Mars is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin” because of the similarities the two planets have. In fact, Mars is ranked as the second most-habitable planet in the Solar System behind Earth. And yet, ongoing studies have revealed that at one time, our two planets had even more in common. In fact, a recent study showed that at one time, the Gale Crater experienced conditions similar to what Iceland experiences today.
Since 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater in search of clues as to what conditions were like there roughly 3 billion years ago (when Mars was warmer and wetter). After comparing evidence gathered by Curiosity to locations on Earth, a team from Rice University concluded that Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool temperatures are the closest analog terrain to ancient Mars there is.
Continue reading “Iceland is a Similar Environment to Ancient Mars”
This past summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On February 18th, 2021, it will arrive on Mars and join in the search for evidence for past (and maybe even present) life. A particularly exciting aspect of this mission is the Mars Sample Return (MSR), a multi-mission effort that will send samples of Mars back to Earth for analysis.
This aspect of the Perseverance mission will be assisted by a lander and orbiter developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). According to NASA, the MSR recently advanced to the next stage of development (Phase A). If all goes well, Perseverance will have a companion in the coming years that will take its samples and launch them to orbit, where they will be picked up and sent back to Earth.
Continue reading “Plans for a Mars Sample Return Mission Have Moved to the Next Stage”
Thanks to multiple robotic missions that have explored Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and geology, scientists have concluded that Mars was once a much warmer, wetter place. In addition to having a thicker atmosphere, the planet was actually warm enough that flowing water could exist on the surface in the form of rivers, lakes, and even an ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere.
According to new research based on data collected by NASA’s Curiosity mission, it appears that the Gale Crater (where the rover has been exploring for the past eight years) experienced massive flooding roughly 4 billion years ago. These findings indicate that the mid-latitudes of Mars were also covered in water at one time and offers additional hints that the region once supported life.
Continue reading “At One Time, This Region of Mars was Inundated by a “Megaflood””
On February 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover will reach Mars, make a harrowing descent through the planet’s atmosphere, and put down in the Jezero Crater. Like it’s sister-rover, Curiosity, this robotic explorer will explore a region that once supported flowing water and poke around with an advanced suite of scientific instruments for signs of microscopic life that may have existed there billions of years ago.
This is no small feat, which is why the rover will be bringing along its Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). This precision instrument is located at the end of its 2-meter (7 foot) long arm and is powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The PIXL will play a pivotal role in Perseverance‘s mission, using a coring drill to obtain samples that will be cached on the surface that will be returned to Earth by a future mission.
People have been speculating about the possibility of life on Mars for centuries. But it’s only since the 1970s and the Viking 1 and 2 missions that we have been able to search for it. After many decades, evidence has mounted that Mars may have once supported life (like the existence of flowing water and organic molecules), but evidence of present-day life has remained elusive.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by an international team of scientists led by the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CSIC-INTA), it’s possible that the surface of Mars was bathed in acid and alkaline fluids that destroyed all evidence of past life. These findings could have serious implications for upcoming missions to Mars, which includes NASA’s Perseverance and the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover.
Continue reading “The Surface of Mars Might Have Gotten an Acid Bath, Obscuring Evidence of Past Life”
Do road trips actually require roads? Not if you’re NASA’s Curiosity rover, who is embarking on an extended 1 mile long road trip this summer up the side of Mount Sharp.
The rover will be moving between two “units” of Gale Crater, where it has been exploring since 2014. It’s wrapping up experiments in the “clay-bearing unit”, which resulted in the highest concentrations of clay found during the mission. It’s now moving to the “sulfate-bearing unit”, which is expected to contain an abundance of sulfates, such as gypsum and Epsom salts.
Continue reading “Curiosity Is Going To Spend Its Summer Driving Around a Dangerous Sandy Region on Mars”
Normally the images from NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently sitting near “Bloodstone Hill” on Mars, are of alien vistas and rock outcroppings that conspiracy theorists constantly try to anthropomorphize into UFOs. However, the rover is also excellently positioned to capture a unique perspective of an alien sky. And that is exactly what it did recently when it captured an image of both Venus and Earth in the same Martian night sky. The images were actually taken in two separate frames, though the two planets were visible in the sky at the same time.
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A future rover on Mars may include shape-shifting capabilities. This innovative tech won’t quite be like the liquid-metal polymorphing robot from “Terminator 2,” but will solve a problem that have plagued previous rovers: wheel wear and tear.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center is now using shape memory alloys (SMA) to build better wheels for driving on Mars.
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This summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. When it arrives on Mars (on February 18th, 2021), it will join the Curiosity rover and a host of other missions that are looking for evidence of past and present life on the Red Planet. At present, engineers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are conducting the final assembly of the rover in preparation for launch.
With less than 14 weeks to go before the mission’s launch period opens up, several important development milestones have been completed. This includes integrating the rover’s remaining components, like the rover’s six wheels and the small helicopter drone that will help explore the surface. These elements, and a slew of other final preparations, were integrated with the rover over the past few weeks.
Continue reading “Wheels and Helicopter Attached to Perseverance Rover”
Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity… For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?
NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!
Continue reading “Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance””