A Martian Meteorite Contains Organic Compounds. The Raw Ingredients for Life?

Martian meteorite Tissint. (Image Credit: Dr. Ludovic Ferriere (study co-author); Natural History Museum Vienna)

In a recent study published in Sciences Advances, an international team of scientists led by the Technical University of Munich examined the Martian meteorite Tissint, which fell near the village of Tissint, Morocco, on July 18, 2011, with pieces of the meteorite found as far as approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the village. What makes Tissint intriguing is the presence of a “huge organic diversity”, as noted in the study, which could help scientists better understand if life ever existed on Mars, and even the geologic history of Earth, as well.

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Europe Will be Building the Transfer Arm for the Mars Sample Return Mission

The concept for a Mars lander with a Sample Transfer Arm to retrieve and bring samples of Mars dirt and rocks to Earth. Credit: ESA.

Now that the Perseverance rover has dropped off ten regolith and rock sample tubes for a future sample return mission to retrieve, the plans for such a mission are coming together. The mission is a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency, and ESA has agreed to build a 2.5-meter-long robotic arm to pick up tubes and then transfer them to a rocket for the first-ever Mars samples to be brought to Earth.

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Study Shows How Cells Could Help Artemis Astronauts Exercise

NASA’s Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a module based on Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV). Credit: NASA

In 2033, NASA and China plan to send the first crewed missions to Mars. These missions will launch every two years when Earth and Mars are at the closest points in their orbits (Mars Opposition). It will take these missions six to nine months to reach the Red Planet using conventional technology. This means that astronauts could spend up to a year and a half in microgravity, followed by months of surface operations in Martian gravity (roughly 40% of Earth gravity). This could have drastic consequences for astronaut health, including muscle atrophy, bone density loss, and psychological effects.

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts maintain a strict exercise regimen to mitigate these effects. However, astronauts will not have the same option while in transit to Mars since their vehicles (the Orion spacecraft) have significantly less volume. To address this challenge, Professor Marni Boppart and her colleagues at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology are developing a process using regenerative cells. This work could help ensure that astronauts arrive at Mars healthy, hearty, and ready to explore!

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Instead of Building Structures on Mars, we Could Grow Them With the Help of Bacteria

ISRU system concept for autonomous construction on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA and the China National Space Agency (CNSA) plan to mount the first crewed missions to Mars in the next decade. These will commence with a crew launching in 2033, with follow-up missions launching every 26 months to coincide with Mars and Earth being at the closest point in their orbits. These missions will culminate with the creation of outposts that future astronauts will use, possibly leading to permanent habitats. In recent decades, NASA has conducted design studies and competitions (like the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge) to investigate possible designs and construction methods.

For instance, in the Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0, NASA describes a “commuter” architecture based on a “centrally located, monolithic habitat” of lightweight inflatable habitats. However, a new proposal envisions the creation of a base using organisms that extract metals from sand and rock (a process known as biomineralization). Rather than hauling construction materials or prefabricated modules aboard a spaceship, astronauts bound for Mars could bring synthetic bacteria cultures that would allow them to grow their habitats from the Red Planet itself.

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New Nuclear Rocket Design to Send Missions to Mars in Just 45 Days

Artist's concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA

We live in an era of renewed space exploration, where multiple agencies are planning to send astronauts to the Moon in the coming years. This will be followed in the next decade with crewed missions to Mars by NASA and China, who may be joined by other nations before long. These and other missions that will take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and the Earth-Moon system require new technologies, ranging from life support and radiation shielding to power and propulsion. And when it comes to the latter, Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NTP/NEP) is a top contender!

NASA and the Soviet space program spent decades researching nuclear propulsion during the Space Race. A few years ago, NASA reignited its nuclear program for the purpose of developing bimodal nuclear propulsion – a two-part system consisting of an NTP and NEP element – that could enable transits to Mars in 100 days. As part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for 2023, NASA selected a nuclear concept for Phase I development. This new class of bimodal nuclear propulsion system uses a “wave rotor topping cycle” and could reduce transit times to Mars to just 45 days.

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China Unable to Reestablish Contact With its Zhurong Mars Rover

A wireless camera took this 'group photo' of China's Tianwen-1 lander and rover on Mars' surface. Credit: Chinese Space Agency

China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) has been hoping to reestablish communications with the Zhurong Mars rover, but so far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. Zhurong was put into hibernation over six months ago as it hunkered down in attempts to survive the Martian winter.

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Mars Has Bizarre Dunes Thanks to its Low Atmospheric Pressure and Strange Winds

Image of sand ripples in the Bagnold dune field on lower Mount Sharp taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover in March 2017. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, an international team of researchers led by Stanford University used artificial intelligence (AI) to examine the formation of sand ripples and sand dunes of two distinct sizes on Mars. These formations might help scientists better understand Mars’ atmospheric history through examining the fossilized forms of these aeolian (windblown) structures using statistical analyses.

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This Will Probably Be InSight’s Last Picture Before it Runs Out of Power Forever

This image shows InSight's landing spot and its SEIS instrument, covered with its protective wind shield. The lander's been having trouble generating electricity and this could be its final image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

The InSight lander might have transmitted its last picture from the surface of Mars. It looks like the lander is succumbing to Mars’ dusty conditions, as its ability to generate energy from its solar panels has been declining in recent weeks.

It’s always sad and somehow poignant when a lander or a rover falls silent. Each of them has a personality that goes along with their mission. But we’ve known for months this day was coming.

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Perseverance Heard a Dust Devil on Mars, and Now You Can Too

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover used one of its navigation cameras to capture these dust devils swirling across Jezero Crater on July 20, 2021, the 148th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

For years, we’ve seen images from various Mars rovers and landers of dust devils churning across the dusty landscape of the Red Planet. But now, thanks to a microphone on the Perseverance rover and a whirling dust storm that passed directly over the rover, we know what a dust devil on Mars sounds like, too.

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In Case you Missed it, Here are Some Amazing Pictures of Mars Hiding Behind the Moon

This is the occultation of Mars by the Full Moon on December 7, 2022, in a composite showing the motion of Mars relative to the Moon. The motion here is from left to right. However, while this composite makes it look like Mars was doing the moving, it was really the Moon that was passing in front of Mars. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.

Last week gave us a celestial triple header, all in one night. The Moon was full and Mars was at opposition (at its closest point to Earth). But the pièce de résistance was when the Moon occulted or passed in front of Mars on the evening/morning of December 7th/8th. Our astrophotographer friends were out in full force to capture the event.

Our lead image comes from prolific amateur astronomer and photographer Alan Dyer, who observed the occultation from his home in Alberta, Canada, and created this composite view of the night’s activities. “While this composite makes it look like Mars was doing the moving,” Dyer explained on Flickr, “it was really the Moon that was passing in front of Mars. But for this sequence I set the telescope mount to track the Moon at its rate of motion against the background stars and Mars, to keep the Moon more or less stationary on the frame while Mars and the background sky passed behind it.”

Here are some more great views from around the world:

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