Dune Fields in Gale Crater Tell the Story of Mars’ Shifting Climate Over Eons

Rocks can tell us a lot about a planet.  On Earth, the study of geology has been around for hundreds of years and has resulted in such scientific findings as the theory of plate tectonics and the discovery of dinosaur fossils.  Geology on Mars has not had as long and storied a history, but with the rovers that have landed on the planet in the last few decades, Martian geology has started to bloom. Curiosity, one of those rovers, has done a particularly good job at documenting the rock formations in its neighborhood of Gale crater.  Now researchers led by a team at Imperial College London have published a paper using data from Curiosity that detail a set of ancient dunes on Mars that provide some insight into the planet’s former habitability.

Continue reading “Dune Fields in Gale Crater Tell the Story of Mars’ Shifting Climate Over Eons”

Iceland is a Similar Environment to Ancient Mars

Mars is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin” because of the similarities the two planets have. In fact, Mars is ranked as the second most-habitable planet in the Solar System behind Earth. And yet, ongoing studies have revealed that at one time, our two planets had even more in common. In fact, a recent study showed that at one time, the Gale Crater experienced conditions similar to what Iceland experiences today.

Since 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater in search of clues as to what conditions were like there roughly 3 billion years ago (when Mars was warmer and wetter). After comparing evidence gathered by Curiosity to locations on Earth, a team from Rice University concluded that Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool temperatures are the closest analog terrain to ancient Mars there is.

Continue reading “Iceland is a Similar Environment to Ancient Mars”

At One Time, This Region of Mars was Inundated by a “Megaflood”

Thanks to multiple robotic missions that have explored Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and geology, scientists have concluded that Mars was once a much warmer, wetter place. In addition to having a thicker atmosphere, the planet was actually warm enough that flowing water could exist on the surface in the form of rivers, lakes, and even an ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere.

According to new research based on data collected by NASA’s Curiosity mission, it appears that the Gale Crater (where the rover has been exploring for the past eight years) experienced massive flooding roughly 4 billion years ago. These findings indicate that the mid-latitudes of Mars were also covered in water at one time and offers additional hints that the region once supported life.

Continue reading “At One Time, This Region of Mars was Inundated by a “Megaflood””

Curiosity Is Going To Spend Its Summer Driving Around a Dangerous Sandy Region on Mars

Do road trips actually require roads? Not if you’re NASA’s Curiosity rover, who is embarking on an extended 1 mile long road trip this summer up the side of Mount Sharp.

The rover will be moving between two “units” of Gale Crater, where it has been exploring since 2014.  It’s wrapping up experiments in the “clay-bearing unit”, which resulted in the highest concentrations of clay found during the mission.  It’s now moving to the “sulfate-bearing unit”, which is expected to contain an abundance of sulfates, such as gypsum and Epsom salts.

Continue reading “Curiosity Is Going To Spend Its Summer Driving Around a Dangerous Sandy Region on Mars”

Curiosity Sees Earth and Venus in the Night Skies on Mars

Mars rover Curiosity covered in dust and a combined image it took of Earth and Venus both in the Martian night sky.

Normally the images from NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently sitting near “Bloodstone Hill” on Mars, are of alien vistas and rock outcroppings that conspiracy theorists constantly try to anthropomorphize into UFOs.  However, the rover is also excellently positioned to capture a unique perspective of an alien sky.  And that is exactly what it did recently when it captured an image of both Venus and Earth in the same Martian night sky.  The images were actually taken in two separate frames, though the two planets were visible in the sky at the same time.

Continue reading “Curiosity Sees Earth and Venus in the Night Skies on Mars”

Curiosity’s Latest Mars Panorama, Captured in 1.8 Billion Glorious Pixels

The Curiosity rover on Mars has captured the most detailed panoramic image ever taken of the Red Planet’s surface. The image is made from over 1,000 images, containing 1.8 billion pixels of the Martian landscape, with 2.43 GB of high-resolution planetary goodness.

“This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

Continue reading “Curiosity’s Latest Mars Panorama, Captured in 1.8 Billion Glorious Pixels”

Curiosity Looked up and Saw Phobos During the Daytime

For fans and enthusiasts of space exploration, the name Kevin Gill ought to be a familiar one. As a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who specializes in data visualization and analysis, he has a long history of bringing space exploration to life through imagery. Among his most recent offerings is a very interesting pic taken by the Curiosity rover early in its mission.

Continue reading “Curiosity Looked up and Saw Phobos During the Daytime”

Curiosity Sniffs a Spike in Methane. Could it be a Sign of Life?

Since it landed on Mars in 2012, one of the main scientific objectives of the Curiosity rover has been finding evidence of past (or even present) life on the Red Planet. In 2014, the rover may have accomplished this very thing when it detected a tenfold increase in atmospheric methane in its vicinity and found traces of complex organic molecules in drill samples while poking around in the Gale Crater.

About a year ago, Curiosity struck pay dirt again when it found organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks located near the surface of lower Mount Sharp. But last week, the Curiosity rover made an even more profound discovery when it detected the largest amount of methane ever measured on the surface of Mars – about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv).

Continue reading “Curiosity Sniffs a Spike in Methane. Could it be a Sign of Life?”