. That storm is being monitored by more traditional means, including manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, but officials expect to have the drones up and running in time for the height of hurricane season.

On Friday, the first of two Global Hawk aircraft is scheduled to arrive at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with a shakedown flight scheduled to happen as soon as Monday. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in coming weeks with officials hoping for a first flight in mid-September.

The aircraft, built by Northrop Grumman, were among the first batch to be tested by the military. When the military sought upgraded aircraft, the drones ended up in the hands of NASA researchers, who, along with their counterparts at NOAA, have now fitted them with specialized sensors for monitoring storms.

Weather researchers have used or experimented with various unmanned vehicles for years (not to mention the original unmanned vehicles: weather satellites). But officials are now taking the technology to new levels.

NASA’s Global Hawks, for example, were first used for a limited number of experimental flights in 2010, but technical issues have kept them from gathering hurricane data until now, said Scott Braun, a NASA investigator who helps oversee the Global Hawk program.

The three-year program is just starting, and for now NASA’s plan is focused on basic research, rather than real-time forecasting. Still, with a 116-foot wingspan and an ability to stay in the air for nearly 30 hours, the Global Hawk promises to be extremely useful for observing hurricanes.

But don’t look for drones to replace the famous manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft that fly directly into the middle of hurricanes anytime soon.

Researchers have small UAVs that can survive the forces inside a hurricane, but they are too small to carry a wide range of sensors, Braun said. Larger aircraft like the Global Hawk, meanwhile, can’t handle such extreme weather. While manned flights into hurricanes can seem dangerous, only four such aircraft have been lost since 1943, the last one in 1974.

“We are still a long ways away from replacing manned flights,” he said. Instead, the UAVs will supplement manned flights by flying at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, thousands of feet above the thrashing winds and rain. One aircraft is designed to gather data about the environment around a storm, while the other UAV will study the storm itself.

It’s not the first time NASA has turned to spy aircraft for weather research. Since the 1970s, the space agency has used a version of the military’s U-2 aircraft to conduct a range of observations on everything from wildfires to migratory birds, as well as hurricanes. (During the 1960s, NASA unsuccessfully tried to help cover up Francis Gary Powers’s failed U-2 spy mission in the Soviet Union by claiming he got lost while conducting weather research.)

Like the military, NASA and NOAA are now looking to unmanned vehicles to either replace or bolster more traditional vehicles.

While Global Hawks may soon be a regular fixture above hurricanes, NOAA is experimenting with small, unmanned watercraft to penetrate storms at sea level.

The Wave Glider is a solar-powered floating platform that can take measurements from both the air and sea. Wave Gliders have been used for a range of weather and climate research, but now NOAA is experimenting with placing the craft in the path of oncoming hurricanes.

Unlike other craft, in theory, the Wave Glider can stay out indefinitely thanks to its solar panels, said NOAA’s Alan Leonardi. “The idea is to position a string of these in the path of a hurricane and gather data in a way we haven’t been able to before,” he said.

Also in the expanding NOAA arsenal of unmanned research vehicles is EMILY, a 65-inch watertight unmanned surface vehicle outfitted with a range of sensors and a high-definition camera. This year, scientists hope to remotely guide the craft into the center of hurricanes to gather data in some of the most dangerous areas of the storms.

“With unmanned craft, we’re not risking anybody’s life,” said Justyna Nicinska, program manager for NOAA’s EMILY, which was originally developed to help lifeguards with tricky sea rescues. Like other officials, Nicinska expects EMILY to compliment, rather than replace current systems. “EMILY will really fill gaps in our observation,” she said.

Image of Hurricane Isaac courtesy of NASA.

This article originally published at National Journal

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/hurricane-trackers-drones/

Human Rights Watch Urges Fully Autonomous Weapons Ban


Nonprofit group Human Rights Watch released a report this week calling for a worldwide ban on all fully autonomous weapons.

The 50-page report, called “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” acknowledges that while fully autonomous weapons are not quite yet a reality, current trends — like the increased use of drones and unmanned vehicles by governments — are heading down that route.

The group warns that further advancement of autonomous weaponry would eventually lead to a lack of human controls — the kind of controls that “provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.”

Watch the video up top to learn more. What are your thoughts on fully autonomous weaponry?


Image courtesy of Flickr, DrLianPinKoh and ConservationDrones.org

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/ban-autonomous-weapons/

5 Craters That Look Like Other Things


6 Surprising Facts About World’s Most Powerful Radio Telescope


The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the world’s most powerful observatory for studying the universe at the long-wavelength millimeter and submillimeter range of light. It’s designed to spot some of the most distant, ancient galaxies ever seen, and to probe the areas around young stars for planets in the process of forming.

