The rover and lander missions on Mars have been cool enough with their high-tech cameras, lasers, and on-board laboratories, but now they are about to get even better, thanks to a new partnership between NASA and Microsoft. New technology being developed, called OnSight, will allow scientists to work virtually on Mars within 3-D simulations, changing how they interact with the machines and conduct science operations.
This is an update to a previous post.
There is a report about Mars which has been getting a lot of attention the past few weeks (in addition to the methane and organics found): that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth; the report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.
This is a great image to start 2015 with: a new panoramic view of a small but very rocky hill in the Pahrump Hills area on Mars, taken by the Curiosity rover. You can see the larger versions here on Flickr. When you zoom in, you can see a lot of small lighter-coloured patches on rocks in the right side of the panorama and even a small “cave” with a flow of sand coming out of it. There’s a lot of geology and history here; as we’ve seen before, the scenery is very reminiscent of the American southwest. Thanks to Hortonheardawho from the Mars Forum for his excellent panorama stitched together from individual Curiosity images.
There is a report which has been getting a lot of attention the past few days (in addition to the methane and organics found), that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself on Mars. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth. The report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
The Curiosity rover has taken some great images of the mesas and buttes in the foothills of Mount Sharp. This newly released montage is a mosaic of images taken last year, Sep. 7, 2013. The rover is now much closer to these landforms, but even from this previous vantage point, remarkable detail can be seen. The scene is reminiscent of the desert regions in American southwest. Larger versions of the image are available here.
December 8, 2014
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finds Clues to How Water Helped Shape Martian Landscape
Observations by NASA’s Curiosity Rover indicate Mars’ Mount Sharp was built by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years. This interpretation of Curiosity’s finds in Gale Crater suggests ancient Mars maintained a climate that could have produced long-lasting lakes at many locations on the Red Planet.
“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”
Why this layered mountain sits in a crater has been a challenging question for researchers. Mount Sharp stands about 3 miles (5 kilometers) tall, its lower flanks exposing hundreds of rock layers. The rock layers – alternating between lake, river and wind deposits — bear witness to the repeated filling and evaporation of a Martian lake much larger and longer-lasting than any previously examined close-up.
“We are making headway in solving the mystery of Mount Sharp,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “Where there’s now a mountain, there may have once been a series of lakes.”
Curiosity currently is investigating the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, a section of rock 500 feet (150 meters) high dubbed the Murray formation. Rivers carried sand and silt to the lake, depositing the sediments at the mouth of the river to form deltas similar to those found at river mouths on Earth. This cycle occurred over and over again.
“The great thing about a lake that occurs repeatedly, over and over, is that each time it comes back it is another experiment to tell you how the environment works,” Grotzinger said. “As Curiosity climbs higher on Mount Sharp, we will have a series of experiments to show patterns in how the atmosphere and the water and the sediments interact. We may see how the chemistry changed in the lakes over time. This is a hypothesis supported by what we have observed so far, providing a framework for testing in the coming year.”
After the crater filled to a height of at least a few hundred yards and the sediments hardened into rock, the accumulated layers of sediment were sculpted over time into a mountainous shape by wind erosion that carved away the material between the crater perimeter and what is now the edge of the mountain.
On the 5-mile (8-kilometer) journey from Curiosity’s 2012 landing site to its current work site at the base of Mount Sharp, the rover uncovered clues about the changing shape of the crater floor during the era of lakes.
“We found sedimentary rocks suggestive of small, ancient deltas stacked on top of one another,” said Curiosity science team member Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College in London. “Curiosity crossed a boundary from an environment dominated by rivers to an environment dominated by lakes.”
Despite earlier evidence from several Mars missions that pointed to wet environments on ancient Mars, modeling of the ancient climate has yet to identify the conditions that could have produced long periods warm enough for stable water on the surface.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project uses Curiosity to assess ancient, potentially habitable environments and the significant changes the Martian environment has experienced over millions of years. This project is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to the planet in the 2030s.
“Knowledge we’re gaining about Mars’ environmental evolution by deciphering how Mount Sharp formed will also help guide plans for future missions to seek signs of Martian life,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
JPL, managed by the California Institute of Technology, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.