Groovin’ to the Latest Images from Mars

The folks from the HiRISE Camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have put together a video with some groovin’ music of the latest images from the Red Planet, courtesy of HiRISE, the bestest camera in all of Marsdom. There’s an elliptical impact crater, giant gullies, sinuous ridges and a Swiss Cheese smiley face. No foolin’!

Latest From Mars: Frosty Landscapes, Ancient Lakebed, Potential Landing Site

Richardson Crater Dunes, Partially Defrosted. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A new batch of images has been released by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissaince Orbiter and –as usual — they are stunning. In the image above, there is a lot going on! Numerous dust devil tracks have left their criss-crossing marks on the dune field found in Richardson Crater. The dunes are covered by seasonal carbon dioxide frost, which has only partially defrosted, although the image was acquired late in Mars’ southern spring. There are channels carved into the ground and HiRISE scientists says the could have been created by blocks of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) slide down the slope and sublimate (evaporate directly from solid to gas). Wouldn’t that be fun to be there and watch happen!

See more of the “coolest” and latest Mars images from HiRISE below:

Continue reading “Latest From Mars: Frosty Landscapes, Ancient Lakebed, Potential Landing Site”

Rock Bridge on Mars


The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took an image of a thin channel, and a portion of it contains a naturally occurring bridge over the chasm. Kelly Kolb from the HiRISE team says it is probably a remnant of the original surface, the rest of which has collapsed downward. It isn’t likely there’s a opening underneath the formation, but if there were, it would look very similar to a rock bridge formation found in Jordan in the Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon. See an image below.

Kolb also said this is unlikely to be a channel formed by a running water, as there are no obvious source or deposit regions. The channel is probably a just a collapse feature.

And see the full HiRISE image of the thin channel, found in Mars northern hemisphere between some “knobs” called Tartarus Colles, below.

Any chance the Mars rockbridge could look like this one in Wadi Rum, Jordan -- also known as the Valley of the Moon?
Small Winding Channel in Tartarus Colles. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

For more information about this image on Mars, see the HiRISE website.

More Recent Landslides Spotted on Mars


Thanks to the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter and the on-board HiRISE camera, scientists are able to monitor Mars for changes taking place on the landscape. They do this by comparing older images with newer ones, and also by seeing “fresh” features — like this recent landslide in Zunil Crater. “The color and albedo patterns indicate that a landslide occurred here very recently–too recently to have been re-covered by dust,” writes Alfred McEwen, principal investigator of HiRISE, writing on the camera’s website. “Looking for changes such as this will help us to better understand active processes.” McEwen said the landslide could have been triggered by a Marsquake or a small impact event.”

See more recent landslides below:

This landslide was spotted by Stu Atkinson; boulders and debris are below a steep north polar boundary scarp. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Our ‘eagle-eyed’ pal Stuart Atkinson found this landslide on a steep scarp in the north polar region. It looks as though a lot of rock has fallen from the cliff, and discussion among other image artists on indicated that the blue areas could easily be patches of ice deposited from the cliff face. You can see the original image at the HiRISE website.

Frosted Gullies in the Northern Summer. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This image is so amazing, in that from orbit, we are looking down the side of a crater wall, where gullies have formed. There are two schools of thought on these types of gullies: one, many scientists believe that these gullies have been carved by liquid water, and were carved recently, so this recent, present-day activity is of immense interest.

A second opinion is that accumulations of frost in the gully alcoves starts an avalanche of loose material that does not involve liquid water. The MRO scientists will continue to analyze many images like this in order to try and answer the broader question of whether liquid water is responsible for the the gullies, landslides and avalanches or not.

andslides along the Walls of Bahram Vallis. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This image of Bahram Vallis has large mounds of material at the base of the valley floor. These deposits of material have the characteristic shape of rotational landslides or slumps on Earth where material along the entire wall slumps down and piles debris at the base of the slope, “much like a person who slumps down the back of a chair,” writes Frank Chuang from the HiRISE team. “Right at the cliff edge at the top of the slope, the shape of the area where the valley wall gave way to a landslide is not straight, but rather curved or semi-circular. This is typical of large landslides where the failure area has an arcuate “crown” shape. The fact that landslides have occurred here indicates that the valley walls are not stable and the materials respond to Martian gravity with mass movements.”

