One of the oldest regions of the Red Planet discovered, an ancient Martian lake, or the site of an ancient hot spring first explored by NASA’s Spirit rover
Space news (The Journey to Mars: Mars 2020; possible landing sites) – Northeast Syrtis: Jerero crater; or Columbia Hills, on the Red Planet –
Planetary scientists and other scientists attending the third landing site workshop hosted by NASA in order to determine the best place for its Mars 2020 rover to land recommend three places. NASA’s been using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to search for suitable sites since about 2006 and to help in the identification, study, and verification of possible future landing sites for coming manned missions during most recent history. Data and observations provided by the MRO also helped participants narrow down the choices to three during the workshop.
“From the point of view of evaluating potential landing sites, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the perfect spacecraft for getting all the information needed,” said the workshop’s co-chair, Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “You just can’t overstate the importance of MRO for landing-site selection.”
“Missions on the surface of Mars give you the close-up view, but what you see depends on where you land. MRO searches the globe for the best sites,” said MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of JPL.
“Whether it is looking at the surface, the subsurface or the atmosphere of the planet, MRO has viewed Mars from orbit with unprecedented spatial resolution, and that produces huge volumes of data,” said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek of JPL.“These data are a treasure trove for the whole Mars scientific community to study as we seek to answer a broad range of questions about the evolving habitability, geology, and climate of Mars.”
The Journey to the Red Planet
The human journey to the beginning of space and time will be making a stop on Mars sometime in the 2030s if everything goes as planned with NASA’s Journey to Mars. Mars 2020 is expected to launch aboard the Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida around July 2020. After a journey of millions of miles across the solar system to the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 rover will land at one of three possible sites.
Images of the first possible landing site in the Northeast part of Syrtis Major showEarly Noachian bedrock planetary scientists would like to have a closer look at for signs of possible life. An excellent place for study and exploration of the past of the Red Planet, scientists are currently studying whether it’s safe for Mars 2020 to land. There could be too many boulders or even steep slopes unidentified in the initial analysis of images of this region making landing problematic at best. There’s also always the possibility of something we haven’t thought of. If the site is safe, it will be considered for the final choice, and possibly even for the rovers planned by Europe and NASA sometime around 2018.
This part of the Red Planet was once warmed by volcanoes, so planetary scientists want to look for ancient hot springs and even surface ice melt where liquid water could have flowed. Liquid water’s one of the catalysts-of-life planetary scientists look for in the search for extraterrestrial life. The layered terrain of Northeast Syrtis could hold a record of ancient simple life forms that existed on Mars during its early history. At the very least it should tell us more about interactions between water and minerals over successive parts of the Red Planet when it was young. This site we should definitely take a look at.
Rewind time 3.5 billion years in Jezero crater, to when river channels spilled over the crater wall and formed a lake. Planetary scientists see evidence water from this lake carried clay minerals from the lake bed after this body of water dried up. Scientists want to explore the crater for signs microbial life once lived here during events such as this when Jezero crater was a little wetter. For the remains of ancient life in the lakebed sediments.
Columbia Hills, Mars
After additional study planetary scientists and geochemists agree mineral springs once bubbled up from the rocks of Columbia Hills in Gusev crater on the Red Planet. Originally, the Spirit rover found no clear signs water flowed over or existed in the rocks of this region of Mars, but the discovery hot springs once existed here has scientists thinking a shallow lake may have once formed for a time. Warm, inviting waters microbial life could have evolved in, exobiologists are keen to examinesoils and lakebed sediments of Gusev crater for their remains.
The Final Landing Site of the Mars 2020 rover
Possible landing sites of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover may change as the mission goes forward, the science mission and even engineering considerations of achieving their goals could change as they learn more. Ultimately, NASA will decide on a landing site with geology indicating a wetter past that also meets all criteria. Stay tuned to the human journey to the beginning of space and time during the months and years ahead to learn more.
During the same relative time period, other clues indicate more oxygen was present in the atmosphere thanfound currently
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 –
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 pastpoints to a wetter environment in the study region Gale Crater during this time.
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?”
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 accompanyingtheir 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.”
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?
“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.“
The Curiosity rover has been investigating Gale Crater for around four years and recent evidence supports the possibilityconditions 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.
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.
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.
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.”
To investigate Martian rocks for evidence of past life in advance of sending humans to work and live on the Red Planet
Space news (missions to Mars: successor to Curiosity rover; Mars 2020 rover) – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California –
NASA managers are looking forward to shifting gears on the Mars rover program in the 2020s. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s expected to arrive at the Red Planet around February 2021, carrying a science instrument package designed to build upon the success of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. It will investigate regions of the planet astrobiologists think were once favorable to microbial life, by collecting soil and rock samples, and then leaving them on the surface for a future Mars mission to collect for the possible return to Earth.
“The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA’s Journey to Mars, to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet.”
NASA engineers, scientists and mission planners are ready to begin final design and construction of the next Mars rover. In the end, Mars 2020 will looklike its six-wheeled, one-ton predecessor, Curiosity, but with a science instrument package designed to begin a new phase of exploration of the surface of Mars. It will begin exploring specifically selected regions of the planet for signs of life and the resources needed for future colonists to survive. Using two science instruments mounted on the rover’s robotic arm and two instruments on the mast, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s expected to show us new things about the Red Planet.
Current plans call for the Mars 2020 rover to use an upgraded version of the same sky crane landing system used by Curiosity. Engineers and designers have added a few improvements to the system opening up more potential landing sites on Mars with this edition. Giving mission planners more options to explore the Red Planet to a greater degree and hopefully provide a few more answers to the questions we have all been asking ourselves about Mars.
“By adding what’s known as range trigger, we can specify where we want the parachute to open, not just at what velocity we want it to open,” said Allen Chen, Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “That shrinks our landing area by nearly half.”
Engineers and designers have also added a suite of cameras and a microphone providing data onboard computers will analysis during descent and landing of the rover. This will help the spacecraft land in a safe zone and capture the sounds and imagery of the entry, descent, and landing as never before. We expect this data to eventually make for a thrilling video and improve the chances of future Mars missions.
“As it is descending, the spacecraft can tell whether it is headed for one of the unsafe zones and divert to safe ground nearby,” said Chen. “With this capability, we can now consider landing areas with unsafe zones that previously would have disqualified the whole area. Also, we can land closer to a specific science destination, for less driving after landing.”
“Nobody has ever seen what a parachute looks like as it is opening in the Martian atmosphere,” said JPL’s David Gruel, assistant flight system manager for the Mars 2020 mission. “So this will provide valuable engineering information.”
“This will be a great opportunity for the public to hear the sounds of Mars for the first time, and it could also provide useful engineering information,” said Mars 2020 Deputy Project Manager Matt Wallace of JPL.
Mars 2020 rover goes forward
As the optimist said, “So far, so good.” NASA has completed stage three of a four-stage approval process needed for the Mars 2020 rover to go for launch. Now engineers and designers get to work assembling the final systems of NASA’s next Mars rover. Fortunately, they have already done a lot of the work during the building of Curiosity, and even have some spare parts and hardware that should work just fine laying around somewhere in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Since Mars 2020 is leveraging the design and some spare hardware from Curiosity, a significant amount of the mission’s heritage components have already been built during Phases A and B,” said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With the KDP to enter Phase C completed, the project is proceeding with final design and construction of the new systems, as well as the rest of the heritage elements for the mission.”
A symbol for war and aggression for human tribes for thousands of years, fear and foreboding grew in the heart whenever a blood-red star, Mars (the Red Planet) appeared and moved across the night sky.
Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets of the solar system –
With 11 percent of the mass and half the diameter of Earth, Mars is smaller than Venus and bigger than both Mercury and the Moon. A world of geological wonders, with ancient volcanoes dwarfing the biggest mountains on Earth, the Red Planet had warm and wet geological periods in the distant past.
The most studied of the nine planets besides Earth, Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun at an average distance of 142 million miles and is named after the Roman God of War.
Tuesday was Mars Day in ancient Babylonia, who first created the seven-day week because they believed on this day Mars influenced their lives. With two small moons called Phobos and Deimos, that look much more like asteroids from the Main Asteroid Belt, and a surface that looks Earth-like in photographs, the Red Planet is probably the best planet to terraform.
Mars has an atmosphere primarily composed of carbon dioxide, with a little water vapor, and not enough oxygen for you to breath. With a gravity field .375 of Earth’s and an average surface temperature of -81 degrees Celsius, it will take generations to make the Red Planet habitable for human life.
