We’re Constantly Battling Invasive Species Here on Earth. What Does That Teach us About Infecting Other Worlds With Earth Life?

When Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins returned from the Moon in the summer of 1969, they spent three weeks isolated in quarantine to make sure that they hadn’t brought back any microbial lifeforms from the Moon, which could prove harmful to Earth life. Later, once the Moon had been unequivocally proved to be a dead world, future Apollo missions were allowed to skip quarantine. Elsewhere in the solar system, however, NASA still has to take planetary biosecurity seriously, because life could be out there. If we bring it back to Earth, it could be a danger to us and our ecosystems. Conversely, microbial Earth life could invade a fragile alien ecosystem, destroying a newly discovered lifeform before we have the chance to study it. Imagine discovering life on Mars, only to realize that it was life we had brought there with us.

Continue reading “We’re Constantly Battling Invasive Species Here on Earth. What Does That Teach us About Infecting Other Worlds With Earth Life?”

Communication With Mars is About to Become Impossible (for two Weeks)

Every two years, Mars enters what is known as a “Solar Conjunction,” where its orbit takes it behind the Sun relative to Earth. During these periods, the hot plasma regularly expelled by the Sun’s corona can cause interference with radio signals transmitted between Earth and Mars. To avoid signal corruption and the unexpected behaviors that could result, NASA and other space agencies declare a moratorium on communications for two weeks.

What this means is that between Oct. 2nd and Oct. 16th, all of NASA’s Mars missions will experiencing what is known as a “commanding moratorium.” This will consist of NASA sending a series of simple commands to its missions in orbit, which will then be dispatched to landers and rovers on the surface. These simple tasks will keep all of the robotic Martian explorers busy until regular communications can be established.

Continue reading “Communication With Mars is About to Become Impossible (for two Weeks)”

Thanks to Ingenuity’s Pictures, Perseverance Knows Where to Drive to Next

The Perseverance rover now has a new tool to help scientists and engineers figure out where the rover goes next. The new tool is the little rotorcraft that was tucked away in the rover’s belly, the Ingenuity helicopter. Ingenuity has now started doing aerial surveys to scout ahead for Perseverance.

Continue reading “Thanks to Ingenuity’s Pictures, Perseverance Knows Where to Drive to Next”

Perseverance Begins its Science on Mars With a Laser zap

Perseverance has already made its mark on scientific history by taking the first audio recording ever on Mars.  But the instrument with the microphone, known as the SuperCam, wasn’t done there.  It has plenty of other science to do, and recently it started running through some more preliminary tests.  One of those tests happened to involve blasting a rock with a laser – while taking an audio recording of it.

Continue reading “Perseverance Begins its Science on Mars With a Laser zap”

More Audio from Perseverance: the Crunch of its Wheels on the Martian Regolith

In absence of (yet) being able to step foot on Mars, we have robotic vicarious experiences through our rovers including Perseverance which landed this past February 18th. In addition to photos we’ve collected from the surface over the decades, our ever-improving data connection to Mars made it possible to see video from Perseverance’s landing. That dramatic unfurl of the parachute and dust spray of the landing thrusters – astonishing! I’m not ashamed to admit I cried. Through Perseverance we’re also experiencing Mars exploration with another sense – SOUND! Sound from another planet!! Using Perseverance’s Entry, Descent, and Landing Microphone (EDL Mic) we recently recorded audio of Perseverance’s wheels rolling across the Martian regolith (broken rocks and dust or “soil”). The audio segment below is an edited portion of sound highlights from a longer 16 minute raw audio file.

NASA engineers combined three segments from the raw audio file recorded while the Perseverance Mars rover rolled across a section of Jezero Crater on sol 16 of the mission. Sections 0:20-0:45, 6:40-7:10, and 14:30-15:00 were combined into this 90-second highlight clip. There has been processing and editing to filter out some of the noise.
C. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Continue reading “More Audio from Perseverance: the Crunch of its Wheels on the Martian Regolith”

Dust Particles in the Martian Atmosphere can Create Static Electricity, but not Enough to Endanger the Rovers

Lightning is one of the most powerful forces in nature.  Up to 1 billion volts of electricity can flow into a strike in less than a second.  Such a large energy buildup can be created by even a relatively simple cause – two particles rubbing together.  A team at the University of Oregon has now studied whether those simple interactions might cause lightning on a place it hasn’t been seen before – on Mars.

Continue reading “Dust Particles in the Martian Atmosphere can Create Static Electricity, but not Enough to Endanger the Rovers”

Thanks to Perseverance, We’re Finally Going to Hear What Mars Sounds Like

Many consider the various rovers we’ve sent to Mars as the next best thing to sending a geologist to the Red Planet. Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have carried all the necessary equipment similar to what human geologists use on Earth, and are able to navigate the terrain, “see” the landscape with the various cameras, pick up rock and dust samples with scoops, and then analyze them with various onboard tools and equipment.

In addition to all those things, the new Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will add a “sense of hearing” to its robotic toolkit. The rover includes a pair of microphones to let us hear – for the first time – what Mars really sounds like.

Continue reading “Thanks to Perseverance, We’re Finally Going to Hear What Mars Sounds Like”

The Driest Place on Earth Could Help Predict How Life Might be Surviving on Mars

In the next few years, Mars will be visited by three new rovers, the Perseverance, Tianwen-1, and Rosalind Franklin missions. Like their predecessors – Pathfinder and Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity – these robotic missions will explore the surface, searching for evidence of past and present life. But even after years of exploring, an important question remains: where is the best place to look?

To date, all attempts to find evidence of life on the surface have yielded nothing, owing to the fact that the Martian environment is extremely cold, desiccated, and irradiated. According to a new study by an international team of researchers led by Cornell University and the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, the Atacama desert in the mountains of Chile could hold the answer.

Continue reading “The Driest Place on Earth Could Help Predict How Life Might be Surviving on Mars”