9 years on Mars! Curiosity rover marks another anniversary

Science

Space.com 05 August, 2021 - 06:00am 99 views

The car-sized robot launched in November 2011 and touched down inside Mars' 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5, 2012. (The landing occurred on Aug. 6 Eastern time, but it was still Aug. 5 in California, where NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages Curiosity's mission, is based.)

Ever since, Curiosity has been helping scientists better understand Mars' past habitability and how the planet has changed over time. For example, the rover's observations have shown that Gale hosted a lake-and-stream system in the ancient past, which may have been capable of supporting Earth-like life for millions of years at a time.

Related: Amazing Mars photos by NASA's Curiosity rover

In September 2014, Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Red Planet's sky from Gale's center. The six-wheeled robot then began picking its way up the broad, sloping massif, reading the rock layers as it climbed.

Embedded in those layers is a history of Mars' climate, which shifted over the eons from relatively warm and wet to cold and bone-dry. And Curiosity is now poised to gather data that could shed considerable light on this shift. 

The rover has nearly reached a section of Mount Sharp rich in sulfate-bearing rocks, which are indicative of a relatively dry environment. The layers Curiosity has examined on the slopes thus far have generally harbored clays, which form in the presence of liquid water.

Curiosity has made a number of other intriguing finds during its time on Mars. For example, it has discovered organic chemicals, the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it. And the rover has detected several spikes in the concentration of methane, which here on Earth is generated primarily by living creatures. 

Methane can also be produced by abiotic processes, however, and the source of the gas in Gale Crater remains a mystery.

During its nine years on Mars, Curiosity has traveled a total of 16.14 miles (25.98 km). And its odometer could keep ticking over for a while to come. The rover is in good health despite its relatively advanced age, mission team members have said, and its nuclear power system is designed to operate for a minimum of 14 years. (All discussion of years in this story refers to Earth years. Mars years are longer, each one lasting about 687 Earth days.)

Curiosity isn't the only robot active on the Martian surface. NASA's InSight lander has been listening for Marsquakes since its November 2018 touchdown, and the agency's Perseverance rover landed this past February inside the 28-mile-wide (45 km) Jezero Crater.

Perseverance, which is modeled heavily on Curiosity, is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth. Perseverance traveled to Mars with the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity helicopter, which has made 10 flights (and counting) inside Jezero.

Then there's the Zhurong rover, which is part of Tianwen-1, China's first fully homegrown Mars mission. Zhurong landed on May 14, kicking off a surface mission designed to last at least three months.

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Ingenuity's 11th Flight

Jet Propulsion Laboratory 05 August, 2021 - 11:50pm

This graphic indicates the helicopter's location at takeoff with a pale blue dot on the lower right; upper-left dots indicate its new landing site.

The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA's Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity's development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

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HYPEBEAST 05 August, 2021 - 04:37pm

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Shared by NASA on its website, the aerial images were taken during the helicopter’s tenth mission in July. After taking off from an airfield, the helicopter flew 40 feet (12 meters) upwards, snapped 10 photos of the surface of Jezero Crater with its camera and landed at a different airfield. NASA’s team then combined two of the images to create a 3D rendering of an area of the planet they call the “Raised Ridges.”

“In 3D it almost feels like you can reach out and touch the Raised Ridges,” said Kevin Hand, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But along with its immersive beauty, the image provides great detail. If you look closely, you can see some curious lines across the surfaces of several rocks. Are these just made by eons of wind and dust blowing over the rocks, or might those features tell the story of water? We just don’t know yet.”

In light of the discovery, scientists are debating drilling into the area to procure a rock or sediment sample, a mission that would require a rover to drive for several Martian days to reach the site. For reference, a Martian day, or sol, is approximately 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.

The helicopter flight follows the successful launch of the car-sized Perseverance rover last year as a part of NASA’s overarching search for signs of ancient microbial life. Perseverance landed in February and has been exploring Mars since, having already captured over 75,000 photos of the Red Planet.

In other space news, this video gives a size comparison of the black holes lurking in our universe.

