It’s Not Just Rocks, Scientists Want Samples Mars’s Atmosphere

Sample tube on Mars

Mars holds a very special place in our hearts. Chiefly because of all the other planets in the Solar System Mars is probably the place we are going to find some tantalising clues or maybe even evidence of prehistoric life. NASA Perseverance Rover has been trundling around the Jezero Crater looking for evidence that it was once hospitable to life. To that end it has not only been collecting rock samples but air samples too and scientists can’t wait to get their hands on them. 

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The Ingenuity Team Downloads the Final Data from the Mars Helicopter. The Mission is Over

Ingenuity Site

I really can’t believe that the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars took its maiden voyage in April 2021. On the 16th April 2024, engineers at NASA have received the final batch of data from the craft which marks the final task of the team. Ingenuity’s work is not over though as it will remain on the surface collecting data. For the engineers at NASA, they have their sights set on Dragonfly, a new helicopter destined for Titan.

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The Current Mars Sample Return Mission isn’t Going to Work. NASA is Going Back to the Drawing Board

Artist's impression of the NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return mission. Credit: NASA

Human spaceflight is not the easiest of enterprises. NASA have let us know that their plans for the Mars Sample Return Mission have changed. The original plan was to work with ESA to collect samples from Perseverance and return them to Earth by 2031. Alas like many things, costs were increasing and timescales were slipping and with the budget challenges, NASA has had to rework their plan. Administrator Bill Nelson has now shared a simpler, less expensive and less risk alternative.

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NASA is Trying to Fix a Problem With one of Perseverance's Instruments

NASA’s Perseverance puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in a set of images captured in June and July 2022 by the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera system. SHERLOC is mounted on the end of the arm. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

There’s a problem with the Perseverance rover. One of its instruments, the laser-shooting SHERLOC, which is mounted on the end of the robotic arm, has a dust cover that is supposed to protect the instrument when it’s not in use. Unfortunately, the cover has been stuck open, and that can allow dust to collect on the sensitive optics. The cover is partially open, so the rover can’t use its laser on rock targets or collect mineral spectroscopy data. NASA engineers are investigating the problem and are hoping to devise a solution.

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Perseverance Gives Us One Last Look at the Damaged Ingenuity Helicopter

Image of the final resting place of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.
Ingenuity helicopter. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / Simeon Schmauß

Well I consider that a success; the first aircraft on another world surpassed all expectations. Ingenuity, the helicopter that has been buzzing around on Mars has finally reached the end of its life after a total of 72 flights on the red planet. In a wonderful piece of computer imagery, Simeon Schmauß took a number of images of Ingeniuty from Perseverance and stiched them together into a mosaic and upscaled to provide a human eye view. 

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Atmosphere Pressure Changes Could Explain Mars Methane

New simulations are helping inform the Curiosity rover’s ongoing sampling campaign. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

One ongoing mystery on Mars is the sporadic detection of atmospheric methane. Since 1999 detections have been made by Earth-based observatories, orbital missions, and on the surface by the Curiosity Rover. However, other missions and observatories have not detected methane at all, and even when detected, the abundances appear to fluctuate seasonally or even daily.

So, where does this intermittent methane come from? A group of scientists have proposed an interesting theory: the methane is being sucked out of the ground by changes in pressure in the Martian atmosphere. The researchers simulated how methane moves underground on Mars through networks of underground fractures and found that seasonal changes can force the methane onto the surface for a short time.

In their paper, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, the scientists say their simulations predict short-lived methane pulses prior to sunrise for Mars’ upcoming northern summer period, which is a candidate time frame for Curiosity’s next atmospheric sampling campaign.

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Ingenuity Suffers Rotor Damage, Ending the Mission

Ingenuity stood on the surface fo Mars
Ingenuity helicopter

There have been numerous robotic space missions reach the end of their operating life over the years and for a multitude of reasons. Be they catastrophic failure or a scheduled end but I must say one that has recently made me a little sad is the demise of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. It sustained damage after its recent flight and can now no longer fly. In a mission that was supposed to complete five flights in 30 days, the plucky little helicopter completed 72 flights over three years! 

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NASA's Mars Helicopter Had an Unscheduled Landing, But Flew Again

This view of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was generated using data collected by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover on Aug. 2, 2023, the 871st Martian day, or sol, of the mission, one day before the rotorcraft’s 54th flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The Ingenuity helicopter continues to explore the landscape around Jezero Crater on Mars, now more than 800 days into its original 30-day demonstration mission. Recently, Ingenuity completed its 54th flight on the Red Planet. However, things haven’t gone exactly to plan the past several weeks.

On its 53rd fight on July 22, 2023, the helicopter cut the flight short after one of its warnings was triggered, implementing the “LAND_NOW” protocol. Ingenuity should have flown for 136 seconds but was only in the air for 74 seconds before performing an emergency landing.

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NASA's Mars Helicopter Went Silent for Six Agonizing Days

The Ingenuity helicopter photographed by the Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has exceeded everyone’s expectations, recently completing its 51st flight when it was supposed to fly just a few times as a demonstration mission. But flights 50 and 51 almost didn’t happen.

In a recent blog post, Travis Brown, Chief Engineer for Ingenuity shared how the team lost contact with the tiny rotorcraft for six excruciating days.

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The Perseverance Rover has Lost its Pet Rock

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of a rock inside the rover's wheel, along with the area in front of it using its onboard Front Left Hazard Avoidance Camera A. This image was acquired on May 26, 2022 (Sol 449). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s the end of an era, at least for the Perseverance rover on Mars, who has lost a long-time friend.

For 427 sols or days on Mars, Perseverance has been carrying around a rock in one of its wheels.  We’ve been following the saga of this pet rock, which for over a year has stuck with Perseverance over the hills and sands of the Martian landscape.

However, according to Dr. Gwénaël Caravaca, who works with the rover’s SuperCam instrument, the team found out overnight in the latest Hazcam image that the rock has been lost.

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