NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Needs Your Help to Spot Rogue Worlds Between Neptune and Proxima Centauri

By spotting moving objects in brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)

NASA's looking for a few citizen scientists to help search for unidentified planets beyond Neptune and out to Alpha Centauri way. Credits : NASA/JPL/Goddard Studios
NASA’s looking for a few citizen scientists to help search for unidentified planets beyond Neptune and out to Alpha Centauri way. Credits: NASA/JPL/Goddard Studios

Space news (Astrophysics: The search for nearby planets; Backyard Worlds: Planet 9) – the outer reaches of our solar system beyond Neptune and neighboring interstellar space –

NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 invites you to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by helping astronomers search for undiscovered worlds on the outer fringes of our solar system and wandering in nearby interstellar space. Just by viewing brief movies created by using images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and then picking out moving objects in the frames. You can help find interesting things for scientists to study further and you might even get your name on any scientific papers written on the subject. Watch this NASA video on the new website

“There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.”

Marc Kuchner, for Astronomy Magazine
Credits: NASA/Goddard Studios/Marc Kuchner, for Astronomy Magazine

WISE is just one of many repurposed, retasked spacecraft working beyond the years’ designers and engineers first proposed for their space mission. After being told to stand down in 2011, our intrepid space explorer was reassigned a new mission by NASA in 2013, to identify hazardous near-Earth asteroids and comets. They also gave the old space horse a new name, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).

A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855−0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning five years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more of these objects. Credits: NASA/WISE
A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855−0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning five years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more of these objects.
Credits: NASA/WISE

People deciding to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time through this invitation search for unknown objects beyond Neptune using data provided by NEOWISE. You’ll be looking for asteroids and comets possibly on a collision course with Earth. You could also discover the fabled Planet X or a brown dwarf star too faint to be seen in nearby interstellar space, like the brown dwarf star called WISE 0855-0714.

“Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”

Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist/Senior Education Manager at American Museum of Natural History Credits: Linked
Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist/Senior Education Manager at American Museum of Natural History Credits: Linked

You might be wondering what your tired eyes can do to help NASA scientists? Objects closer to the solar system move across the sky at different rates, unlike ones further away. The most efficient way to search for them is by systematically looking for moving objects in NEOWISE data. Computers are normally used for this job, but human eyes are often better at picking out important moving objects among all the other things on the screen. 

Watch short animations

On Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, millions of people from around the world watch millions of short animations showing how a small patch of the sky has changed over many years. Any important moving objects noticed can be flagged by astronomers for further study. The discoverer could even be given credit in scientific papers written on the subject. This is your chance to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time and get noticed.

“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.

Learn about NASA’s engineers testing a prototype asteroid capture system ARM astronauts could use to capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid in the near future.

Read about NASA’s successor to the Curiosity rover, the Mars 2020 rover, and its updated plans.

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Chance of 300 to 800 ft. Asteroid Impact on Sept 20, 2020 Estimated at 2 Percent

NASA and FEMA scientists tracking asteroid using ground and space-based telescopes to refine estimates

If this asteroid impacted on the Earth, it would be a dark, bad day for life on the planet. Image Credit: NASA
If this asteroid impacted on the Earth, it would be a dark, bad day for life on the planet. Image Credit: NASA

Space news Sept. 20, 2020 ( NASA Planetary Defense Office: joint NASA and FEMA operation; emergency response to future asteroid impact) – Jet Propulsion Laboratory in El Segundo, California; conducting emergency response exercise for possible future asteroid impact

NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson was among speakers at an Oct. 25, 2016, NASA/FEMA tabletop exercise in El Segundo, California, simulating emergency response to a hypothetical future asteroid impact. Regular exercises like this facilitate a strong working relationship between the asteroid science community and emergency managers. Credits: The Aerospace Corporation.
NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson was among speakers at Oct. 25, 2016, NASA/FEMA tabletop exercise in El Segundo, California, simulating an emergency response to a hypothetical future asteroid impact. Regular exercises like this facilitate a strong working relationship between the asteroid science community and emergency managers.
Credits: The Aerospace Corporation.

NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson spoke today at a simulated emergency response exercise to a possible future asteroid impact estimated for some time around Sept. 20, 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to prepare emergency managers by collecting, analyzing, and sharing data about such an event should it occur. It also provided the chance for emergency response personnel, the asteroid science community, and emergency managers across the country and the world to begin forming the strong working relationships required to protect humanity from an asteroid strike.

This particular exercise was the third in a series hosted jointly by NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was conducted to prepare emergency services in the event of an asteroid impact becomes more likely during the years ahead and strengthen bonds between their partnership. At this point, NASA and FEMA officials say an asteroid impact is very unlikely, but we need to be ready in case of an emergency. 

Representatives of NASA, FEMA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services gathered in El Segundo, California, on Oct. 25, 2016, for a tabletop exercise simulating a possible asteroid impact in 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to show emergency managers how it would collect, analyze and share data about such an event. Credits: The Aerospace Corporation
Representatives of NASA, FEMA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services gathered in El Segundo, California, on Oct. 25, 2016, for a tabletop exercise simulating a possible asteroid impact in 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to show emergency managers how it would collect, analyze and share data about such an event.
Credits: The Aerospace Corporation

“It’s not a matter of if — but when — we will deal with such a situation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning, and mitigation.”

