Ferrari Paint will Fly to Mars

Image credit: ESA

In a silly publicity stunt, Ferrari engineers have decided to see just how fast their paint can go. When the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft launches in May/June 2003, it may be carrying a tiny glass ball painted with Ferrari’s signature red paint. When Mars Express arrives at the Red Planet in December, the whole spacecraft (including the paint) will endure tremendous heat as it aerobrakes in the planet’s atmosphere.

What is the fastest Ferrari’s distinctive red paint has ever travelled? Next year it will be 10800 km/h! Mars Express, to be launched in May/June 2003, the first European spacecraft to visit the Red Planet, will be speeding on its way accompanied by the very essence of Ferrari: a sample of its distinctive red paint.

Mars has always fascinated us here on Earth. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission, due to arrive at its destination by December 2003, aims to solve many of the planet’s age-old mysteries. It will ultimately be looking for the presence of water on Mars, but might also find evidence of life, both past and present. And, of course, it will be studying the red soil in depth.

Following the outstanding success of the Scuderia Ferrari with the victory of Michael Schumacher’s fifth Formula 1 driver championship title, the Ferrari team has agreed to fly the symbol of that success on the Mars Express mission. Ferrari’s high-tech red paint is recognised all over the world as being synonymous with the record-breaking marque.

When Mars Express is launched next May/June, the Ferrari red paint will be on board in a specially constructed glass globe measuring 2cm in diameter, designed to withstand the extremes of temperature it will encounter on its trip to Mars. The spacecraft will be launched on a Soyuz/Fregat launcher, reaching speeds of roughly 10800 kilometres per hour, nearly 10 times the speed of sound!

The paint is currently undergoing rigorous tests at ESA’s test centre in the Netherlands to discover how it will withstand space conditions on the journey. Once it has been officially “space-qualified”, it is due to be installed on the spacecraft at a formal ceremony in September.

Original Source: ESA News Release

Russians Propose Human Mars Mission

Russian space officials have announced their intentions to send human explorers to Mars by 2015. Hoping for International support to help fund the $20 billion budget, managers have already planned out the mission basics. They’re estimating that two ships would travel to Mars and deliver three people to the surface for 440 days while three others would remain in orbit. Obviously this is completely preliminary in nature, and officials from NASA or the ESA have yet to comment if they would support this Russian initiative.

Evidence of Vast Quantities of Water Ice on Mars

Image credit: NASA

As predicted last week, NASA scientists announced that they have discovered evidence of vast deposits of water ice under the rocky surface of Mars. Special detectors on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft have found strong signals of enough ice to fill up Lake Michigan. As we’ve found on Earth, wherever there’s water and heat, there’s life, so this is encouraging for the search for life on Mars. This is also encouraging for possible future human missions to the Red Planet, as astronauts will have easy access to water for drinking, as well as hydrogen and oxygen.

Using instruments on NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft, surprised scientists have found enormous quantities of buried treasure lying just under the surface of Mars — enough water ice to fill Lake Michigan twice over. And that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Images are available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey.

“This is really amazing. This is the best direct evidence we have of subsurface water ice on Mars. We were hopeful that we could find evidence of ice, but what we have found is much more ice than we ever expected,” said Dr. William Boynton, principal investigator for Odyssey’s gamma ray spectrometer suite at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Scientists used Odyssey’s gamma ray spectrometer instrument suite to detect hydrogen, which indicated the presence of water ice in the upper meter (three feet) of soil in a large region surrounding the planet’s south pole. “It may be better to characterize this layer as dirty ice rather than as dirt containing ice,” added Boynton. The detection of hydrogen is based both on the intensity of gamma rays emitted by hydrogen, and by the intensity of neutrons that are affected by hydrogen. The spacecraft’s high-energy neutron detector and the neutron spectrometer observed the neutron intensity.

The amount of hydrogen detected indicates 20 to 50 percent ice by mass in the lower layer. Because rock has a greater density than ice, this amount is more than 50 percent water ice by volume. This means that if one heated a full bucket of this ice-rich polar soil it would result in more than half a bucket of water.

