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””
The Curiosity rover on Mars has captured the most detailed panoramic image ever taken of the Red Planet’s surface. The image is made from over 1,000 images, containing 1.8 billion pixels of the Martian landscape, with 2.43 GB of high-resolution planetary goodness.
“This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
Continue reading “Curiosity’s Latest Mars Panorama, Captured in 1.8 Billion Glorious Pixels”
This summer, between mid-July and early August, the Mars 2020 rover will launch, reaching Mars by February of 2021. Once it touched down in the Jezero Crater, it will carry on in the footsteps of its predecessor – the Curiosity rover. This will include searching for evidence of Mars’ past habitability and the possible existence of life (past and present), as well as a sample-return mission.
To accomplish these tasks, the Mars 2020 rover will be relying on an advanced suite of instruments. One of these is the SuperCam, which includes a camera, a laser, and spectrometers and is mounted to the rover’s mast (or “head”). Once operational, this instrument will be used to study the chemistry and mineralogy of Martian rocks and (with any luck) find evidence of fossilized microbial life on Mars.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Will be The Third Time That NASA Has Tried to Send a Microphone to Mars”
Article updated at 3:40 pm CST, 1/24/20.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover experienced a technical glitch last week, causing it to temporarily lose its sense of direction and freeze in its tracks. But the talented rover repair team back on Earth enabled a fix, and Curiosity is now back in action.
Continue reading “A Glitch Caused Curiosity to Freeze in Place. But It’s Better Now”
For fans and enthusiasts of space exploration, the name Kevin Gill ought to be a familiar one. As a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who specializes in data visualization and analysis, he has a long history of bringing space exploration to life through imagery. Among his most recent offerings is a very interesting pic taken by the Curiosity rover early in its mission.
Continue reading “Curiosity Looked up and Saw Phobos During the Daytime”
This coming July, the Mars 2020 rover will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and begin its journey to the Red Planet. After it touches down in the Jezero Crater, the rover will commence science operations similar to what Curiosity has been doing since 2012. This will consist of driving over rough terrain, sampling the atmosphere, collecting drill samples, and subjecting them to chemical analysis.
In order to get it ready for this mission, the engineering team over at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are putting the rover through its paces. On Oct. 8th, this included placing the full weight of the rover on its legs and wheels for the first time ever. This event, which was tantamount to an infant standing for the very first time, was captured with a time-lapse video that you can see below.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Stands Up on its Wheels For The First Time”
What happened to Mars? If Mars and Earth were once similar, as scientists think, what happened to all the water? Did there used to be enough to support life?
Thanks to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, we’re getting a better picture of ancient Mars and what it went through billions of years ago. A new study published in Nature Geoscience says that Mars likely underwent alternating periods of wet and dry, before becoming the frigid, dry desert it is now. Or at least, Gale Crater did.
Continue reading “Curiosity Finds A Region of Ancient Dried Mud. It Could Have Been an Oasis Billions of Year Ago”
Since it landed on Mars in 2012, one of the main scientific objectives of the Curiosity rover has been finding evidence of past (or even present) life on the Red Planet. In 2014, the rover may have accomplished this very thing when it detected a tenfold increase in atmospheric methane in its vicinity and found traces of complex organic molecules in drill samples while poking around in the Gale Crater.
About a year ago, Curiosity struck pay dirt again when it found organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks located near the surface of lower Mount Sharp. But last week, the Curiosity rover made an even more profound discovery when it detected the largest amount of methane ever measured on the surface of Mars – about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv).
Continue reading “Curiosity Sniffs a Spike in Methane. Could it be a Sign of Life?”
Next summer, NASA will be sending it’s Mars 2020 rover to the Red Planet. In addition to being the second rover to go as part of the Mars Exploration Program, it will be one of eight functioning missions exploring the atmosphere and surface of the planet. These include the recently-arrived InSight lander, the Curiosity rover – Mars 2020s sister-mission – and
the Opportunity rover (which NASA recently lost contact with and retired).
As the launch date gets closer and closer, NASA is busily making all the final preparations for this latest member of the Mars exploration team. In addition to selecting a name (which will be selected from an essay contest), this includes finalizing the spacecraft that will take the rover on its seven-month journey to Mars. Recently, NASA posted images of the spacecraft being inspected at NASA JPL’s Space Simulator Facility (SFF) in Pasadena, California.
Continue reading “Don’t Forget, Curiosity’s Sister Rover is Flying to Mars in 2020”
As part of National Geographic Live, Chief Engineer Kobie Boykins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been touring the world of late. As part of the program’s goal of having featured speakers share their behind-the-scenes stories, Boykins has been showcasing the accomplishments of NASA’s Mars robotic exploration programs – of which he played a major role.
This week, his tour brought him to my hometown, where he delivered a presentation to a packed house at the Royal Theatre here in of Victoria, BC. Titled “Exploring Mars”, Boykins shared personal stories of what it was like to be an integral part of the team that created the Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Mars 2020 rovers. I had the honor of attending the event, and being able to do a little Q&A with him after the show.
Continue reading “NASA Senior Engineer Kobie Boykins talks About Exploring Mars. And I was There to See it!”