During the emergency response exercise, planetary science community representatives showed how data concerning a possible future asteroid impact would be collected, analyzed, and shared. Emergency response managers talked about the way the information would be used to consider the challenges and options during an asteroid impact. They also talked about the way to prepare, respond, and tell the public about the crisis. 

Washington, DC, May 12, 2009 -- FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate in the FEMA Studio. FEMA/Bill Koplitz
Washington, DC, May 12, 2009 — FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate in the FEMA Studio. FEMA/Bill Koplitz Image Credits: Bill Koplitz/FEMA/NASA

“It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but high-consequence disaster scenarios,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event.”

This possible asteroid impact in four years time was first discovered in the fall and was at that time estimated at 2 percent. NASA assets will continue to track the asteroid for the next three months, before updating the chances of a possible impact. But at this point, NASA and its partners are preparing to launch a possible mission to deflect or otherwise intercept the asteroid. Exercise attendees were left with the challenge of preparing for a mass evacuation of a major US metropolitan city and region in the worst case scenario. They went over possible impact scenarios, looked at possible population displacement estimates, discussed infrastructure that would be affected, and all data that could realistically be known concerning a possible asteroid impact in four years time. 

“The high degree of initial uncertainty coupled with the relatively long impact warning time made this scenario unique and especially challenging for emergency managers,” said FEMA National Response Coordination Branch Chief Leviticus A. Lewis. “It’s quite different from preparing for an event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane.”

They also looked at ways to pass on accurate, timely, and useful information to the general public, while still addressing the possible issue of false rumors and information emerging during the years leading up to an impact. 

“These exercises are invaluable for those of us in the asteroid science community responsible for engaging with FEMA on this natural hazard,” said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. “We receive valuable feedback from emergency managers at these exercises about what information is critical for their decision making, and we take that into account when we exercise how we would provide information to FEMA about a predicted impact.”

Study and planning for a possible asteroid impact continues

NASA’s continuing to provide expert input to FEMA about the asteroid through the Planetary Coordination Office. The partners will continue to assess the asteroid and conduct asteroid impact exercises in preparation for a worst case scenario. They also intend to start reaching out to other representatives from local and state emergency management agencies and the private sector in future emergency exercises.

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Travel into the Heart of a Cosmic Storm

This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This stormy scene shows a stellar nursery known as N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across. N159 contains many hot young stars. These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material. At the heart of this cosmic cloud lies the Papillon Nebula, a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity. This small, dense object is classified as a High-Excitation Blob, and is thought to be tightly linked to the early stages of massive star formation. N159 is located over 160 000 light-years away. It resides just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic1402), another massive star-forming complex within the LMC. It was previously imaged by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which also resolved the Papillon Nebula for the first time.
Electric-blue wisps of gas and young stars in early stages of star birth startle the senses in this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (astrophysics: stellar nurseries; HII region N159) – 180,000 light-years from Earth deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) –

Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The stunning Hubble Space Telescope image seen above shows the heart of a cosmic maelstrom, glowing gas, and dark dust deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of many satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. This stormy region of space contains stellar nursery N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across with many hot young suns emitting intense ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet light causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow and torrential stellar winds carving ridges, arcs, and filaments out of surrounding gas and dust. 

papillon_hst_big
The Papillon Nebula is seen in the inset image in  the top right of the main image of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: M. Heydari-Malayeri(Paris Observatory) et al, WFPC2, HST, ESA, NASA

Early stages of star birth

Near the heart of this cosmic maelstrom lies the butterfly-shaped Papillon Nebula, a small, dense stellar object astronomers refer to as a High-Excitation Blob, they have linked to the early stages of the formation of a massive star. This region of space was first detected using Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

Image Credit & Copyright: Processing - Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data - Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory
The Tarantula Nebula Image Credit & Copyright: Processing – Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data – Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory

Nebula N159’s just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic 1402), a star-forming region also imaged by Hubble’s WFPC2. Hidden within this region of space astronomers found several massive stars they’re currently studying looking for clues to the growth and evolution of the most massive stars in the galaxy. The image seen here was taken using the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. 

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NASA Engineers Test Prototype Robotic Asteroid Capture System 

In order to better understand intricate operations and detailed planning needed to capture multi-ton boulder from asteroid surface

A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021. Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with foot pads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder. NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target. Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NASA
A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021.
Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with footpads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder.
NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target.
Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite-servicing operations, fine-tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit.
Image Credit: NASA

Space news (Asteroid Redirect Mission: testing of prototype of robotic capture module system) – The Robotic Operations Center of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Missions. Credits: NASA/Goddard
A new report provides expert findings from a special action team on how elements of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) can address decadal science objectives and help close Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) for future human missions in deep space. Credits: NASA/Goddard

Inside the Robotic Operations Center (ROC) of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center engineers are at work preparing the robotic section of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The most recent work involved testing a prototype of the asteroid capture system with a mock boulder built by NASA and students from West Virginia University. This work will help engineers learn more about the intricate operations needed to capture a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid. The robotic section of ARM is targeted for a 2021 launch window.

