Category Archives: Mars

Opportunity Marks 12 Years of Roving Mars

A recent view of Opportunity's robotic arm extended to remove surface crust from a rock target called "Private John Potts," named for a member of Lewis and Clark's expedition. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A recent view of Opportunity’s robotic arm extended to remove surface crust from a rock target called “Private John Potts,” named for a member of Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Curiosity rover may be getting all the attention on Mars these days but the real overachiever is Opportunity — it’s been busy exploring, studying, and traveling across the planet’s surface for over 12 years now and still going strong!

Launched July 7, 2003, the rover is currently in its 4,270th sol — 4,180 past “warranty.” (Pretty impressive for a mission that was only planned to last 90 days!)

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A Craterful of Cracks

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Here’s a view of a section of a crater on Mars filled with a lacework of bright spidery fractures, acquired on Sept. 20, 2015 with the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The crater is approximately 3 miles (5 km) wide and located in Mars’ north polar region, and its old, infilled interior has undergone countless millennia of freeze/thaw cycles that have broken the surface into polygons of all sizes, outlined by frost-filled cracks.

The fractured segments get increasingly more compressed closer to the crater rim, which contains the outward freeze expansion.

According to the image description from the HiRISE team:
The crater rim constrains the polygon formation within the crater close to the rim, creating a spoke and ring pattern of cracks. This leads to more rectangular polygons than those near the center of the crater. The polygons close to the center of the crater display a more typical pattern. A closer look shows some of these central polygons, which have smaller polygons within them, and smaller polygons within those smaller polygons, which makes for a natural fractal! 

See a wider view of the imaged region here.

Source: HiRISE/University of Arizona

Mars is Tearing its Moon Apart

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Long grooves on Phobos are likely stress fractures caused by tidal forces. This image was acquired by HiRISE on March 23, 2008. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Phobos, the largest — yet at just 16 miles wide still quite tiny — moon of Mars is getting ripped apart by the gravitational pull of its parent planet… and it bears the scars to show it, scientists have determined.

Long parallel grooves that wrap around the surface of Phobos are thought to be stress fractures — surface evidence of the tidal forces that will one day cause the moon to break apart entirely. This fate is not surprising to scientists, but that we’re seeing it in action is fascinating.

“We think that Phobos has already started to fail, and the first sign of this failure is the production of these grooves,” said Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Deleted Scene From The Martian Shows Even MOAR SCIENCE!!1!

Have you gone to see The Martian yet? (And if you haven’t, my review of it may help speed you on your way.) Did you love it? Just kidding — of course you did. But did you read the book first? If you did, you may have noticed that a lot of Mark Watney’s hands-on science work didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. Which I can understand, because some people actually don’t want to sit in a theater for four hours watching science projects on the big screen. But a few of these scenes were still shot, the above being one of them shared on Twitter today by The Martian author Andy Weir. Check it out — it’s about an experiment called ChemCam, which is actually a real thing being used on Mars right now by the Curiosity rover!

(This also leads me to believe there will be an extended director’s cut of the film that will some day get released that includes all of the cut scenes in place, especially this one — it is Ridley Scott, after all!)

See more deleted scenes from The Martian on the Ares: live YouTube channel.

One Space Blogger’s Review of The Martian

The Martian is a sci-fi film that's really a romance about science.

The Martian is a sci-fi adventure film that’s really a romance about science.

If you’re a space fan and you’ve decided to hold off seeing The Martian on opening weekend until you know what to expect, I totally understand — I very rarely see films on opening weekends myself (I have a thing about overcrowded theaters, but that’s another story.) And I also hate to be sorely disappointed in films, which is all too often the case when I’m going in with particularly high expectations. This of course was exactly what I had with The Martian, having read and enjoyed Andy Weir’s book shortly after it was published and subsequently being thrilled not even a year later to hear that one of my favorite directors (Sir Ridley Scott) would be making the movie version of the novel. But, being the big ol’ space geek that I am I felt I would have been amiss to not see the film ASAP, and so I went this past Saturday afternoon. Here’s what I thought of it.

(Spoiler: just writing this gives me a big smile, so you already kinda know how I feel!)

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NASA Sciences the Sh*t Out of Mars, Finds Water

False-color image of a mountain on Mars with hundred-yard-long streaks running down its slopes. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

False-color image of a mountain on Mars with hundred-yard-long streaks running down its slopes. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

So on the same week that the highly-anticipated film “The Martian” opens in U.S. theaters (you are going to go see it, I assume) NASA revealed the latest discovery regarding the Red Planet: there is water on the surface there, salty rivulets that periodically run down steep slopes in Hale Crater and stain its sands with dark streaks.

It might not be something that Mark Watney would want to guzzle a glassful of, but it is a major finding for planetary scientists!

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