A recent study published in Nature examines how mud cracks observed on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover could provide insight into how life on the Red Planet could have formed in its ancient past. On Earth, mud cracks have traditionally been linked to cycles of wet and dry environments that assisted in developing the complex processes responsible for microbial life to take hold. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to help scientists better understand the geological and chemical processes that might have existed in Mars’ ancient past, up to billions of years ago.Continue reading “Ancient Cracked Mud Found on Mars”
NASA’s Perseverance rover mission provided a bluish pre-sunrise gift above Jezero Crater on March 18, 2022, aka Sol 738, or the 738th Martian day of the mission, with “sol” being the official timekeeping method for Mars missions since one Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than one Earth day. And, on this particular sol, the car-sized explorer used one of its navigation cameras (Navcam) to snap images of high-altitude clouds drifting in the Martian sky, which it shared on its officially Twitter page on March 23, 2023.Continue reading “Perseverance Sees Drifting Clouds on Mars”
NASA’s Curiosity Rover usually looks down at the ground, studying nearby rocks and craters. But sometimes, it looks up and sees something wonderful.
A new image released by Curiosity shows beautiful sun rays, called crepuscular rays, streaming through a bank of clouds on Mars at sunset. While relatively common here on Earth, they have never been seen on Mars. Crepuscular comes from crepusculum, the Latin word for twilight.
Another image from the rover shows a feather-shaped iridescent cloud in the high atmosphere on Mars.Continue reading “Curiosity Sees Spectacular Crepuscular Rays in Martian Clouds”
The planet Mars is arguably the most extensively studied planetary body in the entire Solar System, which began with telescopic observations by Galileo Galilei in 1609, with such telescopic observations later being taken to the extreme by Percival Lowell in the late 19th century when he reported seeing what he believed were artificial canals made by an advanced intelligent race of Martians. But it wasn’t until the first close up image of Mars taken by NASA’s Mariner 4 in 1965 that we saw the Red Planet for what it really was: a cold and dead world with no water and no signs of life, whatsoever.Continue reading “Our Best Instruments Couldn’t Find Life on Mars”
Dust storms are a serious hazard on Mars. While smaller storms and dust devils happen regularly, larger ones happen every year (during summer in the southern hemisphere) and can cover continent-sized areas for weeks. Once every three Martian years (about five and a half Earth years), the storms can become large enough to encompass the entire planet and last up to two months. These storms play a major role in the dynamic processes that shape the surface of Mars and are sometimes visible from Earth (like the 2018 storm that ended the Opportunity rover’s mission).
When Martian storms become particularly strong, the friction between dust grains causes them to become electrified, transferring positive and negative charges through static electricity. According to research led by planetary scientist Alian Wang at Washington University in St. Louis, this electrical force could be the major driving force of the Martian chlorine cycle. Based on their analysis, Wang and her colleagues believe this process could account for the abundant perchlorates and other chemicals that robotic missions have detected in Martian soil.Continue reading “Dust Storms on Mars Generate Static Electricity. What Does This Do to Its Surface?”
This week, NASA’s Curiosity rover stumbled across the best evidence yet that liquid water once covered much of Mars in the planet’s distant past: undulating rippled rock formations – now frozen in time – that were sculpted by the waves of an ancient shallow lake. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that they were discovered in an area that researchers expected to be dry.Continue reading “Curiosity Just Found its Strongest Evidence of Ancient Water and Waves on Mars”
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, an international team of researchers led by Stanford University used artificial intelligence (AI) to examine the formation of sand ripples and sand dunes of two distinct sizes on Mars. These formations might help scientists better understand Mars’ atmospheric history through examining the fossilized forms of these aeolian (windblown) structures using statistical analyses.Continue reading “Mars Has Bizarre Dunes Thanks to its Low Atmospheric Pressure and Strange Winds”
The Curiosity rover has now reached its primary target on Mount Sharp on Mars, the mountain in the middle of Gale Crater the rover has been climbing since 2014. This target is not the summit, but a region over 600 meters (2,000 feet) up the mountain that planetary geologists have long anticipated reaching.
Known as the “sulfate-bearing unit,” the region is a boundary between the rocks that saw a lot of water in their history and those that didn’t; a possible shoreline, if you will. That boundary is already providing insights into Mars’ transition from a wet planet to dry, filling in a key gap in the understanding of the planet’s history.Continue reading “Curiosity Arrives in a Salty Region of Mars. Was it Left Over From a Dying Sea?”
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.Continue reading “The “Doorway on Mars” is More Like a Dog Door”
NASA has granted mission extensions to eight different planetary missions, citing the continued excellent operations of the spacecraft, but more importantly, the sustained scientific productivity of these missions, “and the potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.” Each mission will be extended for three more years.
One of the most exciting extensions gives a new mission to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending it to one of the most infamous asteroids of them all, the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis.Continue reading “Eight Missions are Getting Extensions, Most Exciting: OSIRIS-REx is Going to Asteroid Apophis”