The capability built into the ROC allows engineers to create a simulation of the capture of a boulder from the surface of an asteroid. Here they can also simulate servicing of the satellite, fine tuning of systems and controllers, and even optimize all performance factors for future repairs and refueling. An important capability when building spacecraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars and even more. One that saves money and time.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission is expected to offer benefits that should teach us more about operating in space and enable future space missions. You can read a report here on some of the expected benefits.

The report reflects the findings of a two-month study conducted by members of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG). It explains many of ARM’s potential contributions to the future of the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

“This report is an important step in identifying ways that ARM will be more scientifically relevant as we continue mission formulation for the robotic and the crew segments,” said Gates. “We’re currently in the process of selecting hosted instruments and payloads for the robotic segment, and hope to receive an updated analysis from the SBAG after we announce those selections in spring 2017.”

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Detects Clues Hinting at a Wetter Past 

During the same relative time period, other clues indicate more oxygen was present in the atmosphere than found currently

This scene shows NASA's Curiosity Mars rover at a location called "Windjana," where the rover found rocks containing manganese-oxide minerals, which require abundant water and strongly oxidizing conditions to form. In front of the rover are two holes from the rover's sample-collection drill and several dark-toned features that have been cleared of dust (see inset images). These flat features are erosion-resistant fracture fills containing manganese oxides. The discovery of these materials suggests the Martian atmosphere might once have contained higher abundances of free oxygen than it does now. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This image shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at a location called “Windjana,” where the rover found rocks containing manganese oxide minerals, which require abundant water and strongly oxidizing conditions to form. In front of the rover are two holes from the rover’s sample-collection drill and several dark-toned features that have been cleared of dust (see inset images). These flat features are erosion-resistant fracture fills containing manganese oxides. The discovery of these materials suggests the Martian atmosphere might once have contained higher abundances of free oxygen than it does now.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Space news (planetary science: Martian rocks containing manganese oxide minerals; indicating a wetter surface with more atmospheric oxygen than presently found on Mars) – Mars (the Red Planet), 154 million miles (249 kilometers) from Sol, or 141 million miles (228 million kilometers) from Earth, on average –

This view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rock target "Windjana" and its immediate surroundings after inspection of the site by the rover. The drilling of a test hole and a sample collection hole produced the mounds of drill cuttings that are markedly less red than the other visible surfaces. This is material that the drill pulled up from the interior of the rock. This view is from the 627th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 12, 2014). The open hole from sample collection is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. It was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014). A preparatory "mini drill" hole, to lower right from the open hole, was drilled on Sol 615 (April 29, 2014) and subsequently filled in with cuttings from the sample collection drilling. Two small patches of less-red color to the right of the drill holes are targets "Stephen" (higher) and "Neil," where multiple laser hits by Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument blasted some of the reddish surface dust off the surface of the rock. The vigorous activity of penetrating the rock with the rover's hammering drill also resulted in slides of loose material near the rock. For comparison to the site before the drilling, see the Sol 609 image of Windjana at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18087. MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rock target “Windjana” and its immediate surroundings after inspection of the site by the rover. The drilling of a test hole and a sample collection hole produced the mounds of drill cuttings that are markedly less red than the other visible surfaces. This is material that the drill pulled up from the interior of the rock.
This view is from the 627th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (May 12, 2014).
The open hole from sample collection is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. It was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014). A preparatory “mini drill” hole, to lower right from the open hole, was drilled on Sol 615 (April 29, 2014) and subsequently filled in with cuttings from the sample-collection drilling.
Two small patches of less red color to the right of the drill holes are targets “Stephen” (higher) and “Neil,” where multiple laser hits by Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument blasted some of the reddish surface dust off the surface of the rock.
The vigorous activity of penetrating the rock with the rover’s hammering drill also resulted in slides of loose material near the rock. 
MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found rocks at a place called Windjana containing manganese oxide minerals according to reports from planetary scientists studying samples from the region. On Earth rocks of this type formed during the distant past in the presence of abundant water and atmospheric oxygen. This news added to previous reports of ancient lakes and other groundwater sources during Mar’s past points to a wetter environment in the study region Gale Crater during this time. 

This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a sandstone slab on which the rover team has selected a target, "Windjana," for close-up examination and possible drilling. The target is on the approximately 2-foot-wide (60-centimeter-wide) rock seen in the right half of this view. The Navcam's left-eye camera took this image during the 609th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 23, 2014). The rover's name is written on the covering for a portion of the robotic arm, here seen stowed at the front of the vehicle. The sandstone target's informal name comes from Windjana Gorge in Western Australia. If this target meets criteria set by engineers and scientists, it could become the mission's third drilled rock and the first that is not mudstone. The rock is within a waypoint location called "the Kimberley," where sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area's "middle unit," because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover and the rover's Navcam. > Read more: NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Inspects Site Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a sandstone slab on which the rover team has selected a target, “Windjana,” for close-up examination and possible drilling. The target is on the approximately 2-foot-wide (60-centimeter-wide) rock seen in the right half of this view.
The Navcam’s left-eye camera took this image during the 609th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (April 23, 2014). The rover’s name is written on the covering for a portion of the robotic arm, here seen stowed at the front of the vehicle.
The sandstone target’s informal name comes from Windjana Gorge in Western Australia. If this target meets criteria set by engineers and scientists, it could become the mission’s third drilled rock and the first that is not mudstone.
The rock is within a waypoint location called “the Kimberley,” where sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area’s “middle unit,” because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover and the rover’s Navcam.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planetary scientists used the laser-firing instrument on the Curiosity Mars rover to detect high levels of manganese-oxide in mineral veins found at Windjana. “The only ways on Earth that we know how to make these manganese materials involve atmospheric oxygen or microbes,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Now we’re seeing manganese oxides on Mars, and we’re wondering how the heck these could have formed?”

