Tag Archives: curiosity

Mysterious white light on Mars seen in NASA photo

By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News

NASA has released a photo taken by its Curiosity rover that shows a mysterious, unexplained white light on Mars.

The black-and-white raw image was taken by the rover’s right “navcam” (which acts as sort of an eye) on June 16, 2019 or Sol 2438, and transmitted back to Earth. The navcam snapped the picture at 03:53:59 UTC.

The rover has two navcams and 17 cameras and it has been sending photographs continuously since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, nearly seven years ago.

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s unclear exactly what the white spot on the photograph is, as images taken almost immediately before and after do not show the mysterious white light. The images below, also released publicly, were taken at 03:53:46 UTC and 03:54:12 UTC.

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 3:53:46 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 3:53:46 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 03:54:12 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 03:54:12 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This is not the first time an anomaly of this sort has been spotted by Curiosity on Mars. In 2014, a separate mysterious white spot was seen by the rover on April 3, or Sol 589. At the time, JPL scientist Dr. Justin Maki said he believed the light could be a glint from the “rock surface reflecting the Sun.”

In December 2018, Curiosity detected a “shiny” object which may be a meteorite, but NASA researchers were not sure at the time. “The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny,” NASA wrote in a November 2018 mission update. “But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

Water Found on Mars!

H2 oh my: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds water in Mars dirt

By Mike Wall

Published September 26, 2013

  • curiosity-mosaic-sol-85

    SA’s Mars rover Curiosity is a mosaic of photos taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lends Imager taken on Sol 85, the rover’s 85th Martian day, as Curiosity was sampling rocks at a stop dubbed Rocknest in Gale Crater. Image released Sept. 26, 2013.(NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS)

  • curiosity-rocknest-closeup

    At left, a closeup view of the Mars rock target Rocknest taken by the Curiosity rover showing its sandy surface and shadows that were disrupted by the rover’s front left wheel. At right, a view of Mars samples from Curiosity’s third dirt scoop (SCIENCE/AAAS)

  • curiosity-chemin-science-result

    This image depicts the science result from the Mars rover Curiosity’s CheMin instrument, showing an X-ray diffraction of the rover’s fifth scoop of Martian dirt. The black semi-circle at the bottom is the shadow of the beam stop. Image released(SCIENCE/AAAS)

Future Mars explorers may be able to get all the water they need out of the red dirt beneath their boots, a new study suggests.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found that surface soil on the Red Planet contains about 2 percent water by weight. That means astronaut pioneers could extract roughly 2 pints of water out of every cubic foot of Martian dirt they dig up, said study lead author Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

“For me, that was a big ‘wow’ moment,” Leshin told SPACE.com. “I was really happy when we saw that there’s easily accessible water here in the dirt beneath your feet. And it’s probably true anywhere you go on Mars.” [The Search for Water on Mars (Photos)]

The new study is one of five papers published in the journal ScienceThursday that report what researchers have learned about Martian surface materials from the work Curiosity did during its first 100 days on the Red Planet.

Soaking up atmospheric water
C
uriosity touched down inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater in August 2012, kicking off a planned two-year surface mission to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. It achieved that goal in March, when it found that a spot near its landing site called Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago.

‘The dirt is acting like a bit of a sponge and absorbing water from the atmosphere.’

– Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 

But Curiosity did quite a bit of science work before getting to Yellowknife Bay. Leshin and her colleagues looked at the results of Curiosity’s first extensive Mars soil analyses, which the 1-ton rover performed on dirt that it scooped up at a sandy site called Rocknest in November 2012.

Using its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, Curiosity heated this dirt to a temperature of 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit, and then identified the gases that boiled off. SAM saw significant amounts of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds — and lots of water on Mars.

SAM also determined that the soil water is rich in deuterium, a “heavy” isotope of hydrogen that contains one neutron and one proton (as opposed to “normal” hydrogen atoms, which have no neutrons). The water in Mars’ thin air sports a similar deuterium ratio, Leshin said.

