Category Archives: Mars

Image Gallery: more oddities from Curiosity

The small sphere, maybe a cm or two across. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The “ball,” a small spherical stone, about a cm or two across. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the Curiosity rover was approaching the flat rock outcrop called Pahrump Hills, where it is currently drilling again, it spotted a few more interesting features. These include the “ball,” a small round spherical stone, about a cm or two across, which resembles the “blueberry” concretions seen by the Opportunity rover in Meridiani (like the ones in the image at the top of the blog sidebar). The Meridiani ones were all over the place though, while this one seems to be all by itself.

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‘We’re Here!': Curiosity rover arrives at Mount Sharp on Mars

The hills beckon: the mesas and buttes in the foothills of Mount Sharp where Curiosity will soon be exploring. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The hills beckon: the mesas and buttes in the foothills of Mount Sharp where Curiosity will soon be exploring. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a long, and at times risky two-year journey, the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has reached the base of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, the primary destination since its landing back in 2012. Mount Sharp is about the same height as Mount Rainier on Earth and sits in the middle of the expansive Gale crater. The arrival was announced on Thursday, Sept. 11 at a NASA telecon which discussed Curiosity’s achievements so far and what else now awaits at the mountain.

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Image Gallery: speckled rocks in Owens Valley

Brightly speckled rocks overturned by the rover's wheels at the edge of Owens Valley. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cropped image of brightly speckled rocks overturned by the rover’s wheels at the edge of Owens Valley. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some interesting images taken on sol 739 by the Curiosity rover on Mars, at the entrance to Owens Valley. Some of the rocks here were overturned by the rover’s wheels and three of them here have a very speckled appearance with white spots. No word yet on what ChemCam analysis may have shown, but perhaps other geologists have some idea as to what these are?

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Taking aim with ExoLance: a new way to search for life on Mars

“Got Life?” - the ExoLance logo. Image Credit: Explore Mars

“Got Life?” – the ExoLance logo. Image Credit: Explore Mars

Is or was there life on Mars? That is one of the biggest and most hotly debated questions in planetary science. The manner in which the evidence has been searched for is also a topic of much discussion. The Viking landers in the 1970s were the first to look for direct evidence for microbial life still existing in the Martian soil, and the results are still regarded as inconclusive, with both pro and con supporters debating whether the landers actually found living microbes or just unusual soil chemistry. Subsequent lander and rover missions have focused more on determining whether conditions in Mars’ ancient past were habitable and able to support life as we know it, rather than searching directly for evidence of past or present life itself.

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Image Gallery: ‘bones’ in Hidden Valley

"Bone" seen by Curiosity on sol 719. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Bone” seen by Curiosity on sol 719. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This photo taken a few days ago by the Curiosity rover has been getting a lot of attention. The object near the centre of the image looks a lot like a femur-type bone! This image was taken on sol 719 of the mission, at the entrance to Hidden Valley where Curiosity is ready to start drilling again at a site just a few feet away called Bonanza King.

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Curiosity rover celebrates second anniversary on Mars as it approaches mountain goal

A “self-portrait” of the Curiosity rover in Yellowknife Bay, with part of Mount Sharp in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A “self-portrait” of the Curiosity rover in Yellowknife Bay, with part of Mount Sharp in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has been actively exploring Mars for two years now, and as it celebrated its second anniversary today, Aug. 5, it is also, after a lengthy journey, approaching its primary mission goal: the massive Mount Sharp in the middle of Gale crater.

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MRO finds new evidence for dry ice formation of gullies on Mars

Before and after images showing the formation of a new gully channel in Terra Sirenum, taken between Nov. 5, 2010 and May 25, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Before and after images showing the formation of a new gully channel in Terra Sirenum, taken between Nov. 5, 2010 and May 25, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Some of the most interesting features on the surface of Mars are its gullies, often found on crater walls or other slopes, first seen from orbit back in 2000. They resemble gullies on Earth created by water, but the origin of located on Mars have become the subject of much debate. These gullies appear to be actively forming today, and are not just some relic of past activity that took place millions of years ago. But on Mars, water can’t exist for long on the surface even if it is briny, so how are these gullies being created? New observations from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft suggest that dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) may actually be responsible. The new findings have been published in the journal Icarus.

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New study shows how salts could make liquid water on Mars

The Phoenix lander was the first mission to land near the Martian north pole. Was it also the first to see evidence of liquid water on Mars? Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

The Phoenix lander was the first mission to land near the Martian north pole. Was it also the first to see evidence of liquid water on Mars? Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

The search for evidence of water on Mars, past or present, has been one of the driving forces behind the exploration of the Red Planet for several decades now. While orbiters, landers, and rovers have all found abundant evidence for a lot of water in Mars’ ancient history, the question of whether there could still be any of the wet stuff existing today is still open and unanswered. There are hints, but proof is still elusive. Now, a new study provides new information on how liquid water could be found on Mars’ surface today, albeit in small amounts or for brief periods of time.

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Image Gallery: Pillinger Point at Endeavour crater

View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

The Opportunity rover continues to send back wonderful images of its current location on the rim of Endeavour crater. This new panorama shows the view from Pillinger Point (named after the late planetary scientist Colin Pillinger). The Pillinger Point rock outcrop is on the slopes Solander Point, one of the taller peaks on the rim of the huge crater. What a view! Thanks to James Sorenson who created this panorama from the Opportunity images. The full-size image is available here. There is also a zoomable Gigapan version here.

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Image Gallery: Martian meteorites in Gale crater

Possible meteorite found by Curiosity, sol 640. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Possible meteorite found by Curiosity, sol 640. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has come across what appear to be a couple of meteorites in Gale crater. No official word yet, but the consensus seems to be that these are indeed meteorites, and fairly large ones, given their similarity to other confirmed meteorites found previously by both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Their shininess indicates that they are likely iron meteorites. It is more common to find meteorites on Mars than on Earth, given the thinner atmosphere and slower erosion rates.

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