On this view of the Curiosity rover mission's waypoint called "the Kimberley," the red dot indicates the location of a sandstone target, "Windjana," that researchers selected for close-up inspection and possibly for drilling. The view is an excerpt from an April 11, 2014, observation by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A larger scene from the same observation is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18081. In the image's enhanced color, Curiosity itself appears as the bright blue object at the two-o'clock position relative to the butte in the lower center of the scene. That butte is called "Mount Remarkable" and stands about 16 feet (5 meters) high. The rover subsequently drove to within its robotic arm's reach of Windjana. For scale, the distance between the parallel wheel tracks visible in the image is about 9 feet (2.7 meters). In the area of the Kimberley waypoint, sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area's "middle unit," because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations. If Windjana meets criteria set by engineers and scientists, it could become the mission's third drilled rock and the first that is not mudstone. This view is an enhanced-color product from HiRISE observation ESP_036128_1755, available at the HiRISE website at http://uahirise.org/releases/msl-kimberley.php. The exaggerated color, to make differences in Mars surface materials more apparent, makes Curiosity appear bluer than the rover really looks. HiRISE is one of six instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the Mars Science Laboratory Project's Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
On this view of the Curiosity rover mission’s waypoint called “the Kimberley,” the red dot indicates the location of a sandstone target, “Windjana,” that researchers selected for close-up inspection and possibly for drilling.
The view is an excerpt from an April 11, 2014, observation by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In the image’s enhanced color, Curiosity itself appears as the bright blue object at the two-o’clock position relative to the butte in the lower center of the scene. That butte is called “Mount Remarkable” and stands about 16 feet (5 meters) high. The rover subsequently drove to within its robotic arm’s reach of Windjana. For scale, the distance between the parallel wheel tracks visible in the image is about 9 feet (2.7 meters).
In the area of the Kimberley waypoint, sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area’s “middle unit,” because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations.
The exaggerated color, to make differences in Mars surface materials more apparent, makes Curiosity appear bluer than the rover really looks.
HiRISE is one of six instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory projects for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the Mars Science Laboratory Project’s Curiosity rover.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Planetary scientists are looking at other processes that could create the manganese-oxide they found in rocks in Mar’s Gale Crater region. Possible culprits at this point include microbes, but even optimistic planetary scientists are finding little fan fair accompanying their ideas. Lanza said, “These high manganese materials can’t form without lots of liquid water and strongly oxidizing conditions. Here on Earth, we had lots of water but no widespread deposits of manganese oxides until after the oxygen levels in our atmosphere rose.”

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on its robotic arm to illuminate and record this nighttime view of the sandstone rock target "Windjana." The rover had previously drilled a hole to collect sample material from the interior of the rock and then zapped a series of target points inside the hole with the laser of the rover's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The precision pointing of the laser that is mounted atop the rover's remote-sensing mast is evident in the column of scars within the hole. That instrument provides information about the target's composition by analysis of the sparks of plasma generated by the energy of the laser beam striking the target. Additional ChemCam laser scars are visible at upper right, on the surface of the rock. This view combines eight separate MAHLI exposures, taken at different focus settings to show the entire scene in focus. The exposures were taken after dark on the 628th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 13, 2014). The rover drilled this hole on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014). MAHLI includes light-emitting diodes as well as a color camera. Using the instrument's own lighting yields an image of the hole's interior with less shadowing than would be seen in a sunlit image. The camera's inspection of the interior of the hole provides documentation about what the drill bit passed through as it penetrated the rock -- for example, to see if it cut through any mineral veins or visible layering. MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on its robotic arm to illuminate and record this nighttime view of the sandstone rock target “Windjana.” The rover had previously drilled a hole to collect sample material from the interior of the rock and then zapped a series of target points inside the hole with the laser of the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter.
The precision pointing of the laser that is mounted atop the rover’s remote-sensing mast is evident in the column of scars within the hole. That instrument provides information about the target’s composition by analysis of the sparks of plasma generated by the energy of the laser beam striking the target. Additional ChemCam laser scars are visible at upper right, on the surface of the rock.
This view combines eight separate MAHLI exposures, taken at different focus settings to show the entire scene in focus. The exposures were taken after dark on the 628th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (May 13, 2014). The rover drilled this hole on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014).
MAHLI includes light-emitting diodes as well as a color camera. Using the instrument’s own lighting yields an image of the hole’s interior with less shadowing than would be seen in a sunlit image. The camera’s inspection of the interior of the hole provides documentation about what the drill bit passed through as it penetrated the rock — for example, to see if it cut through any mineral veins or visible layering.
MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Geologists have found high concentrations of manganese oxide minerals is an important marker of a major shift in Earth’s atmospheric composition, from relatively low oxygen levels during the distant past, to the oxygen-rich environment we live in today. Planetary scientists studying the rocks they found in Gale Crater suggest the presence of these materials indicates oxygen levels on Mars rose also, before declining to the present low levels detected. The question is how was Mar’s oxygen-rich atmosphere formed?

November 3, 2015 Lanza at the summit of Hvannadalsnukur, the highest mountain in Iceland, practicing glacier travel techniques similar to those needed for Antarctic fieldwork. Lanza at the summit of Hvannadalsnukur, the highest mountain in Iceland, practicing glacier travel techniques similar to those needed for Antarctic fieldwork. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
November 3, 2015
Planetary scientist Lanza at the summit of Hvannadalsnukur, the highest mountain in Iceland, practicing glacier travel techniques similar to those needed for exploring the farthest reaches of the planet and possibly the solar system.
Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

“One potential way that oxygen could have gotten into the Martian atmosphere is from the breakdown of water when Mars was losing its magnetic field,” said Lanza. “It’s thought that at this time in Mars’ history, water was much more abundant. Yet without a protective magnetic field to shield the surface, ionizing radiation started splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Because of Mars’ relatively low gravity, the planet wasn’t able to hold onto the very light hydrogen atoms, but the heavier oxygen atoms remained behind. Much of this oxygen went into rocks, leading to the rusty red dust that covers the surface today. While Mars’ famous red iron oxides require only a mildly oxidizing environment to form, manganese oxides require a strongly oxidizing environment, more so than previously known for Mars.

Lanza added, “It’s hard to confirm whether this scenario for Martian atmospheric oxygen actually occurred. But it’s important to note that this idea represents a departure in our understanding for how planetary atmospheres might become oxygenated. Abundant atmospheric oxygen has been treated as a so-called biosignature or a sign of extant life, but this process does not require life.

This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows two holes at top center drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The farther hole, with larger pile of tailings around it, is a full-depth sampling hole. It was created by the rover's hammering drill while the drill collected rock-powder sample material from the interior of the rock. The nearer hole was created by a shallower test drilling into the rock in preparation for the sample collection. Each hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The full-depth hole is about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep, drilled during the 621st Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 5, 2014). The test hole is about 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) deep, drilled on Sol 615 (April 29, 2014). This image was taken on Sol 621 (May 5). The sandstone target's informal name comes from Windjana Gorge in Western Australia. The rock is within a waypoint location called "The Kimberley," where sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area's "middle unit," because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover and the rover's Navcam. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows two holes at top center drilled into a sandstone target called “Windjana.” The farther hole, with larger pile of tailings around it, is a full-depth sampling hole. It was created by the rover’s hammering drill while the drill collected rock-powder sample material from the interior of the rock. The nearer hole was created by a shallower test drilling into the rock in preparation for the sample collection. Each hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The full-depth hole is about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep, drilled during the 621st Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (May 5, 2014). The test hole is about 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) deep, drilled on Sol 615 (April 29, 2014). This image was taken on Sol 621 (May 5).
The sandstone target’s informal name comes from Windjana Gorge in Western Australia. The rock is within a waypoint location called “The Kimberley,” where sandstone outcrops with differing resistance to wind erosion result in a stair-step pattern of layers. Windjana is within what the team calls the area’s “middle unit,” because it is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover and the rover’s Navcam.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has been investigating Gale Crater for around four years and recent evidence supports the possibility conditions needed to form these deposits were present in other locations. The concentrations of manganese oxide discovered were found in mineral-filled cracks in sandstones in a region of the crater called “Kimberley”. NASA’s Opportunity rover has been exploring the surface of the planet since 2004 and recently reported similar high manganese deposits in a region thousands of miles away. Supporting the idea environments required to form similar deposits could be found well beyond Gale Crater.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The camera is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which previously recorded portraits of Curiosity at two other important sites during the mission: "Rock Nest" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16468) and "John Klein" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16937). Winjana is within a science waypoint site called "The Kimberley," where sandstone layers with different degrees of resistance to wind erosion are exposed close together. The view does not include the rover's arm. It does include the hole in Windjana produced by the hammering drill on Curiosity's arm collecting a sample of rock powder from the interior of the rock. The hole is surrounded by grayish cuttings on top of the rock ledge to the left of the rover. The Mast Camera (Mastcam) atop the rover's remote sensing mast is pointed at the drill hole. A Mastcam image of the drill hole from that perspective is at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=0626MR0026780000401608E01_DXXX&s=626. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The rover's wheels are 20 inches (0.5 meter) in diameter. Most of the component frames of this mosaic view were taken during the 613th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 27, 2014). Frames showing Windjana after completion of the drilling were taken on Sol 627 (May 12, 2014). The hole was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014). MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover. > NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Marks First Martian Year with Mission Successes Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called “Windjana.” The camera is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which previously recorded portraits of Curiosity at two other important sites during the mission: “Rock Nest” 
Winjana is within a science waypoint site called “The Kimberley,” where sandstone layers with different degrees of resistance to wind erosion are exposed close together.
The view does not include the rover’s arm. It does include the hole in Windjana produced by the hammering drill on Curiosity’s arm collecting a sample of rock powder from the interior of the rock. The hole is surrounded by grayish cuttings on top of the rock ledge to the left of the rover. The Mast Camera (Mastcam) atop the rover’s remote sensing mast is pointed at the drill hole. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The rover’s wheels are 20 inches (0.5 meter) in diameter.
Most of the component frames of this mosaic view were taken during the 613th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (April 27, 2014). Frames showing Windjana after completion of the drilling were taken on Sol 627 (May 12, 2014). The hole was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014).
MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
> NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Marks First Martian Year with Mission Successes
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What’s next for Curiosity?

