Ancient Dust Falling onto Mar’s Atmosphere from Oort Cloud Comet Contains Metal Ions

Artist’s concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA’s orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Artist’s concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA’s orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Comet Siding Spring sprinkles ancient metallic dust onto Mars atmosphere 

Space news (November 23, 2014) Comet Siding Spring seeds Mars with ancient metallic dust –

NASA and European space scientists recently observed a large comet flying past a planet for the first time. On October 19, 2014, three spacecraft, two American and one European, observed and gathered data as Comet Siding Spring flew past Mars. You can watch a YouTube video here of the artists rendering of the flyby.

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring arrived from a very distant region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud. At around 2:27 p.m. EDT, this traveler from the outer regions of the solar system was only about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from the Red Planet. It was at this time the comet was observed by three spacecraft as it deposited ancient debris on its atmosphere. This is the first direct measurement of dust from an Oort Cloud comet and an opportunity scientists and astronomers have been waiting for.

Five images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring taken within a 35-minute period as it passed near Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, provide information about the size of the comet's nucleus. These observations by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that the nucleus is smaller than 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) across.
Five images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring taken within a 35-minute period as it passed near Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, provide information about the size of the comet’s nucleus. These observations by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that the nucleus is smaller than 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) across.

Oort Cloud comets are thought to be leftover material from the birth of the solar system. Space scientists have an opportunity to test the present theory on the evolution of the solar system and possibly life on Earth. Theories persist that the ingredients of life could have been deposited on Mars in the distant past and then this life traveled to Earth and took root. The data collected during this encounter between Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars could help determine if this is possible.

Space scientists gathered information on the comet’s nucleus and the effects of the comet’s passage on the Martian atmosphere. The data was collected using NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, in conjunction with radar instruments on the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express.

These three plots are spectrograms showing the intensity of radar echo in the Martian far-northern ionosphere at three different times on Oct. 19 and 20, 2014. The middle plot reveals effects attributed to dust from a comet that passed near Mars that day. The data are from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), an instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.
These three plots are spectrograms showing the intensity of radar echo in the Martian
far-northern ionosphere at three different times on Oct. 19 and 20, 2014. The middle plot reveals effects attributed to dust from a comet that passed near Mars that day. The data are from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), an instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

Data collected indicates comet debris containing sodium, iron and magnesium metal ions, along with at least five others, fell on the atmosphere of Mars as the comet flew past the planet. Readings indicate this added a temporary layer of strong metal ions to the ionosphere of Mars. Planetary and atmospheric space scientists are now studying whether this could have resulted in the development of a similar layer in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth. They also want to take a look at the possibility the sprinkling of comet dust in the atmosphere of Mars could have long-term consequences for the planet.

“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet’s dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm’s way.”

NASA and European space scientists will now continue to monitor Mar’s atmosphere after the passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring for continued and additional effects and developments. They also hope to get further opportunities in the future to observe Oort Cloud comets flying past planets within the solar system.

For more information on MAVEN, MRO or any of NASA’s missions to Mars go here.

You can learn more about the Mars Express spacecraft here.

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NASA’s Curiosity Almost Ready to Journey to Mars

NASA scientists and engineers preparing Curiosity for her journey to Mars

NASA images

One of the latest envoys of the human journey to the beginning of space and time, the Mars rover Curiosity

Astronomy News – The human journey to the beginning of space and time will get a detailed view of Mars using the Mast Camera on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, once the spacecraft lands on the surface of Mars, sometime around August 2012, according to the latest estimates by NASA astronomers. Space travel is by necessity extremely well planned and every detail must be worked out to a set time table if Curiosity is to accomplish its mission. All aspects of the mission parameters must be analysed and reanalysed to ensure everything works as expected and the mission sticks to the timetable set by engineers and scientists working to get the spacecraft ready to journey to Mars, sometime between November 25 and December 18, 2011. The Mast Camera on Curiosity is in fact two digital color cameras riding high on the mast, each capable of recording high-definition video at about 8 frames per second, and taking and storing thousands of full-color images of the Red Planet in an eight-gigabyte flash memory. Once they combine the information taken by both cameras scientists and engineers will get detailed 3-D images of Mars as good as or better than any taken before.

This sensor head will play a key role in the mission success of Curiosity

 

Curiosity  will conduct chemical tests of the soil and rocks of Mars

NASA’s Mars Rover will also have onboard a “chemical element reader” to measure the different chemical ingredients making up the soil and rocks of Mars. This particular instrument, along with nine others on board the spacecraft will be looking at the present and past ability habitability of a specific spot on the Red Planet. The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument viewed here was designed by physics professor Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. This instrument uses alpha particles, or helium nuclei, and X-rays to bombard the Martian soil or a rock, which will cause the target to emit its own characteristic alpha particles and X-ray radiation. This emitted radiation will be detected by an X-ray detector inside the sensor head, which will be analysed by Mars scientists to see which elements are within the soil or rock. The exact identification of the elements that make up the Martian soil and rocks will help planet scientists determine the building blocks of the Martian crust, and any possible weathering of the soil or rock since it was formed.

Check out NASA’s Curiosity here

The Mars Science Laboratory is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MarsCuriosity and on Twitter @marscuriosity . A full listing of JPL social media accounts is at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/social .

Check out my newest astronomy website at http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/.

 

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