The Global Dust Storm that Ended Opportunity Helped Teach us how Mars Lost its Water

Mars in 2001. On the left, no global dust storm. On the right, global dust storm. Image Credit: By Jim Secosky picked out this NASA image NASA/JPL/MSSS - https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/figures/PIA03170_fig1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65809875

The enduring, and maybe endearing, mystery around Mars is what happened to its water? We can say with near-certainty now, thanks to the squad of Mars rovers and orbiters, that Mars was once much wetter. In fact that planet may have had an ocean that covered a third of the surface. But what happened to it all?

As it turns out, the global dust storms that envelop Mars, and in particular the most recent one that felled the Opportunity rover, may offer an explanation.

Continue reading “The Global Dust Storm that Ended Opportunity Helped Teach us how Mars Lost its Water”

Curiosity has Finally Sampled a Clay-Rich Region on Mars

A mast-cam mosaic image of the so-called "clay-bearing unit". After almost seven years on Mars, MSL Curiosity has finally been able to drill into the clay-rich region. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

It’s hard to believe that MSL Curiosity has been on Mars for almost seven years. But it has, and during that time, the rover has explored Gale Crater and Mt. Sharp, the central peak inside the crater. And while it has used its drill multiple times to take rock samples, this is the first sample it’s gathered from the so-called ‘clay unit.’

Continue reading “Curiosity has Finally Sampled a Clay-Rich Region on Mars”

Scientists are Trying to Figure Out Why InSight’s “Mole” Can’t Dig Any Deeper

The HP3 model in its test bed in Bremen. Image Credit: DLR.

Engineers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) are busy working with a replica InSight Lander to see if they can understand what’s blocking the lander’s mole.

The mole is the short name for the lander’s Heat Probe, which is hammering its way into the Martian surface. The Heat Probe is actually called the HP3, or Heat and Physical Properties Package. It’s designed to work it’s way as far as 5 meters (16.4 ft.) into the soil, where it will measure the heat flowing from the interior of the planet. Those measurements will tell scientists a lot about the structure of Mars, and how rocky planets formed.

But as reported last month, the probe is being blocked at about 30 cm (1 ft.)

Continue reading “Scientists are Trying to Figure Out Why InSight’s “Mole” Can’t Dig Any Deeper”

Two Solar Eclipses Seen From the Surface of Mars by Curiosity

Ever since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, it has provided NASA scientists with invaluable data about the planet’s past, as well as some breathtaking images of the planet’s surface. Much like its predecessors, the Spirit and Opportunity rover, many of these images have shown what it is like to look up at the sky from the surface of Mars and witness celestial events.

Of these events, one of the most intriguing has to be the many Martian solar eclipses that have taken place since the rover’s landed. Last month, the Curiosity rover witnessed two eclipses as the moons of Phobos and Deimos both passed in front of the Sun. These latest eclipses will allow scientists to fine-tune their predictions about Mars’ satellites and how they orbit the Red Planet.

Continue reading “Two Solar Eclipses Seen From the Surface of Mars by Curiosity”

Mars Express Saw the Same Methane Spike that Curiosity Detected from the Surface of Mars

An artist's illustration of the Mars Express Orbiter above Mars. Image Credit: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mars: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

If you’re not a chemist, an astrobiologist, or a scientist of any sort, and that includes most of us, then a tiny, almost imperceptible whiff of methane in the Martian atmosphere might seem like no big deal. But it is, gentle humans. It is.

Why?

Because it could be a signal that some living process is at work. And even we non-scientists have wondered at some point if the only life in the Solar System, or maybe in the entire Universe, is confined here on Earth.

Continue reading “Mars Express Saw the Same Methane Spike that Curiosity Detected from the Surface of Mars”

Mars Helicopter Completes More Test Flights. It’s Almost Ready to go to Mars

Members of the NASA Mars Helicopter team inspect the flight model (the actual vehicle going to the Red Planet), inside the Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Feb. 1, 2019. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve known for some time that NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars. The vehicle, called the Mars Helicopter, is undergoing flight testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The little helicopter will make its eventual way to Mars as part of the Mars 2020 Rover mission.

The Mars Helicopter is pretty small, less than 1.8 kg (4 lb). It’s made of lightweight carbon fiber, and other materials like aluminum, silicon, and foil. The version being tested is the actual vehicle that will make the trip to Mars.

Continue reading “Mars Helicopter Completes More Test Flights. It’s Almost Ready to go to Mars”

Rivers on Mars Flowed for More Than a Billion Years

A photo of a preserved river channel on Mars. The color is overlaid to show elevation, with blue being low and yellow being high elevation. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/UChicago

The ancient climate of Mars is a mystery to scientists. Even with all we’ve learned about Mars, it’s still difficult to explain how lakes and rivers existed. A new study shows that Martian rivers were swollen with runoff and that they flowed far later into the planet’s history than previously thought.

The question is, how did the Martian climate create these conditions?

Continue reading “Rivers on Mars Flowed for More Than a Billion Years”

InSight’s Rock-hammer is About Half a Meter Down and has Already Run into Rocks.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package deployed on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/DLR

NASA’s InSight lander is busy deploying its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) into the Martian soil and has encountered some resistance. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), who designed and built the HP3 as part of the InSight mission, has announced that the instrument has hit not one, but two rocks in the sub-surface. For now the HP3 is in a resting phase, and it’s not clear what will happen next.

Continue reading “InSight’s Rock-hammer is About Half a Meter Down and has Already Run into Rocks.”