NASA’s Curiosity rover’s currently collecting drilled rock powder from the 14th drill site called the Murray formation on the lower part of Mount Sharp. Plans call for NASA’s mobile laboratory to head uphill towards new destinations as part of a two-year mission extension starting near the beginning of October. 

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover completed a shallow "mini drill" activity on April 29, 2014, as part of evaluating a rock target called "Windjana" for possible full-depth drilling to collect powdered sample material from the rock's interior. This image from Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument shows the hole and tailings resulting from the mini drill test. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) deep. When collecting sample material, the rover's hammering drill bores as deep as 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters). This preparatory activity enables the rover team to evaluate interaction between the drill and this particular rock and to view the potential sample-collection target's interior and tailings. Both the mini drill activity and acquisition of this image occurred during the 615th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 29, 2014). MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover completed a shallow “mini drill” activity on April 29, 2014, as part of evaluating a rock target called “Windjana” for possible full-depth drilling to collect powdered sample material from the rock’s interior. This image from Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument shows the hole and tailings resulting from the mini drill test. The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) deep.
When collecting sample material, the rover’s hammering drill bores as deep as 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters). This preparatory activity enables the rover team to evaluate the interaction between the drill and this particular rock and to view the potential sample-collection target’s interior and tailings. Both the mini-drill activity and acquisition of this image occurred during the 615th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (April 29, 2014).
MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rover will go forward about a-mile-and-a-half (two-and-a-half-kilometers) to a ridge capped with material rich in the iron-oxide mineral hematite first identified by observations made with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Just beyond this area, there’s also a region with clay-rich bedrock planetary scientists want to have a closer look.

The foreground of this scene from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows purple-hued rocks near the rover's late-2016 location on lower Mount Sharp. The scene's middle distance includes higher layers that are future destinations for the mission. Variations in color of the rocks hint at the diversity of their composition on lower Mount Sharp. The purple tone of the foreground rocks has been seen in other rocks where Curiosity's Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument has detected hematite. Winds and windblown sand in this part of Curiosity's traverse and in this season tend to keep rocks relatively free of dust, which otherwise can cloak rocks' color. The three frames combined into this mosaic were acquired by the Mastcam's right-eye camera on Nov. 10, 2016, during the 1,516th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Sunlight on Mars is tinged by the dusty atmosphere and this adjustment helps geologists recognize color patterns they are familiar with on Earth. The view spans about 15 compass degrees, with the left edge toward southeast. The rover's planned direction of travel from its location when this scene was recorded is generally southeastward. The orange-looking rocks just above the purplish foreground ones are in the upper portion of the Murray formation, which is the basal section of Mount Sharp, extending up to a ridge-forming layer called the Hematite Unit. Beyond that is the Clay Unit, which is relatively flat and hard to see from this viewpoint. The next rounded hills are the Sulfate Unit, Curiosity's highest planned destination. The most distant slopes in the scene are higher levels of Mount Sharp, beyond where Curiosity will drive. Figure 1 is a version of the same scene with annotations added as reference points for distance, size and relative elevation. The annotations are triangles with text telling the distance (in kilometers) to the point in the image marked by the triangle, the point's elevation (in meters) relative to the rover's location, and the size (in meters) of an object as big as the triangle at that distance. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Mastcam. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built the project's Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The foreground of this scene from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows purple-hued rocks near the rover’s late-2016 location on lower Mount Sharp. The scene’s middle distance includes higher layers that are future destinations for the mission.
Variations in color of the rocks hint at the diversity of their composition on lower Mount Sharp. The purple tone of the foreground rocks has been seen in other rocks where Curiosity’s Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument has detected hematite. Winds and windblown sand in this part of Curiosity’s traverse and in this season tend to keep rocks relatively free of dust, which otherwise can cloak rocks’ color.
The three frames combined into this mosaic were acquired by the Mastcam’s right-eye camera on Nov. 10, 2016, during the 1,516th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Sunlight on Mars is tinged by the dusty atmosphere and this adjustment helps geologists recognize color patterns they are familiar with on Earth.
The view spans about 15 compass degrees, with the left edge toward the southeast. The rover’s planned direction of travel from its location when this scene was recorded is generally southeastward.
The orange-looking rocks just above the purplish foreground ones are in the upper portion of the Murray formation, which is the basal section of Mount Sharp, extending up to a ridge-forming layer called the Hematite Unit. Beyond that is the Clay Unit, which is relatively flat and hard to see from this viewpoint. The next rounded hills are the Sulfate Unit, Curiosity’s highest planned destination. The most distant slopes in the scene are higher levels of Mount Sharp, beyond where Curiosity will drive.
Figure 1 is a version of the same scene with annotations added as reference points for distance, size and relative elevation. The annotations are triangles with text telling the distance (in kilometers) to the point in the image marked by the triangle, the point’s elevation (in meters) relative to the rover’s location, and the size (in meters) of an object as big as the triangle at that distance.
Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Mastcam. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built the project’s Curiosity rover.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA has been exploring these key exploration sites on lower Mount Sharp as part of an effort to investigate evidence the Red planet was once a much wetter environment, which contrasts with the pictures of Mars we have received from our orbiters and rovers. A wetter environment where life could have taken root and grown.

