The “Doorway on Mars” is More Like a Dog Door

Mars Curiosity rover took a panorama of this rock cliff during its trip across Mount Sharp on Mars. Circled is the location of a so-called "doorway on Mars." Courtesy NASA/JPL/Mars Curiosity team.
Mars Curiosity rover took a panorama of this rock cliff during its trip across Mount Sharp on Mars. Circled is the location of a so-called “doorway on Mars.” Courtesy NASA/JPL/Mars Curiosity team.

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.

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Dust Storms on Mars Happen When the Planet Can’t Release its Heat Fast Enough

Mars is well-known for its seasonal dust storms, which can sometimes grow to encompass the entire planet. In June 2018, the dust storms became so severe that they obscured most of the planet’s surface, causing NASA to lose contact with Opportunity, which eventually proved fatal to the record-breaking rover. Understanding these storms and what causes them is critical to ensuring that solar-powered robotic missions continue to operate and future crewed missions can remain safe.

Specifically, scientists are looking for seasonal changes (i.e., changes in absorbed solar energy and temperature increases) that trigger dust storms and cause them to combine and grow. In a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Houston, they could result from seasonal energy imbalances in the amount of solar energy absorbed and released by the planet. These findings could lead to a new understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and atmosphere.

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InSight is Losing Power, it Probably Will be Shut Down in a Few Months

The InSight Mars lander will cease science operations sometime in the next few months due to a decreasing power supply, mission managers said at a news conference on May 17. Martian dust covering the solar panels has reduced the amount of power to roughly 500 watt-hours per Mars day or sol. When InSight landed in November of 2018, the solar panels produced around 5,000 watt-hours each sol.

“At the end of the calendar year, we do anticipate having to conclude all InSight operations,” said Kathya Zamora Garcia, InSight’s deputy project manager said at the briefing, “not because we want to turn it off but unfortunately we don’t have the energy to run it.”

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No, This Isn’t a Doorway on Mars

A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into a rock ledge. It was formed when layered rock cracked and eroded away.  Courtesy NASA Mars Curiosity Rover team.
A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into a rock ledge. It was formed when layered rock cracked and eroded away. Courtesy NASA Mars Curiosity Rover team.

The planet Mars has a lot of intriguing geological features, but a doorway in the side of some sedimentary rock on the flank of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) isn’t one of them. In fact, no such doorway on Mars (supposedly created by aliens) exists. But, there is a break in the rock that really, really does look like one. The fact that it isn’t a real doorway hasn’t stopped a lot of speculation over its appearance in an image snapped by the MastCam on the Curiosity rover on Sol 3466 (May 7, 2022). The plain truth is that the odd-looking feature is really a fracture in ancient layers of sand that have hardened into rock over millions of years. A combination of light, shadow and viewing angle makes it look like a door. But, it’s not.

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InSight Just Detected a Record-breaking Marsquake: Magnitude 5!

This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. The marsquake struck the Red Planet on May 4 , 2022 and measured magnitude 5 . Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH/Zurich.
This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. The marsquake struck the Red Planet on May 4 , 2022 and measured magnitude 5 . Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH/Zurich.

May 4th is unofficially known in sci-fi circles as Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth Be With You”) here on Earth. But, on another planet, far, far away, the date is now infamous to one of its robotic inhabitants. That’s the day the Mars InSight lander felt one of the strongest marsquakes ever to hit that world. It registered magnitude 5 and was the latest 1,313 quakes the lander detected since it arrived on Mars in 2018. InSight scientists are still analyzing the data to figure out exactly where on Mars the quake struck, and what may have caused it.

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Martian Dust is Starting to Darken Ingenuity’s Solar Panels

Like every solar-panel-powered vehicle on Mars, maintaining electrical power always becomes an issue at some point in the mission. Last week, mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. While they were able to re-establish communications, which is done through the Perseverance rover, engineers know that keeping Ingenuity’s batteries charged is going to be increasingly difficult as the dark winter is on the way to Jezero Crater.

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Mars' Carbon Dioxide Glaciers are on the Move

In 1666, famed Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Cassini (the man who discovered four of Saturn’s largest moons) observed the Martian polar ice caps for the first time. However, it was not until the late-18th century, when Sir William Herschel recorded his own observations, that the connection to Earth’s own ice caps was established. In his subsequent treatise, “On the remarkable appearances at the polar regions on the planet Mars” (1784), noted how the southern cap grew and shrunk due to seasonal changes.

With the development of modern telescopes and robotic explorers, scientists have learned a great deal more about these polar deposits. In 2011, they learned that unlike the northermost ice sheet, the southern cap is largely composed of frozen carbon dioxide (aka. “dry ice”). According to new research led by the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), glaciers of carbon dioxide ice have been moving and carving features in the southern polar region for more than 600,000 years – and are on the move right now!

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This Crater on Mars is Just a Couple of Years Old

Changes are always taking place on Mars, from factors like seasonal variations and wind. But there’s one other aspect that changes the surface of Mar quite often: impacts.

Here’s a new impact crater that was seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Exactly when the crater formed is not known, but this image was taken on July 24, 2020 and in a previous image of this site taken in 2018, the crater is not there.

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This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars

For decades, scientists have observed dark landslides called slope streaks on Mars. First seen by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s, every orbiter mission since has observed them, but the mechanism behind the slope streaks has been hotly debated: could they be caused by water activity on the Red Planet, or are they the result of some sort of dry mechanics?

Turns out, the leading candidate is “dry.” But scientists with the Mars Odyssey mission have verified an additional culprit behind the slope streaks: carbon dioxide frost.

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InSight Senses its two Biggest Marsquakes so far, Coming From the Opposite Side of the Planet

On Nov. 26th, 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) lander arrived on Mars. Since then, this robotic mission has been using its advanced suite of instruments to study Mars’ interior and geological activity to learn more about its formation and evolution. One of these is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the lander’s primary instrument, which was deployed on the Martian surface less than a month after it arrived.

On August 25th, 2021, the mission detected a magnitude 4.2 and a magnitude 4.1 marsquake, the two largest seismic events recorded to date. These events (labeled S0976a and S1000a, respectively) were five times stronger than the previous largest event (a 3.7 marsquake in 2019) and the first that originated on the other side of the planet. The seismic wave data from these events could help scientists learn more about the interior of Mars, particularly its core-mantle boundary.

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