Visiting Mars and a nearby asteroid is an adventure far beyond climbing the tallest mountain or sailing the deepest seas
Space news (December 1, 20140) enabling the journey to Mars –
NASA recently reached out to the public to ask for proposals concerning the development of the concepts and technology required to travel to a nearby asteroid or Mars in the near future. They want to develop partnerships with private individuals and businesses to share combined funding to develop faster space propulsion systems, space habitats capable of keeping humans alive in deep space for extended periods, and small satellites to explore the solar system.
NASA and their partners will make use of the Moon and space around it to help enable the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. It will be easier to both manufactures many of the things needed to enable the journey and develop many of the technologies required on or in space around the Moon. At the same time, we’ll learn many things about traveling and surviving in space needed to make the trip and return.
NASA seeks proposals to develop a state-of-the-art solar electric propulsion system in the 50 to the 300-kilowatt range. Currently, NASA uses systems generating less than five kilowatts. They have also selected proposals to develop a solar electric propulsion system in the 40-kilowatt range.
NASA currently has Orion in development, a human habitation capable of keeping four human beings alive in deep space for 21 days and bringing them back to Earth in one piece. They seek proposals concerning possible studies and the development of technologies and concepts to allow humans to travel to a nearby asteroid or Mars and return safely after exploring extensively.
They intend to study architecture, subsystems, and engineering of a modular habitat capable of doing the job. NASA will use any habitat designed and engineered to enable planned missions to the Moon, which will help test it for use in future missions. Studies proposed should address transportation, habitation, operations or environmental capabilities of a modular space habitat.
NASA’s also hoping to form partnerships with private firms and individuals in the development and delivery of small satellites called CubeSats. Proposals selected will fly as secondary payloads on Exploration Mission-1, which offers an opportunity to launch these CubeSats into deep space and enable future space science, technology growth, exploration and commercial applications.
NASA wants to provide rewards or incentives for private concerns and individuals desiring to take a hand or increase their stake in the future of human space exploration through this announcement. They’re doing this in order to both accomplish current missions and objectives and sustain current investments in space technologies and capabilities needed to journey to the beginning of space and time. They expect partners to contribute significantly to any agreement since any technology or capabilities developed could make a lot of money.
Check it out!
NASA asks all interested private firms or individuals to submit their proposals electronically by 4:30 p.m. EST December 12, 2014. American businesses, charities and international institutions are all eligible to apply. All rewards or incentives can be affected by the amount of money available. NASA could hold off on making awards until it receives funding for the next year or decides to make awards in certain areas and keep the rest back until they know exactly where they stand financially.
You can find more information on this NASA initiative here.
For more information on NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships go here.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover could be traversing terrain similar to large grained sandstone deposits found on Earth scientists studying images taken of the region surrounding the spacecraft believe.
The 160 degree landscape panorama below photographed by Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) on February 19, 2014 during a stop on the missions 574th day shows an eroded sandstone outcrop called Junda and Mount Sharp on the horizon. The panoramic image below is centered on “the Kimberley”, a region 282 feet south from the rovers location, NASA scientists are heading Curiosity toward.
The 360-degree panorama below is also centered on the Kimberley region to the south. The outcrop of eroded sandstone in the foreground is the same one seen in the 160 degree panorama above.
The Kimberley region and Mount Sharp were chosen as prime targets of interest for NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover due to study of images taken from orbit of the region last year. Planetary scientists want to take a look at the Kimberley region because four types of sandstone with different textures intersect there.
“The orbital images didn’t tell us what those rocks are, but now that Curiosity is getting closer, we’re seeing a preview,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “
The contrasting textures and durabilities of sandstones in this area are fascinating. While superficially similar, the rocks likely formed and evolved quite differently from each other.”
The resistance to erosion of different rock types in a location 400 meters north-northwest of the Kimberley results in the different elevations and surfaces shades seen here. Higher elevations indicates more erosion resistant rock, while the flat, tanned surface is a sandstone with low resistance to erosion. This means the medium height rocks to the right center are less resistant to erosion than the taller rocks at the top of the image.
