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Tag Archives: Mars

From a New Scientist article, May 16, 2015:

The United Arab Emirates has announced details of its uncrewed Mars probe, which it plans to launch in 2020 to monitor the planet’s atmosphere from orbit. The spacecraft, named Hope, will be a big step up from the country’s previous space activities as it attempts to compete with other emerging space powers like India and China.

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Credit: © Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

The Mars probe will carry spectrometers for analysing infrared and ultraviolet signals, along with a digital camera. These will measure water, dust and other molecules in the planet’s atmosphere, in an attempt to learn how Mars transitioned from a wet, warm world to the dry, dusty one we see today.

The science goals are similar and complementary to those of MAVEN and MOM, two Mars probes launched last year by NASA and the Indian space agency ISRO.

Link: New Scientist article.

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Adapted from a press release of Mars Odyssey’s THEMIS team, March 5. 2015:

NASA’s next Mars space probe, a lander named InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), is due to touch down on the Red Planet in September 2016. InSight carries two main instruments, a heat-flow probe and a seismometer, both being deployed using a robotic arm. The heat probe requires that the ground within reach of the arm be penetrable by the probe, which will hammer itself into the soil to a depth of three to five meters.

insight

Credit: NASA/JPL

InSight was provisionally selected for funding through NASA’s Discovery Program for launch in 2016 and the spacecraft design is based on NASA’s successful Phoenix Mars lander mission. It will touch down in one place and stay there for its entire mission, projected to last two Earth years. Its landing place has been chosen carefully with help from a Mars-orbiting heat-sensitive camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Links: THEMIS press release, ASU press release, InSight mission home.

 

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission is set for launch in 2018.  A rover and a lander are included, to search for evidence of past and present life on Mars. The orbiter, part of the ExoMars 2016 mission, will sample the Martian atmospheric trace gases, such as methane and provide communications. The rover will leave the landing platform and drill into the surface to search for potential fossils, relevant minerals, and organic molecules (with chirality as biomarkers).

ExoMars_combi_350

Credit: ESA

In addition to its scientific exploration, the mission will help test in-situ technologies that might pave the way for a future international Mars sample return mission.

Links: ExoMars 2018 mission overview; ESA Mars homepage.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for November 1, 2014, shows Mars the day after Comet Siding Spring’s close encounter, with the comet visible at the edge of its overexposed disk.

Credit & copyright: Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST)

The caption describes: “this comet [came] within 86,700 miles or so of Mars, about one-third the Earth-Moon distance. Earth’s spacecraft and rovers in Mars orbit and on the surface reported no ill effects though, and had a ringside seat as a visitor from the outer Solar System passed by.”
Credit: USGS

Credit: USGS

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have released a new global geologic map of Mars, which records the distribution of geologic units and landforms on the planet’s surface through time. It is based on the unprecedented variety, quality, and quantity of remotely sensed data acquired since the Viking Orbiters. These data have provided morphologic, topographic, spectral, thermophysical, radar sounding, and other observations for integration, analysis, and interpretation in support of geologic mapping. In particular, the precise topographic mapping now available through laser altimetry has enabled a consistent portrayal of the surface for global mapping. Also, they use thermal infrared image bases, which tend to be less affected by atmospheric haze and are reliable for analysis of surface morphology and texture at even higher resolutions.

Links: USGS Map 3292 hompeage with further resources, PDF with detailed key (file is 35 MB), external link to movie of rotating geologic surface of Mars (Credit: Jennifer LaVista/USGS), NY Times article describing the new map, Eos article by Ken Tanaka (link to PDF).

Have you ever wondered what would it be like to see a sunset on Mars? To help find out, the robotic rover Spirit was deployed in 2005 to park and watch the Sun dip below the distant lip of Gusev crater.

Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA

Colors in the above image have been slightly exaggerated but would likely be apparent to a human explorer’s eye. Fine martian dust particles suspended in the thin atmosphere lend the sky a reddish color, but the dust also scatters blue light in the forward direction, creating a bluish sky glow near the setting Sun. Because Mars is farther away, the Sun is less bright and only about two thirds the diameter it appears to us from Earth. Images like this help atmospheric scientists understand not only the atmosphere of Mars, but atmospheres across the Solar System, including on our home planet, Earth.