See more images at the HiRISE website.

Best Class Project Ever: 7th Graders Find a Cave on Mars


Tip number one on “How to impress your classmates:” Find a mysterious cave on Mars. A group of 16 seventh-graders at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, California, USA found a dark pit that appears to be an opening to a cave on Mars. Dennis Mitchell’s science class were examining Martian lava tubes as their project in the Mars Student Imaging Program offered by NASA and Arizona State University, which takes advantage of the huge database of images taken by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The students found the skylight pit on the slope of an equatorial volcano named Pavonis Mons, and it appears to be an entrance to an underground lava tube. Similar ‘cave skylight’ features have been found elsewhere on Mars, but this is the first seen on this volcano.

“The students developed a research project focused on finding the most common locations of lava tubes on Mars,” Mitchell said. “Do they occur most often near the summit of a volcano, on its flanks or the plains surrounding it?”

Mitchell said he and his students have been surprised how much interest there has been nation-wide in their discovery. “They were kind of shocked about the interest, and I think that they are just now starting to realize that they made a pretty neat discovery.”

The imaging program allows students in upper elementary grades through to college to participate in Mars research by having them develop a geological question to answer, and then directing the teams for the Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question. Since MSIP began in 2004, more than 50,000 students have participated.

Now, because of this find, the HiRISE high resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will take follow-up images of the pit to provide a better look at the object. HiRISE can image the surface at about 30 centimeters (12 inches) per pixel, which may allow a look inside the hole in the ground. This is part of the HiWISH program, where the public can submit suggestions to the science team for locations on Mars to the camera to image.

“It gives the students a good understanding of the way research is conducted and how that research can be important for the scientific community. This has been a wonderful experience,” Mitchell said.”

“Yeah it was a lot of fun because it wasn’t like any other science that we did, because we actually got to interact with real scientists instead of just people out of the book and stuff,” said 13-year-old Kody Rulofson, one of the students in Mitchell’s class.

Kody’s mother, Doni Rulofson said Kody and his twin brother Chase, also in the class, are inspired by the experience they had finding the cave. “They’re excited. They’re just beyond belief, they’re like, ‘we knew it was something really cool but we had no idea it was this much of an interest to NASA.'”

Odyssey has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2001, returning data and images of the Martian surface and providing relay communications service for Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Find out more about Odyssey here.

MRO has been in orbit since 2006, and has also amassed a huge database of images, which can be seen here.

Source: NASA

New Images Suggest More Recent Lakes on Mars

Image of a channel between putative lakes from the Context Camera (CTX) onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Modern Mars is frigid and dry, but new evidence suggests that in some locations on the equator there may have been lakes as recently as 3 billion years ago.

Researchers from Imperial College London and University College London studied images from the context camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of several flat-floored depressions in Ares Vallis, near the martian equator.

Previously these depressions were thought to be due to the collapse of the surface as ground ice sublimated directly to gas, but CTX images reveal small channels connecting the depressions, suggesting that water flowed between them. Similar features can be found in “thermokarst” landscapes in Alaska and elsewhere, where permafrost is melting to create lakes and streams.

To determine the age of the features, the scientists counted more than 35,000 craters in the area. Assuming that the current surface was continuously exposed to impacts from space since it was emplaced, the density of craters points to an age of roughly three billion years.

Previously, it was thought that Mars dried up between 4 and 3.8 billion years ago, but if the cratering age from this study is correct, these new results suggest at least brief periods later in martian history when lakes could exist.

The lead author, Dr Nicholas Warner, from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “Most of the research on Mars has focused on its early history and the recent past. Scientists had largely overlooked the Hesperian Epoch as it was thought that Mars was then a frozen wasteland. Excitingly, our study now shows that this middle period in Mars’ history was much more dynamic than we previously thought.”

It is not clear how long-lived the lakes were, but Warner and colleagues suggest that they may have served as oases for life in an otherwise inhospitable world. They also suggest that these lakes would be an interesting landing site for future robotic missions.

What’s the next step? The researchers plan to study other equatorial areas, including the mouth of Ares Vallis and Chryse Planitia to see how widespread the putative lakes were.

Cold as Hell with a Chance of Dust Storms: Weather Movies from Mars

If you think about it, those hypnotizing patterns of swirling clouds you see in TV weather reports are pretty amazing: satellites let us see what’s happening in the skies all over the world. But these days, that kind of global vision even goes beyond the Earth. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter makes daily weather observations of the Red Planet, and mission scientists regularly compile the pictures into movies that are available online. The result is that anyone can follow along as fierce dust storms rage across the plains of Mars, clouds cling to the peaks of towering volcanoes and polar ice advances and retreats.

On board the MRO is a wide-angle camera called the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) that scans the face of Mars in both visible and ultraviolet light. MARCI views Mars from pole to pole, snapping dozens of images every day that are combined into a global map with resolution comparable to weather satellites at home.

This daily weather report helps Mars explorers understand day-to-day events, as well as seasonal and annual changes on the Red Planet. Sometimes the weather watch also gives rover drivers a crucial warning when a storm might be headed in the direction of Spirit or Opportunity.

The weather images can be striking and intriguing. This animation shows the south pole of Mars during a period of about a month earlier this year, when storms raged along the retreating edge of frost in the polar cap. You can see giant, swirling clouds of dust, as well as the changing shape of the cap as it shrinks with the approach of Summer.

Malin Space Science Systems is the firm that built and operates MARCI for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They post weekly movies that show a spinning, global view of the most recent Martian weather. You never know what you’ll see each week, but a careful look often turns up water ice clouds, wind storms or the giant canyon Valles Marineris filled to the brim with dust.

The descriptions that Malin scientists write to accompany each movie are fascinating. They sound both as exotic as a science fiction novel–and as routine as your local weatherman’s report on the evening news. One sample:

“A large dust storm moved south down the Acidalia/Chryse/Xanthe corridor, partially spilling into eastern Valles Marineris at the beginning of the week. From there the storm moved over Thaumasia and Argyre, picking up intensity as it moved into the subtropics of Aonia and Icaria/Daedalia… Dust storms and water-ice clouds also formed in the northern mid-latitudes, with more notable activity occurring over Deuteronilus and Utopia. The increased amount of dust activity on the planet has created a haze that lingers in the atmosphere and has caused skies over both Opportunity and Spirit to be hazy during the past week.”

That’s why Mars fascinates. It’s an alien world that in some ways is tantalizing similar to home.

MARCI will be turned back on in early December after a hiatus of a few months. Previous weather movies are still online.

Mars Reconnissance Orbiter Goes Into Safe Mode Again

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter put itself into a safe mode Wednesday morning, Aug. 26, for the fourth time this year. While in safe mode, the spacecraft can communicate normally with Earth, but aborts its scheduled activities, and awaits further instructions from ground controllers. “We hope to gain a better understanding of what is triggering these events and then have the spacecraft safely resume its study of Mars by next week,” said MRO Project Manager Jim Erickson.

Engineers have begun the process of diagnosing the problem prior to restoring the orbiter to normal science operations, a process expected to take several days. They will watch for engineering data from the spacecraft that might aid in identifying the cause of event and possibly of previous ones.

A possible cause for the frequent anomalies is cosmic ray hits. But the spacecraft has reacted differently with the various safe mode entries. The orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer Wednesday, as it did in February and June, but did not switch to a redundant computer, as it did in early August.

To help in investigating a root cause of the three previous anomalies, engineers had programmed the spacecraft to frequently record engineering data onto non-volatile memory. That could give an improved record of spacecraft events leading up to the reboot.

MRO has been in Mars orbit since 2006, and has returned more data than all other current and past Mars missions combined.

Source: JPL