In earth geology sand is defined as fragmentary sediment smaller than 2 mm and 0.062 mm in diameter. Sandstone is the second most abundant sedimentary rock (20-25%) on Earth. The environment of deposition of surface rocks is generally related to mineral composition. A study of erosion of surface rocks and their mineral composition could provide planetary scientists with clues concerning the environment sandstone was formed in millions of years ago.
In geology the material between grains of sand in sandstone is called cement, whatever it’s composition. On earth the particular characteristics of cement varies quite a bit, depending on the environmental and geophysical history of the sandstone formation studied. Sandstones with a high percentage of clay-minerals are generally soft and will readily crumble when hit with a hammer. Sandstone with quartz cement is usually hard and rings when struck with a hammer.
Planetary scientists are hoping to have time in the planned schedule of Curiosity to study the sandstone in the Kimberly region. The results would be very interesting and could tell us a lot about the geological history of the Red Planet.
For the most part, the surface terrain NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover has travelled over thus far was finer grained mud stone, rather than the coarser-grained sandstone outcroppings they expect to discover once they reach the Kimberley region of Mars. Sandstone has been seen in a number of different forms on planet Earth and some earth scientists were probably expecting forms to exist on other planets. Time permitting, planetary scientists are hoping to grab a sample of the terrain in the Kimberley region, they can study in depth using laboratory instruments inside Curiosity.
As with earth geology, an understanding of the process that created the different sandstone formations and outcrops in the Kimberly region, could help explain terrain found in Mars Gale Crater and the reason it has a large layered mountain, Mount Sharp, near its center.
“A major issue for us now is to understand why some rocks resist erosion more than other rocks, especially when they are so close to each other and are both likely to be sandstones,” said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego.
Astronomy News – Space scientists looking at the atmosphere of the Red Planet have a bit of a mystery on their hands as the facts would seem to indicate that Mars should have a much more prominent atmosphere. The formation of an atmosphere thick enough for liquid water to flow on the planet’s surface would have made the Red Planet a very promising place for the formation of life in our solar system. Planet scientists that have been studying Mars and the data collected by instruments they have focused on the Red Planet and are planning on journeying to the Red Planet to delve into the mystery of Mar’s atmosphere using MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission), sometime in the future. They want to see if they can find any clues as to where Mar’s atmosphere might have gone and the possible reasons it’s no longer present on Mars. They also want to see if they can determine a timeline for the disappearance of the Red Planet’s thick atmosphere, which could give them an idea whether Mar’s had time to develop life forms.
Planet scientists looking at the surface of Mars see features that lead them to believe that the surface of the Red Planet has been a cold and barren place for billions of years. This is hardly the environment for Earth-based life to develop, but surface features resembling water-channels of some kind and minerals scientists know will form in the presence of water have been found on the surface of Mars. These facts lead planet scientists to the possibility that Mars once had a much thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow along the surface of Mars. The only problem is Mars currently has a very thin atmosphere unable to protect any liquid water that forms on the surface of Mars from the radiation of the sun and consequently any water would have been scoured from the planet’s surface, long ago. This environment would be the end-of-the-road for any known Earth-based life form, but it’s possible any Martian life forms that existed during the time when Mar’s thicker atmosphere went missing could have decided to go underground in order to survive. NASA plans on sending MAVEN out to the Red Planet to see if they can find any clues to the mystery of where Mar’s thicker atmosphere went, sometime in 2013, if NASA’s current plans stay on target.
Evidence exists suggesting Mars once had a lot more water
What are the possible reasons Mar’s no longer has a much thicker atmosphere? Space scientists at this point believe that Sol could be the main culprit in the disappearance of the Red Planet’s atmosphere, that Sol’s breath, or solar wind, is the possible force responsible for Mars no longer having a much thicker atmosphere possibly capable of supporting Earth-based life. They think it’s possible the electrically charged ions and electrons in the solar wind could have slowly stripped away Mar’s thicker atmosphere in its early days, after Mars lost its global magnetic field, which would have normally shielded the thicker atmosphere of the Red Planet from the force of Sol’s solar wind, just as Earth’s global magnetic field protects our atmosphere from the solar wind. Sol’s solar wind isn’t the only possibly culprit in the disappearance of Mar’s thicker atmosphere and NASA’s planning on sending MAVEN to the Red Planet within the next two years to take a look at what remains of the upper atmosphere of Mars, the ionosphere and the way the atmosphere of the Red Planet interacts with Sol and its solar wind.