Link: APOD March 2, 2014

This spring, NASA officials will conduct a review of the spacecraft that have outlived their original missions. For the 2015 fiscal year, which begins October 1, the agency faces particularly tough choices, in order to balance their books.

A decade after swinging into orbit around Saturn, the venerable Cassini spacecraft is still working, well beyond the four years of science the space agency had hoped to get. But the spacecraft is running low on maneuvering fuel, and its managers want to end with a scientific bang – an ambitious agenda that includes 22 orbits through a gap between the planet and its innermost ring before sending the craft on a death plunge into Saturn in 2017. For several months, however, scientists have worried that NASA, financially squeezed like the rest of the federal government, could terminate the mission sooner.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The Mars rover Curiosity, which will cost $68 million this year to operate, will complete its two-year primary mission in June 2014, so money for continued roving will come out of funds dedicated to “extended missions.” For this year, that amount is $140 million, which includes $58 million for Cassini. Other extended missions include the Messenger spacecraft at Mercury, the Mars rover Opportunity, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

No one expects NASA to turn off Curiosity, which will not even arrive at its primary science destination until later this year, raising concerns that Cassini may be on the chopping block. More recently, NASA planetary science director James Green told scientists that the perception of Cassini versus Curiosity was inaccurate and that officials could instead scale back the cost and scope of the extended missions. The agency could also juggle other money to pay for both Cassini and Curiosity, but that could have consequences like delaying future missions, which themselves are under pressure to deliver the maximum scientific benefits for a smaller cost.

Links and source: NY Times op-ed by Kenneth Chang.

The innermost moon of Mars, Phobos, is seen in a new 40-second movie in full 360-degree glory. The images were taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter at various times throughout the mission’s 10 years.

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The moon’s parallel sets of grooves are perhaps the most striking feature, along with the giant 9 km-wide Stickney impact crater that dominates one face of the 27 x 22 x 18 km moon. The origin of the moon’s grooves is a subject of much debate. One idea assumes that the crater chains are associated with impact events on the moon itself. Another idea suggests they result from Phobos moving through streams of debris thrown up from impacts 6000 km away on the surface of Mars, with each ‘family’ of grooves corresponding to a different impact event.

Mars Express has imaged Phobos from a wide range of distances, but made its closest flyby yet on December 29, 2013, at just 45 km above the moon. Although this is too close to take images, gravity experiments will give insight into the interior structure of Phobos.

Links: ESA movie; Phobos overview and gallery from NASA.

In this short article for The Conversation, Helen Maynard-Casely summarizes current efforts in exploring the Solar System, with missions underway to nearly every planet (and dwarf planet, Pluto).

A new NASA mission that will investigate how Mars lost its atmosphere and abundant liquid water launched into space on November 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Credit: NASA

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft separated from an Atlas V Centaur rocket’s second stage 53 minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed approximately one hour after launch and now power the spacecraft. MAVEN has embarked on a 10-month interplanetary cruise before its arrival at Mars next September.

In the next four weeks, MAVEN will power on and check out each of its eight instruments. Upon arrival at Mars, the spacecraft will execute an orbit insertion maneuver, firing six thrusters that will allow it to be captured by Mars’ orbit. In the following five weeks, MAVEN will establish itself in an orbit where it can conduct science operations, deploy science appendages, and commission all instruments before starting its one-Earth-year scientific primary mission.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

MAVEN is traveling to Mars to explore how the Red Planet may have lost its atmosphere over billions of years. By analyzing the planet’s upper atmosphere and measuring current rates of atmospheric loss, MAVEN scientists hope to understand how Mars transitioned from a warm, wet planet to the dry desert world we see today.

Links: NASA press release; short artist concept video; NY Times article summarizing MAVEN’s science goals; Emily Lakdawalla’s blog post explaining the launch, the spacecraft and the science.