Chances are that you’ve seen images of Earth from space, thanks to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who regularly share stunning photos of our planet. These images provide us regularly with breathtaking views of cities, oceans, storms, eruptions, clouds, the curvature of the planet, and the way the atmosphere glows against the horizon. Thanks to NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which has been in orbit for over 22 years, we now have an equally breathtaking view of Mars from orbit that captured what its curvature and atmosphere look like from space.Continue reading “Odyssey Gives Us a Cool New View of Mars”
Space exploration is always changing. Before February 2021 there had never been a human made craft flying around in the atmosphere of another world (other than rocket propelled landers arriving or departing). The Mars Perseverance rover changed that, carrying with it what can only be described as a drone named Ingenuity. It revolutionised planetary exploration and now, China are getting in on the act with a proposed quadcopter for a Mars sample return mission.Continue reading “A Tiny Quadcopter Could Gather Rocks for China’s Sample Return Mission”
Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) have a long history of service in space exploration. Since the first was tested in space in 1961, RTGs have gone on to be used by 31 NASA missions, including the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages (ALSEPs) delivered by the Apollo astronauts to the lunar surface. RTGs have also powered the Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, the Ulysses mission to the Sun, Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Pioneer, Voyager, and New Horizons missions to the outer Solar System – which are currently in (or well on their way to) interstellar space.
In recent years, RTGs have allowed the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers to continue the search for evidence of past (and maybe present) life on Mars. In the coming years, these nuclear batteries will power more astrobiology missions, like the Dragonfly mission that will explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. In recent years, there has been concern that NASA was running low on Plutonium-238, the key component for RTGs. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently delivered a large shipment of plutonium oxide, putting it on track to realize its goal of regular production of the radioisotopic material.Continue reading “NASA is Getting the Plutonium it Needs for Future Missions”
After months of waiting, SpaceX made its second attempt at an orbital flight this past Saturday (November 18th). During their previous attempt, which occurred back in April, a fully-stacked Starship (SN24) and Super Heavy (BN7) prototypes managed to make it off the landing pad and reach an altitude of about 40 km (25 miles) above sea level. Unfortunately, the SN24 failed to separate from the BN7 booster a few minutes into the flight, causing the vehicle to fall into an uncontrolled tumble and forcing the ground teams to detonate the onboard charges.
Things went better this time as the SN25 and BN9 prototypes took off at about 7:00 AM local time (8:00 AM EDT; 05:00 AM PDT) from the Starbase launch complex. The SN25 successfully separated from its booster two minutes and fifty seconds later – at an altitude of 70 km (43 mi) – and reached an altitude of about 148 kilometers (92 miles), just shy of SpaceX’s goal of 150 km (~93 mi). However, the booster stage was lost about 30 seconds after separation, exploding over the Gulf of Mexico. The SN25 also exploded about eight minutes into the flight, reportedly because its flight termination system was activated.Continue reading “SpaceX Tested Its Starship Again. Successful Launch But Both Vehicles Were Destroyed”
On Earth, there is a phenomenon known as nightglow, where the atmosphere experiences faint light emissions that prevent the night sky from becoming completely dark. This is caused by various processes in the upper atmosphere, like the recombination of atoms, cosmic rays striking the atmosphere, or oxygen and nitrogen interacting with hydroxyl a few hundred kilometers from the surface. Thanks to data obtained by the ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the same phenomenon has been observed in the Martian atmosphere for the first time.
While scientists have long suspected that Mars also experiences this atmospheric phenomenon, this is the first time that effectively proves it. The revelation was made by an international team of scientists based on their analysis of data from the TGO’s Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery (NOMAD) spectrometer. When astronauts and rovers explore Mars’ polar regions in the near future, they will see a green glow whenever they look up at the sky and could even use the glow to navigate and find their way in the dark of night.Continue reading “Martian Green Nightglow Seen for the First Time”
Throughout the 20th century, multiple proposals have been made for the crewed exploration of Mars. These include the famed “Mars Project” by Werner von Braun, the “Mars Direct” mission architecture by Robert Zubrin and David Baker, NASA’s Mars Design Reference Mission studies, and SpaceX’s Mars & Beyond plan. By 2033, two space agencies (NASA and the CNSA) plan to commence sending crews and payloads to the Red Planet. These and other space agencies envision building bases there that could eventually lead to permanent settlements and the first “Martians.”
This presents several major challenges, not the least of which have to do with exposure to radiation, extreme temperatures, dust storms, low atmospheric pressure, and lower gravity. However, with the right strategies and technology, these challenges could be turned into opportunities for growth and innovation. In a recent paper, a Leiden University researcher offers a roadmap for a Martian settlement that leverages recent advancements in technology and offers solutions that emphasize sustainability, efficiency, and the well-being of the settlers.Continue reading “A Comprehensive Blueprint for the Settlement of Mars”
On August 30th, 2023, on the 899th Martian day (sol 899) of its mission, NASA’s Perseverance rover spotted a dust devil while exploring the Jezero Crater. The images taken by one of the rover’s Navigation Cameras (NavCams) were used to make a video (shown below), which is composed of 21 frames taken four seconds apart and sped up 20 times. Similar to small, short-lived whirlwinds on Earth, these vertical columns of wind form when pockets of hot air near the surface rise quickly through cooler air above it. By studying them, scientists hope to learn more about Mars’ atmosphere and improve their weather models.Continue reading “Perseverance Watches a Dust Devil Whirl Past”
A recent study published in Nature examines how mud cracks observed on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover could provide insight into how life on the Red Planet could have formed in its ancient past. On Earth, mud cracks have traditionally been linked to cycles of wet and dry environments that assisted in developing the complex processes responsible for microbial life to take hold. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to help scientists better understand the geological and chemical processes that might have existed in Mars’ ancient past, up to billions of years ago.Continue reading “Ancient Cracked Mud Found on Mars”
While the surface of Mars looks relatively unchanging now, it wasn’t always so. The tallest mountain in the Solar System is Olympus Mons, a giant shield volcano on Mars that reaches 21.9 km (13.6 miles) high, 2.5 times higher than Mount Everest here on Earth. Ancient lava flows surround the volcanic caldera, evidence of an active time.
New images from ESA’s Mars Express show how these lava flows created extremely sharp cliffs, as high as 7 km (4.3 miles) in some areas, which suddenly collapsed in mind-boggling landslides. One of these landslides occurred several 100 million years ago when a chunk of the volcano broke off and spread across the surrounding plains. If we could look back in time and see as it happened, it was certainly a very dramatic and turbulent epoch on Mars.Continue reading “Over 100 Million Years Ago, Olympus Mons Had a Massive Landslide”
It is a scientific certainty that Mars was once a much different place, with a denser atmosphere, warmer temperatures, and where water once flowed. Evidence of this past is preserved in countless surface features, ranging from river channels and alluvial deposits to lakebeds. However, roughly 4 billion years ago, the planet began to change into what we see today, an extremely cold and desiccated environment. Between all that, it is possible Mars experienced glacial and interglacial periods, which is evidenced by images like the one taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shown above.Continue reading “This Sure Looks Like the Movements of a Glacier Across Ancient Mars”