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””
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”
NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover is heading to Mars soon to look for fossils. The ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars rover is heading to Mars in the same time-frame to carry out its own investigations into Martian habitability. To meet their mission objectives, the scientists working the missions will need to look at a lot of rocks and uncover and understand the clues those rocks hold.
To help those scientists prepare for the daunting task of analyzing and understanding Martian rocks from 160 million km (100 million miles) away, they’ve gone on a field trip to Australia to study stromatolites.
Continue reading “Scientists Search for Ancient Fossils in Australia, Practicing the Techniques They’ll Use on Mars”
Back in November 2018, NASA announced that the Mars 2020 rover would land in the Jezero Crater. Jezero Crater is a geologically diverse area, with an alluvial fan of sediment deposited by an incoming river. That sediment may contain preserved ancient organic molecules, and the deposit is clearly visible in satellite images of the Crater.
But the crater holds something else that has scientists intrigued, something that doesn’t show up so clearly in visible light images: a “bathtub ring” of carbonates, which scientists think could hold fossils.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Rover is Going to a Place on Mars That’s Perfect for Preserving Fossils”
Work on the Mars 2020 Rover is heating up as the July/August 2020 launch date approaches. Mission engineers just attached the Mars Helicopter to the belly of the rover, where it will make the journey to Mars. Both the solar-powered helicopter and the Mars Helicopter Delivery System are now attached to the rover.
NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The small rotor-craft only weighs 1.8 kg (4 lbs.) and is made of lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aluminum. It’s largely a technology demonstration mission, and is important to NASA. The overall mission for the Mars 2020 rover won’t depend on the helicopter, but NASA hopes to learn a lot about how to proceed with aircraft on future missions by putting the Mars helicopter through its paces on Mars.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Rover Gets its Helicopter Sidekick”
NASA has pioneered the development of all kinds of robots and robotic systems. Beyond its0 orbiters and satellites, which have been exploring the planets and bodies of the Solar System for decades, there’s also the growing army of landers and rovers that have been exploring planetary surfaces. Aboard the ISS, they even have floating robots (like CIMON) and humanoid robot helpers – a la Robonaut and Robonaut 2.
Looking to the future, NASA hopes to build robots that can do even more. While the current generation of rovers can drive across the plains and craters of Mars, what if they could explore cliffs, polar ice caps and other hard-to-reach places? That is the purpose behind the Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR) that is currently being developed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Continue reading “NASA is Building Robots That Can Climb Rock and Ice Cliffs”
For centuries, scientists have speculated about the existence of life on Mars. But it was only within the past 15 years that the search for life (past and present) really began to heat up. It was at this time that methane, an organic molecule that is associated with many forms of life here on Earth (i.e. a “biosignature”) was detected in Mars’ atmosphere.
Since that time, attempts to study Mars’ atmospheric methane have produced varying results. In some cases, methane has been found that was several times its normal concentrations; in others, it was absent. Seeking to answer this mystery, an interdisciplinary team from Aarhus University recently conducted a study where they investigated a possible mechanism for the removal of methane from Mars’ atmosphere.
Continue reading “Where Does Mars’ Methane Go? New Study Provides Possible Answer, with Implications in the Search for Life.”
A little over a year from now, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will launch for Cape Canaveral and begin its journey to the Red Planet. When it arrives, in February 2021, it will begin exploring the Jezero Crater to learn more about Mars’ past and search for evidence of past and present life. But before that happens, this robotic explorer still needs a proper name.
Like its predecessors, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, the Mars 2020 rover will get its official name with the help of a nationwide contest. Towards this end, NASA recently announced that it has partnered with two organizations to give K-12 students all across the US a chance to name the rover that will continue in the search for life and pave the way for humans to begin exploring Mars.
Continue reading “Of Course Mars 2020 is Going to Get a New Name. NASA is Looking for Judges for an Upcoming Naming Contest”
NASA’s next mission to the surface of Mars is called the 2020 rover (in case you didn’t know already.) It’s planned launch date is July 17th, 2020, and it should land at Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18th 2021. The rover is still under construction at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.
Continue reading “You Can Use a Live Webcam to Watch NASA Build the Mars 2020 Rover”
We’ve learned a lot about Mars in recent years. Multiple orbiters and hugely-successful rover missions have delivered a cascade of discoveries about our neighbouring planet. But to take the next step in unlocking Mars’ secrets, we need to get Martian samples back to Earth.
Continue reading “How Will NASA and ESA Handle Mars Samples When They Get Them Back to Earth?”