The gamma ray spectrometer suite is unique in that it senses the composition below the surface to a depth as great as one meter. By combining the different type of data from the instrument, the team has concluded the hydrogen is not distributed uniformly over the upper meter but is much more concentrated in a lower layer beneath the top-most surface.

The team also found that the hydrogen-rich regions are located in areas that are known to be very cold and where ice should be stable. This relationship between high hydrogen content with regions of predicted ice stability led the team to conclude that the hydrogen is, in fact, in the form of ice. The ice-rich layer is about 60 centimeters (two feet) beneath the surface at 60 degrees south latitude, and gets to within about 30 centimeters (one foot) of the surface at 75 degrees south latitude.

“Mars has surprised us again. The early results from the gamma ray spectrometer team are better than we ever expected,” said Dr. R. Stephen Saunders, Odyssey’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “In a few months, as we get into martian summer in the northern hemisphere, it will be exciting to see what lies beneath the cover of carbon dioxide dry-ice as it disappears.”

“The signature of buried hydrogen seen in the south polar area is also seen in the north, but not in the areas close to the pole. This is because the seasonal carbon dioxide (dry ice) frost covers the polar areas in winter. As northern spring approaches, the latest neutron data indicate that the frost is receding, revealing hydrogen-rich soil below,” said Dr. William Feldman, principal investigator for the neutron spectrometer at Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico.

“We have suspected for some time that Mars once had large amounts of water near the surface. The big questions we are trying to answer are, ‘where did all that water go?’ and ‘what are the implications for life?’ Measuring and mapping the icy soils in the polar regions of Mars, as the Odyssey team has done, is an important piece of this puzzle, but we need to continue searching, perhaps much deeper underground, for what happened to the rest of the water we think Mars once had,” said Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

Another new result from the neutron data is that large areas of Mars at low to middle latitudes contain slightly enhanced amounts of hydrogen, equivalent to several percent water by mass. Interpretation of this finding is ongoing, but the team’s preliminary hypothesis is that this relatively small amount of hydrogen is more likely to be chemically bound to the minerals in the soil, than to be in the form of water ice.

JPL manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Investigators at Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Arizona, Tucson; and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, operate the science instruments. The gamma-ray spectrometer was provided by the University of Arizona in collaboration with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, which provided the high-energy neutron detector, and the Los Alamos National Laboratories which provided the neutron spectrometer. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Additional information about the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the gamma-ray spectrometer is available on the Internet at: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey/ and http://grs.lpl.arizona.edu.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release

Potential Discovery of Water Ice on Mars?

Space agency watchdog Keith Cowing is reporting that NASA is due to announce the discovery of large amounts of water ice on the surface of Mars. The speculation is that data from one or several instruments on board the Mars Odyssey spacecraft have confirmed the presence of underground ice, and that NASA will announce the findings at a press conference on Thursday, May 30. If true, the discovery of this much water ice will have tremendous implications on the search for life on the Red Planet. It’s all very preliminary right now, so stay tuned for some actual confirmation by NASA.

Buzz Aldrin Working on Mars Shuttle Plans

Although he was the second human to walk on the moon, astronaut Buzz Aldrin isn’t getting out the space race yet. He’s working on plans to develop a massive shuttle that would travel between the Earth and Mars, transferring people and supplies to and from the Red Planet. The shuttle wouldn’t actually stop at Mars, it would just drop off people and then use gravity to make a return voyage back to Earth to pick up more people. And although the idea sounds way off, Aldrin, and researchers from Purdue University believe something could be developed by 2018.

New Evidence Raises Hopes of Life on Mars

Scientists believe there may be chlorophyll, a substance used by plants to extract energy from sunlight, located near the landing site for the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. Scientists analyzed the spectral signature of the area surrounding Pathfinder’s landing site. Although the researchers have stressed that their findings are preliminary, they believe they’ve found two areas that appear to contain chlorophyll – it could be significant, or it just could be a patch of coloured soil.

Odyssey Serves Up Canyon Images

Image credit: NASA

Now in its final orbit, Mars Odyssey is getting to work searching for water on the surface of the planet. The most recent set of images returned are of a network of channels taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). The Nirgal Vallis is a channel 500 km long and 6 km wide at this point – astronomers believe that gullies on the side of the channel were formed when water erupted to the surface.

