Planetary Scientists Continue to Puzzle Over the Mysterious Slope Streaks on Mars. Liquid? Sand? What’s Causing Them?

Since they were first observed in the 1970s by the Viking missions, the slope streaks that periodically appear along slopes on Mars have continued to intrigue scientists. After years of study, scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes them. While some believe that “wet” mechanisms are the culprit, others think they are the result of “dry” mechanisms.

Luckily, improvements in high-resolution sensors and imaging capabilities – as well as improved understanding of Mars’ seasonal cycles – is bringing us closer to an answer. Using a terrestrial analog from Bolivia, a research team from Sweden recently conducted a study that explored the mechanisms for streak formation and suggest that wet mechanisms appear to account for more, which could have serious implications for future missions to Mars.

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Weekly Space Hangout: Jan 9, 2019 – Lucianne Walkowicz

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

This week’s guest Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz is an Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. She studies stellar magnetic activity and how stars influence a planet’s suitability as a host for alien life. She is also an artist and works in a variety of media, from oil paint to sound.

Dr. Walkowicz holds a B.S. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University, and a M.S. and Ph. D. from University of Washington. She was the Kepler Fellow at UC Berkeley, and the Henry Norris Russell Fellow at Princeton University, before joining the Astronomy Department at Adler Planetarium in 2014. She is a 2012 TED Senior Fellow, a 2011 National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow, and has been internationally recognized for her advocacy for conservation of dark night skies.

From October 2017 to October 2018, Dr. Walkowicz served as the fifth Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.

Additionally, you may have seen in numerous episodes of the documentary The Universe, as well as the current National Geographic series, Mars.

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Still no Word from Opportunity

Opportunity rover looks south from the top of Perseverance Valley along the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars in this partial self portrait including the rover deck and solar panels. Perseverance Valley descends from the right and terminates down near the crater floor. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4736 (20 May 2017) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Could this be the end of the Opportunity rover? There’s been no signal from the rover since last summer, when a massive global dust storm descended on it. But even though the craft has been silent and unreachable for six-and-a-half months, NASA hasn’t given up.

When Opportunity landed at Meridiani Planum on Mars in January 2004, it’s planned mission length was only 90 days. Since that day, which seems so long ago now, 15 years have passed, and over one billion people have been born on Earth. Six months ago, the rover stopped working, maybe for good. So by every measure, Opportunity has been a stunning success.

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InSight Just Placed its Seismometer onto the Surface of Mars to Listen for Marsquakes

NASA's Mars InSight lander has deployed its seismometer on the surface of Mars, marking an important milestone for the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight lander has deployed its first instrument on the surface of Mars. On December 19th, the stationary lander used its robotic arm to deploy the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), marking the first time a seismometer has been placed on the surface of another planet. This is a milestone for the mission, and one that comes well ahead of schedule.

InSight landed on Mars at Elysium Planitia on November 26th. Since then, it’s been checking out its immediate surroundings with its cameras to find the perfect spot to deploy the seismometer, and its other deployable instrument, the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package.) Mission planners allocated several weeks for instrument site selection, so this is well ahead of schedule.
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Of Course You’ll Want to See InSight’s First Selfie.

InSight's first full selfie on Mars. The selfie was taken on Dec. 6th, and is a mosaic of 11 images taken with its Instrument Deployment Camera on the elbow of its robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight has been on the Martian surface for almost three weeks, prepping itself for all the science it’s going to do. But in the meantime, it’s doing what any self-respecting, modern robotic lander does: Taking pictures of itself. And now NASA has released InSight’s first selfie for all the lander’s adoring fans and Instagram followers.

InSight is on Mars to study the interior of the rocky planet, and provide clues into how rocky planets form, both here in our Solar System, and in distant systems. It’s got a suite of instruments to do that with, including a device that will drill 5m (16 ft.) deep into the planet to measure how heat flows through the core of Mars. But it’s taking a cautious approach to that, using its time wisely to select the perfect spot to deploy its instruments.

In the meantime, holiday snaps!

Continue reading “Of Course You’ll Want to See InSight’s First Selfie.”

InSight Uses its Seismometer to “Hear” the Sound of Wind on Mars

Just two weeks ago, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander touched down on the surface of Mars. In the hours that followed, mission controllers at NASA-JPL received confirmation that the lander had deployed its solar arrays and was commencing scientific operations.

And in what was sure to be a treat for space exploration enthusiasts, the lander recently provided the first ever experience of what it “sounds” like to be on Mars. The sounds were caught by an air pressure sensor inside the lander and the seismometer instrument that is awaiting deployment to the surface. Together, they recorded the low rumble caused by Martian winds that blew around the lander’s location on Dec. 1st.

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InSight’s Robot Arm is Ready to go to Work

This image was taken by the InSight Lander's Instrument Deployment Camera mounted on the lander's robotic arm. The stowed grapple on the end of the arm is folded in, but it will unfold and be used to deploy the lander's science instrument. The copper-colored hexagonal object is the protective cover for the seismometer, and the grey dome behind it is a wind and thermal shield, which will be placed over the seismometer after its deployed. The black cyliner on the left is the heat probe, which will drill up to 5 meters into the Martian surface. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some new images sent home by the InSight Lander show the robotic arm and the craft’s instruments waiting on deck, on the surface of Mars. The lander is still having its systems tested, and isn’t quite ready to get to work. It’ll use its arm to deploy its science instruments, including a drill that will penetrate up to 5 meters (16 ft.) deep into the Martian surface.

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One of the Most Exciting Parts of InSight is Actually the Tiny Cubesats Tagging Along for the Ride and Their Role in the Mission

Yesterday, NASA’s Mars InSight lander successfully touched down on the Martian surface after spending seven long months in space. Over the course of the next few hours, the lander began the surface operations phase of its mission, which involved deploying its solar arrays. The lander also managed to take some pictures of the surface, which showed the region where it will be studying Mars’ interior for the next two years.

In the midst of all that, another major accomplishment received only passing attention. This was the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission, an experiment conducted by NASA to see if two experimental CubeSats could survive the trip to deep space. Not only did these satellites survive the journey, they managed to relay communications from the lander and even took some pictures of their own.

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InSight Deploys its Solar Cells, Prepared for Surface Operations on Mars!

Yesterday, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander reached Mars after a seven months journey. NASA broadcast the landing live, showing the mission control team eagerly watching as the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere and began the nail-biting entry, descent and landing (EDL) process.

At exactly 11:52:29 am PST (2:52:59 pm EST) mission controllers received a signal via the Mars Cube One (MarCO) satellites that the lander had successfully touched down. About a minute later, InSight began to conduct surface operations, which involved the deployment of its solar arrays and prepping its instruments for research.

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InSight Lander Touches Down! Begins Mission to Unlock the Secrets of Mars

On of May 5th, 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base atop an Atlas V rocket. Over the next seven months, the mission traveled some 458 million km (300 mi) to Mars for the sake of studying its deep interior and learn how this planet – and all the other terrestrial planets of the Solar System (like Earth) – formed.

At 11:47 am PST (2:47 pm EST), after a seven month journey, NASA’s InSight Lander entered the Martian atmosphere to begin the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of its mission. Over the course of the next five minutes, the mission controllers at NASA-JPL watched eagerly as the spacecraft went through the careful process of conducting a textbook landing.

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