“We continue to reach higher and younger layers on Mount Sharp,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Even after four years of exploring near and on the mountain, it still has the potential to completely surprise us.”

Planetary scientists found the Murray formation consists primarily of mudstone, which on Earth would form from mud accumulated on the bottom on an ancient lake. This seems to indicate any lake environment that existed on the Red Planet lasted awhile, but we’ll need to investigate this possibility more. Plans are for Curiosity to investigate the upper regions of the Murray formation, ahead, for at least one year of the mission. 

“We will see whether that record of lakes continues further,” Vasavada said. “The more vertical thickness we see, the longer the lakes were present, and the longer habitable conditions existed here. Did the ancient environment change over time? Will the type of evidence we’ve found so far transition to something else?”

Vasavada said, “The Hematite and the Clay units likely indicate different environments from the conditions recorded in the older rock beneath them and different from each other. It will be interesting to see whether either or both were habitable environments.”

Read about the ferocious wind nebula astronomers have observed for the first time.

Learn how astronomers determine distances to objects on the other side of the Milky Way.

Help NASA find and classify young planetary systems to study by becoming a Disk Detective.

Find out more about NASA’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Learn more about NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its mission here.

Discover more about the Red Planet.

Read more about NASA’s Curiosity rover.

The Death of the Sun 

Will leave behind a hot, shining corpse called a white dwarf

This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful
This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful “last hurrah” of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star’s remaining core. Ultraviolet light from the dying star makes the material glow. The burned-out star, called a white dwarf, is the white dot in the centre. Credits: NASA/Hubble

Space news (astrophysics: the death of a Sun-like star; planetary nebula NGC 2440) – 4,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Puppis, watching the stunning, colorful last moments of a star like our own Sun –

Death is not extinguishing the light: it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come (quote by Rabindranath Tagore)

NGC 2440 is another planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, but it has a much more chaotic structure than NGC 2346. The central star of NGC 2440 is one of the hottest known, with a surface temperature near 200,000 degrees Celsius. The complex structure of the surrounding nebula suggests to some astronomers that there have been periodic oppositely directed outflows from the central star, somewhat similar to that in NGC2346, but in the case of NGC 2440 these outflows have been episodic, and in different directions during each episode. The nebula is also rich in clouds of dust, some of which form long, dark streaks pointing away fromthe central star. In addition to the bright nebula, which glows becauseof fluorescence due to ultraviolet radiation from the hot star, NGC 2440 is surrounded by a much larger cloud of cooler gas which is invisible in ordinary light but can be detected with infrared telescopes. NGC 2440 lies about 4,000 light-years from Earth in thedirection of the constellation Puppis. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State). Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).
NGC 2440 is a planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, with a little bit of extra character thrown in for visual entertainment. The central star of NGC 2440 has a surface temperature of around 200,000 degrees Celsius and chaotic nature suggesting periodic oppositely flowing outbursts, similar to the process seen in NGC 2346. In the case of this planetary nebula, however,  the outflows were periodic, and in different directions during each period. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440 acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State).
Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).

Around 5 billion years in the future, give or take a hundred million, our Sun’s expected to send last hurrahs to the cosmos as seen here in this Hubble Telescope image of planetary nebula NGC 2440. Casting off its outer layers of gas forming a cocoon around the burned-out remains called a white dwarf, it will glow as ultraviolet light it emits strikes the material surrounding it. The Milky Way galaxy’s sprinkled with similar stellar objects astronomers in the 18th and 19th centuries named planetary nebula due to their resemblance when viewed through small telescopes of the time to the disks of distant Uranus and Neptune. Shining at a surface temperature of more than 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit (200,000 degrees Celsius), NGC 2440’s one of the hottest planetary nebula discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

It may look like a butterfly, but it's bigger than our Solar System. NGC 2346 is a planetary nebula made of gas and dust that has evolved into a familiar shape. At the heart of the bipolar planetary nebula is a pair of close stars orbiting each other once every sixteen days. The tale of how the butterfly blossomed probably began millions of years ago, when the stars were farther apart. The more massive star expanded to encompass its binary companion, causing the two to spiral closer and expel rings of gas. Later, bubbles of hot gas emerged as the core of the massive red giant star became uncovered. In billions of years, our Sun will become a red giant and emit a planetary nebula - but probably not in the shape of a butterfly, because the Sun has no binary star companion.
Planetary nebula NGC 2346 looks like a butterfly to many viewers, but you could comfortably fit our solar system within its boundaries. Two stars orbit closely together within every sixteen days. In a few billion years, our Sun will expand to become a red giant star and eject material to create a similar looking planetary nebula. Scientists think it will look different, however, because our Sun has no companion star. Credit: Massimo Stiavelli (STScI), Inge Heyer (STScI) et al., & the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/ STScI/ NASA)

Study of this planetary nebula’s chaotic structure suggests it shed its outer layers of mass in episodic outbursts heading in different directions as seen in the two bowtie-shaped lobes observed in the image at the top. Long, dark clouds of dust forming dark streaks traveling away from NGC 2440 can also be seen, along with expelled helium indicated by blue, oxygen highlighted in blue-green, and nitrogen and hydrogen in red. Matter expelled by the white dwarf glows in different colors, depending on its composition, density, and distance from the hot star.