“That tells us that the dirt is acting like a bit of a sponge and absorbing water from the atmosphere,” she said.

Some bad news for manned exploration
SAM detected some organic compounds in the Rocknest sample as well — carbon-containing chemicals that are the building blocks of life here on Earth. But as mission scientists reported late last year, these are simple, chlorinated organics that likely have nothing to do with Martian life. [The Hunt for Martian Life: A Photo Timeline]

Instead, Leshin said, they were probably produced when organics that hitched a ride from Earth reacted with chlorine atoms released by a toxic chemical in the sample called perchlorate.

Perchlorate is known to exist in Martian dirt; NASA’s Phoenix lander spotted it near the planet’s north pole in 2008. Curiosity has now found evidence of it near the equator, suggesting that the chemical is common across the planet. (Indeed, observations by a variety of robotic Mars explorers indicate that Red Planet dirt is likely similar from place to place, distributed in a global layer across the surface, Leshin said.)

The presence of perchlorate is a challenge that architects of futuremanned Mars missions will have to overcome, Leshin said.

“Perchlorate is not good for people. We have to figure out, if humans are going to come into contact with the soil, how to deal with that,” she said.

“That’s the reason we send robotic explorers before we send humans — to try to really understand both the opportunities and the good stuff, and the challenges we need to work through,” Leshin added.

A wealth of discoveries
The four other papers published in Science today report exciting results as well.

For example, Curiosity’s laser-firing ChemCam instrument found a strong hydrogen signal in fine-grained Martian soils along the rover’s route, reinforcing the SAM data and further suggesting that water is common in dirt across the planet (since such fine soils are globally distributed).

Another study reveals more intriguing details about a rock Curiosity studied in October 2012. This stone — which scientists dubbed “Jake Matijevic” in honor of a mission team member who died two weeks after the rover touched down — is a type of volcanic rock never before seen on Mars.

However, rocks similar to Jake Matijevic are commonly observed here on Earth, especially on oceanic islands and in rifts where the planet’s crust is thinning out.

“Of all the Martian rocks, this one is the most Earth-like. It’s kind of amazing,” said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “What it indicates is that the planet is more evolved than we thought it was, more differentiated.”

The five new studies showcase the diversity and scientific value ofGale Crater, Grotzinger said. They also highlight how well Curiosity’s 10 science instruments have worked together, returning huge amounts of data that will keep the mission team busy for years to come.

“The amount of information that comes out of this rover just blows me away, all the time,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “We’re getting better at using Curiosity, and she just keeps telling us more and more. One year into the mission, we still feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose.”

The road to Mount Sharp
The pace of discovery could pick up even more. This past July, Curiosity left the Yellowknife Bay area and headed for Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles into the Martian sky from Gale Crater’s center.

Mount Sharp has been Curiosity’s main destination since before the rover’s November 2011 launch. Mission scientists want the rover to climb up through the mountain’s foothills, reading the terrain’s many layers along the way.

“As we go through the rock layers, we’re basically looking at the history of ancient environments and how they may be changing,” Grotzinger said. “So what we’ll really be able to do for the first time is get a relative chronology of some substantial part of Martian history, which should be pretty cool.”

Curiosity has covered about 20 percent of the planned 5.3-mile trek to Mount Sharp. The rover, which is doing science work as it goes, may reach the base of the mountain around the middle of next year, Grotzinger said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

Rover radiation data poses manned Mars mission dilemma

Rover radiation data poses manned Mars mission dilemma

Art work of humans on the surface of Mars
A single mission to Mars is going to take the astronauts close to or beyond their current career limits for radiation exposure. Scientists say getting to Mars as quickly as possible would lower the risks

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has confirmed what everyone has long suspected – that astronauts on a Mars mission would get a big dose of damaging radiation.

The robot counted the number of high-energy space particles striking it on its eight-month journey to the planet.

