For a spacecraft that’s traveled millions of kilometers across space and driven on the surface of Mars, Curiosity is holding up pretty darned well. That’s the assessment from the operations team at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This week they celebrated ten years of the rover’s exploration across one of the more forbidding terrains in the solar system.Continue reading “It’s Been 10 Years Since Curiosity Landed on Mars, and the Rover is Still Going Strong”
We are carbon-based life forms. That means the basis for the chemical compounds that forms our life is the element carbon. It’s crucial because it bonds with other elements such as hydrogen and oxygen to create the complex molecules that are part of life. So, when we look for evidence of life elsewhere in the solar system, we look for carbon. That includes Mars.Continue reading “Curiosity Finds Life-Crucial Carbon in Mars Rocks”
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Since 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for clues about Mars’ past and possible evidence that it once supported life. For the past year, this search has centered on the lower levels of Mount Sharp, a transitional zone between a clay-rich region and one filled with sulfates (a type of mineral salt). These regions can offer insight into Mars’ warm, watery past, but the transition zone between them is also of scientific value. In short, the study of this region may provide a record of the major climatic shift that took place billions of years ago on Mars.
For example, this region has unique geological features that include clay minerals that appear as flaky layers of sedimentary rock. One in particular, “The Prow,” was recently imaged by Curiosity and had the mission science teams buzzing. These features formed when water still flowed into the Gale Crater, depositing sediment at the base of Mount Sharp. Higher on the mountain, the hill was likely covered in wind-swept dunes that hardened into rock over time. In between them is where the flaky layers formed, possibly as a result of small ponds or streams that wove them among the dunes.Continue reading “Amazing Flaky Martian Rocks Were Formed in a Stream or a Small Pond”
In August 2012, the Curiosity rover landed in the Gale Crater on Mars and began exploring the surface for indications of past life. The rover made some profound discoveries during that time, including evidence that the crater was once a huge lakebed and detecting multiple methane spikes. The rover has also taken images of several interesting terrain features, many of which went viral after the photos were shared with the public. Time and again, these photos have proven that the tradition of seeing faces or patterns in random objects (aka. pareidolia) is alive and well when it comes to Mars!
On Sol 3474 (May 15th, 2022), the Curiosity rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) snapped a particularly interesting picture showing spikes protruding from the ground. The prongs are likely to be material that survived the erosion of the surrounding sedimentary rock, which is consistent with other evidence obtained by Curiosity that shows how erosion and sedimentary deposits were common in the Gale Crater (and still are). That being said, the pareidolia crowd (fresh off the “Doorway” hoax) is sure to have a field day with this one!Continue reading “Curiosity Sees Bizarre Spikes on Mars”
Remember all the fuss about the “doorway on Mars” from just last week? Well, this week, NASA issued some more information about the rock mound where the Curiosity rover snapped a pic showing a fracture hole in the rock. It looks like a door, but it’s not.Continue reading “The “Doorway on Mars” is More Like a Dog Door”
NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.
One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.Continue reading “Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis”
Right now, the Curiosity rover continues to climb Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), the central peak within the Gale Crater on Mars. This massive pile of rock and sediment was created over the course of 2 billion years by liquid water that flowed into the crater, creating a layered structure that stands around 5.5 km (18,000 ft) tall. Many of these layers were deposited when the crater is thought to have been a lakebed, which makes it a prime location to search for evidence of past life (and maybe present) on Mars.
Climbing this feature is hard work and can cause severe wear on Curiosity’s metal wheels. The rover began climbing the southern edge of “Greenheugh Pediment,” a gentle slope topped by sandstone rubble that scientists want to learn more about. A few weeks ago, the rover suddenly encountered a huge patch of wind-sharpened rocks known as ventifacts (aka. “gator back” terrain). This forced the mission team to plot an alternate route so that Curiosity can continue to get more life out of its wheels.Continue reading “Curiosity is Going to Find a new Route Around This Tricky Patch Called “Gator-Back Terrain””
If we’ve learned anything about Mars the past 2-3 decades from the various rovers, landers and orbiters we’ve sent to the Red Planet, it’s that the planet’s geologic history is much more complicated and diverse than what we thought.
This picture from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows fractured sedimentary rock inside a crater called Danielson. Sedimentary rock is a sure sign that this planet was active in the past. The fracturing, layering and terrace-like structures suggests a long-term watery history in this region.Continue reading “Strange Terraces on Mars are a Clear Signal of Sedimentary Rock”
The Curiosity rover took a picture of something pretty enticing this week on the surface of Mars. While the object in question looks like a tiny little flower or maybe even some type of organic feature, the rover team confirmed this object is a mineral formation, with delicate structures that formed by mineral precipitating from water. The size of this tiny object is just 1 centimeter.Continue reading “Curiosity Finds a Bizarre Rock on Mars that Looks Like a Flower”
For almost sixty years, robotic missions have been exploring the surface of Mars in search of potential evidence of life. More robotic missions will join in this search in the next fifteen years, the first sample return from Mars (courtesy of the Perseverance rover) will arrive here at Earth, and crewed missions will be sent there. Like their predecessors, these missions will rely on mass spectrometry to analyze samples of the Martian sands to look for potential signs of past life.
Given how much data we can expect from these missions, NASA is looking for new methods to analyze geological samples. To this end, NASA has partnered with the global crowdsourcing platform HeroX and the data-science company DrivenData to launch the Mars Spectrometry: Detect Evidence for Past Life challenge. With a prize purse of $30,000, this Challenge seeks innovative methods that rely on machine learning to automatically analyze Martian geological samples for potential signs of past life.Continue reading “NASA and HeroX are Crowdsourcing the Search for Life on Mars”