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team
This is a full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). In a few billion years it will expand into a red giant star and eject material that will become a similar, but different, looking planetary nebula than NGC 2440. Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

The final days of stars like the Sun

The present theory concerning the final days of a white dwarf star says it will end its days as a black dwarf star. Unknown billions of years in the future, astronomers believe white dwarf stars could stop emitting light and heat and become cold, stellar bodies. Cold, dark stars our telescopes and present technology would have extreme difficulty detecting accept for the effects of their gravity wells on objects traveling nearby. Unfortunately, our universe is only about 14 billions years old, which is too young for black dwarf stars to exist, if the theory is correct. 

Read about NASA’s recently issued challenge to young innovators to “Think Outside the Box”.

Learn more about NASA’s Next Generation Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope.

Discover how astronomers measure distances to objects on the other side of the Milky Way.

Learn more about NASA’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Learn more about the Sun.

Discover more about planetary nebula here.

Learn more about white dwarf stars.

Learn more about black dwarf stars.

NASA’s Looking to Form Space Technology Partnerships with American Firms 

Aimed at space technologies advancing the commercial space industry and enabling future NASA missions

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) additive manufactured injector by was successfully hot fire tested by Vector Space System on Dec. 8, 2016 using Liquid Oxygen/Propylene propellant (LOX/LC3H6). This work was performed under a 2015 STMD ACO Space Act Agreement. Credits: Vector Space System
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) additive manufactured injector by was successfully hot fire tested by Vector Space System on Dec. 8, 2016 using Liquid Oxygen/Propylene propellant (LOX/LC3H6). This work was performed under a 2015 STMD ACO Space Act Agreement.
Credits: Vector Space System

Space news (developing new space technology: the commercial space sector; the “Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO)” solicitation) – NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Office of Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) –

Air-bearing test of Affordable Vehicle Avionics (AVA), developed by ARC, tested at MSFC to support the UP Aerospace Spyder Launch Vehicle development. This work is performed under the STMD ACO Space Act Agreement. Credits: NASA/Marshall
Air-bearing test of Affordable Vehicle Avionics (AVA), developed by ARC, tested at MSFC to support the UP Aerospace Spyder Launch Vehicle development. This work is performed under the STMD ACO Space Act Agreement.
Credits: NASA/Marshall

NASA put out a call today for American businesses looking to form long-term partnerships aimed at designing and developing new space technologies to enable the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) released an “Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO)” solicitation you can read that explains the opportunity better.

Dynetics regeneratively cooled engine ready for test at MSFC using Peroxide/ Kerosene (H2O2/ RP) propellant. (January, 2016). This work is performed under the STMD ACO Space Act Agreement. Credits: NASA/Marshall
Dynetics regeneratively cooled engine ready for test at MSFC using Peroxide/ Kerosene (H2O2/ RP) propellant. (January, 2016). This work is performed under the STMD ACO Space Act Agreement.
Credits: NASA/Marshall

NASA’s looking to enable the development of new space technology by forming partnerships with commercial firms in the space industry and providing resources where available and appropriate. Business partners benefit from NASA technical expertise and test facilities, along with hardware and computer software designed and engineered to enable the development of current and new space technologies. Space sector partnerships between NASA and private firms can also reduce the cost of design and development of new space technologies and accelerate the inclusion of emerging commercial space technologies into future space missions. 

Stephen Jurczyk, Associate Administrator NASA Credits: Linked
Stephen Jurczyk, Associate Administrator NASA Credits: Linked

“This ACO continues to build on STMD’s strategy to advance commercial space capabilities aligned with NASA’s long-term strategic goals,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for STMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These partnerships will leverage NASA’s unique engineering expertise and test facilities to increase U.S. industry competitiveness in the space sector.”

Areas of space technology

This opportunity’s a limited one. NASA’s only seeking partnerships in four areas of space technology through this ACO:

  • The design and development of space spacecraft launch systems.
  • New commercial capabilities to produce low-cost yet reliable electronic systems for space.
  • Advanced commercial space telecommunications technologies that can be used during future NASA space missions or infused into their infrastructure.
  • Advanced small spacecraft chemical propulsion systems, sub-kW power level electric propulsion systems, and large-scale chemical cryogenic propulsion systems. 

All partnerships must work on the advancement of commercially-developed space technologies that can benefit both private and government use and the human journey to the beginning of space and time in general. 

Better hurry! All preliminary proposals have to be submitted by March 15, 2017. They’ll provide feedback on your ideas. After that, your final proposal’s due by May 31. 

All awarded funds are in the form of non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements (no funds exchanged). You also need to be a profit-driven US firm looking to make some money and enable the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

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