Based on this data, scientists say a human travelling to and from Mars could well be exposed to a radiation dose that breached current safety limits.

This calculation does not even include time spent on the planet’s surface.

When the time devoted to exploring the world is taken into account, the dose rises further still.

This would increase the chances of developing a fatal cancer beyond what is presently deemed acceptable for a career astronaut.

Cary Zeitlin from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and colleagues report the Curiosity findings in the latest edition ofScience magazine.

They say engineers will have to give careful consideration to the type of shielding that is built into a Mars-bound crew ship. However, they concede that for some of the most damaging radiation particles, there may be little that can be done to shelter the crew other than to get them to Mars and the partial protection of its thin atmosphere and rocky mass as quickly as possible.

At the moment, given existing chemical propulsion technology, Mars transits take months.

“The situation would be greatly improved if we could only get there quite a bit faster,” Dr Zeitlin told BBC News.

“It is not just the dose rate that is the problem; it is the number of days that one accumulates that dose that drives the total towards or beyond the career limits. Improved propulsion would really be the ticket if someone could make that work.”

New types of propulsion, such as plasma and nuclear thermal rockets, are in development. These could bring the journey time down to a number of weeks.

Curiosity travelled to Mars inside a capsule similar in size to the one now being developed to take astronauts beyond the space station to destinations such as asteroids and even Mars.

Aeroshell separates from cruise stage
The rover travelled to Mars tucked inside a protective capsule. Its RAD instrument was turned on for most of the journey

For most of its 253-day, 560-million-km journey in 2011/2012, the robot had its Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument switched on inside the cruise vessel, which gave a degree of protection.

RAD counts the numbers of energetic particles – mostly protons – hitting its sensors.

The particles of concern fall into two categories – those that are accelerated away from our dynamic Sun; and those that arrive at high velocity from outside of the Solar System.

Radiation exposures comparison

  • Annual average (all sources, UK) – 2.7mSv
  • Whole-body CT scan – 10mSv
  • Nuclear power worker (annual, UK) – 20mSv
  • 6 months on the space station – 100mSv
  • 6 months in deep space – 320mSv

Source: UK HPA / Nasa

This latter category originates from exploded stars and the environs of black holes.

These galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) impart a lot of energy when they strike the human body and will damage DNA in cells. They are also the most difficult to shield against.

Earth’s thick atmosphere, its magnetic field and its huge rock bulk provide protection to people living on its surface, but for astronauts in deep space even an aluminium hull 30cm thick is not going to change their exposure to GCRs very much.

The RAD data revealed an average GCR dose equivalent rate of 1.84 milliSieverts (mSv) per day during the rover’s cruise to Mars. (The Sievert is a standard measure of the biological impacts of radiation.) This dose rate is about the same as having a full-body CT scan in a hospital every five days or so.

Number reassessment

Dr Zeitlin and his team used this measurement as a guide to work out what an astronaut could expect on a Mars mission, assuming he or she had a similarly shielded spacecraft, travelled at a time when the Sun’s activity was broadly the same and completed the journey in just 180 days – Nasa’s “design reference” transit time for a manned mission to Mars.

They calculated the total dose just for the cruise phases to and from Mars to be 660mSv. The team promises to come back with the additional number from surface exposure once Curiosity has taken more measurements at its landing location on the planet’s equator.

But even this 660mSv figure represents a large proportion of the 1,000mSv for career exposure that several space agencies work to keep their astronauts from approaching. Reaching 1,000mSv is associated with a 5% increase in the risk of developing a fatal cancer. There would likely be neurological impairment and eyesight damage as well. Nasa actually works to keep its astronauts below a 3% excess risk.

“If you extrapolate the daily measurements that were made by RAD to a 500-day mission you would incur exposures that would cause most individuals to exceed that 3% limit,” explained Dr Eddie Semones, the spaceflight radiation health officer at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center, who added that experts were reviewing the restriction.

