Blog Archives

Scientists Squeeze Methane Out Of Martian Meteorites

A 30-meter crater created on Mars sometime between July 2010 and May 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A 30-meter crater created on Mars sometime between July 2010 and May 2012, imaged by the HiRISE camera aboard MRO. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

One of the biggest clues to finding evidence of life on Mars – past or present – has been the existence of methane, an organic compound that is the principal component of natural gas here on Earth. Methane can arise via both biological and non-biological processes, but in both cases it can be used as “food” for living organisms (known as methanotrophs.) Methane has been detected on Mars today by both orbiting spacecraft and rovers on the ground, and now researchers have identified methane within meteorites found on Earth that originated from the Red Planet.

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Curiosity Gazes on Mars’ Moon Phobos

Image of Phobos(?) from Curiosity on June 1, 2015.

Image of Phobos(?) from Curiosity on June 1, 2015.

Do you love to look up at the Moon? Well so does NASA’s Curiosity rover! Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong (I have not confirmed this) but this appears to be an image of Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two small moons, imaged by Curiosity’s Mastcam on mission Sol 1002 (June 1, 2015). I spotted it while looking though some raw images on JPL’s MSL mission page.

Detail of Phobos from Curiosity

Detail of Phobos from Curiosity

Phobos is a very small world, only about 16 miles (26 km) across, and orbits Mars at 5,840 miles (9,400 km) altitude. Curiosity has imaged it before, once actually crossing in front of the Sun during an eclipse event on Aug. 20, 2013.

Both Phobos and its smaller, more distant sibling Deimos have been imaged together by Curiosity as well, during an occultation on Aug. 1, 2013. See an animation of those observations here.

Planned observations of Phobos help scientists more precisely determine its orbit.

See a color image of Phobos acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter here.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Watch the Exciting First Trailer for The Martian

The first trailer for The Martian is out, a new film by Ridley Scott based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir. (If you haven’t read The Martian you really must check it out – it’s a fantastic “science-reality” adventure about one stranded astronaut’s struggle to survive on Mars and NASA’s attempt to get him back.) After watching this I’m even more excited about it – I think this could spark more space survival movies (à la Gravity) that don’t need to depend on over-imaginative science concepts or alien civilizations as story hooks – real survival on other planets will be dramatic enough!

The Martian will open in U.S. theaters on November 25 October 2!!! The studio switched its opening day to avoid competition with Disney’s Good Dinosaur and the second Hunger Games installment. I’ve got no problem with that! (Source) 

Via The Verge.

What Do You Think Of This Planet Earth Flag?

A concept for an

A concept for an “all-Earth” flag proposed by Oskar Pernefeldt

There was a bit of a press frenzy last week surrounding the idea of a global flag that could be used in instances of human exploration off our planet, where international collaboration could be celebrated and memorialized on alien worlds rather than the more old-timey nationalistic space races with various countries’ flags dotting remote landscapes across the Solar System. To this end Oskar Pernefeldt, a design student at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, created a proposal for a “Flag for Planet Earth” as a senior project – a flag that could be proudly planted and worn by future astronauts as we expand our presence through space. Various news sites picked up the story, as seen in this article on Verge.com by Jacob Kastrenakes – and it spread from there as “this is the flag we’ll plant” when we land on Mars, an asteroid, the Moon (again), Europa, etc., etc.

The question is: will it really? And more importantly, would we even want it to be? I, for one, would not.

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Curiosity’s View Into Marias Pass

Panorama mosaic of MSL images acquired on May 22, 2015

Marias Pass – a panorama mosaic of MSL images acquired on May 22, 2015.

The image above shows Curiosity’s view southwest into “Marias Pass,” a low valley in Gale Crater where the rover was on May 22, 2015 – mission Sol 992. At the left (east) edge is the western slope of a rise called Akipuni Mountain, and Mount Shields rises off to the right (west). The image is a mosaic made from four Mastcam images – click to view it full-size on Flickr.

The site is a bit of a backtrack from its previous location at Logan Pass, since the rover has been experiencing some slipping on the loose surface material in the area.

“Mars can be very deceptive,” said Chris Roumeliotis, Curiosity’s lead rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples. So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction. Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity.”

Read more on Curiosity’s progress here, and see a map of its traverses to this point here.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Edited by Jason Major.

Curious Stains on Mars’ Summer Slopes Continue to be Seen

Recurring slope lineae (RSL) stain mountain slopes in Hale Crater. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Recurring slope lineae (RSL) stain mountain slopes in Hale Crater. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

As the midsummer Sun beats down on the southern mountains of Mars, bringing daytime temperatures soaring up to a balmy 25ºC (77ºF), some of their slopes become darkened with long, rusty stains that may be the result of water seeping out from just below the surface.

The image above, captured by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Feb. 20, shows mountain peaks within the 150-km (93-mile) -wide Hale Crater. Made from data acquired in visible and near infrared wavelengths the long stains are very evident, running down steep slopes below the rocky cliffs… but the process that’s responsible for them has yet to be confirmed.

Read the rest of my article on Universe Today.

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