This THEMIS image shows a sinuous valley network channel with sharp bends cutting across the cratered highlands of the southern hemisphere of Mars. The channel is named Nirgal Vallis, which is from the Babylonian word for “Mars”. Nirgal Vallis is a channel with a total length of approximately 500 km. It is approximately 6 km wide in this region. Gullies and alluvial deposits discovered by Mars Global Surveyor are clearly visible on the polar-facing (south) wall and floor of Nirgal Vallis. These gullies appear to emanate from a specific layer in the walls. There is a pronounced sparsity of gullies on the equator-ward facing slopes. The gullies have been proposed to have formed by the subsurface release of water. Patches of dunes are also seen on the channel floor, notably along the edges of the channel floor near the canyon walls. There is still debate within the scientific community as to how valley networks themselves form: surface runoff (rainfall/snowmelt) or headward erosion via groundwater sapping. This image is approximately 22 km wide and 60 km in length; north is toward the top.

Original Source: ASU News Release

First Odyssey Photos Released

It’s only the first few photographs from Mars Odyssey, but scientists are already excited about what the spacecraft has turned up on the surface of Mars. Odyssey, which began mapping the planet last week, has detected significant amounts of hydrogen near the planet’s south pole. Scientists believe this hydrogen is evidence of water ice – and not just surface frost, but a large quantity of frozen water.

Initial science data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which began its mapping mission last week, portend some tantalizing findings by the newest Martian visitor, including possible identification of significant amounts of frozen water.

“We are delighted with the quality of data we’re seeing,” said Dr. Steve Saunders, Odyssey project scientist at JPL. “We’ll use it to build on what we’ve learned from Mars Global Surveyor and other missions. Now we may actually see water rather than guessing where it is or was. And with the thermal images we are able to examine surface geology from a new perspective.”

“These preliminary Odyssey observations are the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the science results that are soon to come, so stay tuned,” said Dr. Jim Garvin, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

New images taken by the thermal emission imaging system show the temperature of the surface at a remarkable level of clarity and detail during both the martian day and night. The images can be seen at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey and http://themis.asu.edu/latest . Odyssey’s camera system is studying Mars’ surface mineralogy to reveal geologic history. The thermal infrared images are 30 times sharper than previously available images, and the camera’s visible-light images will fill a gap in resolution between Viking Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor pictures.

Initial measurements by the gamma ray spectrometer instrument suite show the presence of significant amounts of hydrogen in the south polar region of Mars. The high hydrogen content is most likely due to water ice, though the amount of ice cannot be quantified yet. Further analysis will be conducted to confirm the interpretation. The detection of hydrogen is based both on the intensity of gamma rays emitted by hydrogen, and by the intensity of neutrons that are moderated by hydrogen. The neutron intensity was observed by the high energy neutron detector and the neutron spectrometer. Additional information is available online at http://grs.lpl.arizona.edu/results/presscon1/ .

“The preliminary assessment of the gamma-ray spectrometer data indicates the likely presence of hydrogen in the upper few feet of the martian surface as sampled at spatial scales approximately 400 miles across. Further analysis and another month or so of mapping will permit more quantitative assessment of these observations and allow for a refined interpretation,” said Garvin.

Measurements made by the martian radiation environment experiment during Odyssey’s cruise phase suggest that the daily dose of radiation experienced by astronauts on their way from Earth to Mars would be more than twice the dose endured by astronauts on the International Space Station. Investigators are in the process of troubleshooting the radiation experiment to determine why the instrument stopped communicating and was turned off in August 2001.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Investigators at Arizona State University in Tempe, the University of Arizona in Tucson, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, operate the science instruments. Additional science partners are located at the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, which provided the high-energy neutron detector, and at Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico, which provided the neutron spectrometer. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Martian Floods Could be Recent

Scientists from the University of Arizona believe that water may have erupted onto the surface of Mars as recently as 10 million years ago. As much as 600 cubic kilometres of water (four times the water in Lake Erie) may have poured out of fissures in the Cerberus Plains just north of the Martian equator. The scientists formed their theory after studying images taken of the region by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.