“Currently, we’re looking at that 3% standard and its applicability for exploration-type missions, and those discussions are going forward on how to handle that and what steps need to be taken to protect the crew.”

All this should be set against the dangers associated with space travel in general, such as launching on a rocket or trying to land on another planet. It is a dangerous business.

It also needs to be considered in the context of the risks of contracting cancer during a “normal” lifetime on Earth, which is 26% (for a UK citizen).

Complex calculation

The space agencies have quite deliberately set conservative limits for their astronauts but it seems clear they would have to relax their rules somewhat or mitigate the risks in some other way to authorise a Mars mission.

Does the glory of visiting Mars outweigh the health risks?

However, the scenario for commercial ventures could be very different. Two initiatives – Inspiration Mars and Mars One– have been announced recently that propose getting people to Mars in the next 10 years using existing technologies.

Privateer astronauts that participate in these projects may regard the extra risks associated with radiation to be an acceptable gamble given the extraordinary prize of walking on the Red Planet.

Dr Kevin Fong is director of the Centre for Space Medicine at University College London, UK, and has written about the dangers associated with space exploration. He said that what Dr Zeitlin and colleagues had done was help remove some of the uncertainty in the risk assessment.

“Radiobiology is actually really tricky because how the body will respond to exposure will depend on many factors, such as whether you’re old or young, male or female,” he told BBC News.

“What’s important about this study is that it characterises the deep space radiation environment for the first time in a vehicle whose shielding is not orders of magnitude different from that which you would expect to put a human crew inside.”

Position of RAD instrument on Mars
The RAD instrument continues to gather data on the surface of Mars

1 Comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

NASA confirms history of water on Mars

NASA confirms Curiosity rover found evidence of ancient stream on Mars

Published May 31, 2013

FoxNews.com

  • gravel river mars.jpg

    The Link outcrop of rocks on Mars (left) with similar rocks seen on Earth (right). The image of Link, obtained by NASA’s Curiosity rover, shows rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches within the rock outcrop. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI)

  • marsstream12.jpg

    This image taken by the NASA rover Curiosity shows sediment at the bottom of an ancient streambed on Mars. (AP/NASA)

A new analysis of pebble-containing slabs investigated by NASA’s Curiosity rover confirms a stream once ran through Gale Crater on Mars.
During a pit stop last year, Curiosity came upon hundreds of smooth, round pebbles that look strikingly similar to deposits in river banks on Earth.

‘Most people are familiar with rounded river pebbles. Seeing something so familiar on another world is exciting.’

– Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute 

Scientists believe the rover rolled onto an ancient streambed, but needed to study the stones in more detail. So Curiosity snapped high-resolution pictures and fired its laser at several pebbles to analyze the chemical makeup.

Researchers say the roundness of the stones was shaped by a fast-flowing stream that probably was ankle to waist-deep. Curiosity landed in the crater near the equator last summer.

Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute, the lead author of the new report, said that researchers were able to determine the depth and speed of the water that once flowed at the site.

“These conglomerates look amazingly like streambed deposits on Earth,” Williams said. “Most people are familiar with rounded river pebbles. Maybe you’ve picked up a smoothed, round rock to skip across the water. Seeing something so familiar on another world is exciting and also gratifying.”

Sanjeev Gupta, a co-author of the report, said that analysis of the amount of rounding on the pebbles indicates that the stream was flowing at a sustained, vigorous speed.

“The rounding indicates sustained flow. It occurs as pebbles hit each other multiple times. This wasn’t a one-off flow. It was sustained, certainly more than weeks or months, though we can’t say exactly how long,” Gupta said.

The stream carried the gravel at least a few miles, the researchers estimated.

The analysis appears in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/05/31/rounded-pebbles-on-mars-reveal-past-flowing-water/?intcmp=features#ixzz2V24BCUAn

1 Comment

Filed under Humor and Observations