The opening of the $1.3 billiontelescope array is being celebrated in an inauguration ceremony on Wednesday (March 13) at its observation site in Chile’s Atacama desert. Here are six things you should know about the ambitious, not to mention immense, astronomy project.

1. It Is Ginormous

ALMA combines the forces of 66 radio antennas, most almost 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter, to create images comparable to those that could be obtained with a single 46,000-foot-wide (14,000 meters) dish.

The observatory is accurate enough to discern a golf ball 9 miles (15 kilometers) away.

2. It Took a Decade to Build

The telescope is a collaboration of four continents, being sponsored by countries in North America, Europe and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile. Planning and constructing the observatory took thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world more than 10 years.

3. ALMA Is One High Eye on the Sky

The observatory is among the highest instruments on Earth, at an altitude of 16,570 feet (5,050 meters) above sea level. Its perch high atop the Chajnantor plateau puts it above much of the Earth’s atmosphere, which blurs and distorts light.

4. It’s in the Driest Place on Earth

ALMA’s location in Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, means almost every night is clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture. Some weather stations in the desert have never received rain, and scientists think the Atacama got no significant rainfall between 1570 and 1971.

5. ALMA Dishes Are Nearly Perfect

The surfaces of its dozens of radio dishes are almost perfect, with none deviating from an exact parabola by more than 20 micrometers (20 millionths of a meter, or about 0.00078 inches). This prevents any incoming radio waves from being lost, so that the resulting picture captures as much distant cosmic light as possible. The radio dishes, which weigh about 100 tons each, are made of ultra-stable CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) for the reflector base, with reflecting panels of rhodium-coated nickel.

6. This Is One Cool Telescope — Literally

The electronic detector called the “front end” that amplifies and converts the radio signals collected at each ALMA antenna must be kept at a chilling 4 Kelvin ( minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 269 degrees Celsius), to prevent introducing noise to the signal.

Ultimately, the ground-breaking observatory promises to reveal many new secrets of the cosmos — not to mention some really pretty pictures.

Image courtesy of ESO/B. Tafreshi

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/03/11/facts-chile-radio-telescope/

Latest Mars Photo Shows Curiosity’s Tracks From Space


NASA’s newest Mars rover Curiosity is taking its first tentative drives across the Martian surface and leaving tracks that have been spotted all the way from space in a spectacular photo snapped by an orbiting spacecraft.

The newview of Curiosity’s tracks from space was captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and released today. It shows the rover as a bright, boxy vehicle at the end of two tracks that create a single zig-zag pattern in the Martian surface.

Another photo from the MRO spacecraft spotted the car-size Curiosity rover’s parachute and protective backshell, which were jettisoned by the rover during its Aug. 5 landing. A previous photo by MRO taken on Curiosity’s actual landing day captured an image of theMars rover hanging from its parachute.

Scientists used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on the MRO spacecraft to take the new photos, which have created a buzz among the Curiosity rover’s science team.

“The HiRISE camera on MRO continues to take amazing photographs of Mars, and of us on Mars,” said Mike Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a briefing today.

The photo of Curiosity also includes the rover’s landing spot and shows the scorch marks left behind by the rockets on the sky crane that lowered the rover to the Martian surface.

“It’s a great image of where we stand relative to the touchdown point now,” Watkins said.

This isn’t the first time the MRO spacecraft has captured views of rovers on Mars. The orbiter repeatedly observed NASA’s smaller Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity as they explored the Martian surface following their own landings in January 2004. The Spirit rover’s mission was declared over last year, but Opportunity continues to rover across the Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.

The Mars rover Curiosity took its first drive on Mars on Aug. 22 and completed its longest drive, a 100-foot trek, on Sept. 4. So far, the rover has driven a total of 358 feet on Mars, but is actually just 69 feet away from its landing site due to the turns the rover has performed along the way.

Mission scientists have also tested the rover’s mast-mounted cameras and laser, which is used to study the composition of Martian rocks, and are preparing a weeklong set of tests to calibrate Curiosity’s instrument-tipped robotic arm.

NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is designed to spend the next two years exploring the vast Gale Crater on Mars to determine if the area could have once supported microbial life. Mission scientists also plan to send the rover up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising up from the center of the crater.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/06/nasa-photo-curiosity-tracks/