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Mars helicopter Ingenuity scores another safe flight on Red Planet

Space.com 05 August, 2021 - 01:36pm

Read more: NASA has plans for bigger, more capable Mars helicopters

For this flight, Ingenuity kept its work to a minimum, although the helicopter should have gathered a few color photos and the materials for a 3D stereo image of its new home base. The little helicopter's next excursion should be a reconnaissance flight of South Séítah, the mission team has said, and additional such flights could follow.

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© Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036.

Building a Mars Treasure Chest, One Test Tube at a Time – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

NASA Mars Exploration 04 August, 2021 - 07:00pm

This week, the Perseverance team here on Earth hopes to make scientific treasure hunting history on Mars.

The planetary science community has, for decades, worked toward returning samples from another planet – something that has never been done in the history of spaceflight. With one command sent to the rover from JPL, for the first time ever, a spacecraft will core a scientifically-selected rock on another planet, and then seal and store this sample for eventual return to Earth.

Returning samples from Mars has been a horizon goal of planetary exploration since its inception. This is a moment countless scientists and engineers around the globe – including myself – have been focused on for decades. As a student in high school, I was inspired to consider an aerospace engineering educational path by such plans. As a young engineer at NASA, this quest consumed the first decade of my career.

Every mission to Mars has been a stepping stone for this goal, building the knowledge and capabilities to not just land the car-sized, nuclear-powered Perseverance rover on Mars, but outfit it with the appropriate science instruments to identify the most compelling samples and acquire them with the cleanest and most-sophisticated sampling system ever sent to space.

Like any grand challenge, progress to this historic milestone has been characterized in fits and starts. However, with Perseverance now on the Mars surface and the formulation of the next missions underway, the planetary science community has never been closer to this long-time goal.

Now the real work begins. In the coming years, guided by the careful analysis of hundreds of scientists across the globe, as many as 38 different samples from a variety of geologic units and surface materials will be cored, sealed, and cached by Perseverance. Simultaneously on Earth, a joint U.S. and European team is developing the landing systems, containment technology, robotic arms, Mars ascent system, rendezvous and orbital transfer systems, and a host of other systems required to bring these samples back to Earth.

As the first roundtrip mission to another planet, Mars Sample Return is a pathfinder that will pave the way for the next journey of discovery -- human exploration of Mars.

While there is much science that can be done on Mars by rovers like Perseverance, there are certain investigations (e.g., geochronology through isotope-dating) that can only be done with large-scale equipment in labs here on Earth. Want to know specifically how old Mars is? Gotta bring back samples. How about the detailed history of water, climate, or the potential for past life on Mars? Requires sample analysis in a lab here on Earth.

Later today, Martian surface sample acquisition will begin when JPL sends the signal to grab that first jewel to be stored in the Perseverance treasure chest.

The treasure hunt is about to start.

Managed by the Mars Exploration Program and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

Building a Mars Treasure Chest, One Test Tube at a Time – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

Space.com 04 August, 2021 - 07:00pm

This week, the Perseverance team here on Earth hopes to make scientific treasure hunting history on Mars.

The planetary science community has, for decades, worked toward returning samples from another planet – something that has never been done in the history of spaceflight. With one command sent to the rover from JPL, for the first time ever, a spacecraft will core a scientifically-selected rock on another planet, and then seal and store this sample for eventual return to Earth.

Returning samples from Mars has been a horizon goal of planetary exploration since its inception. This is a moment countless scientists and engineers around the globe – including myself – have been focused on for decades. As a student in high school, I was inspired to consider an aerospace engineering educational path by such plans. As a young engineer at NASA, this quest consumed the first decade of my career.

Every mission to Mars has been a stepping stone for this goal, building the knowledge and capabilities to not just land the car-sized, nuclear-powered Perseverance rover on Mars, but outfit it with the appropriate science instruments to identify the most compelling samples and acquire them with the cleanest and most-sophisticated sampling system ever sent to space.

Like any grand challenge, progress to this historic milestone has been characterized in fits and starts. However, with Perseverance now on the Mars surface and the formulation of the next missions underway, the planetary science community has never been closer to this long-time goal.

Now the real work begins. In the coming years, guided by the careful analysis of hundreds of scientists across the globe, as many as 38 different samples from a variety of geologic units and surface materials will be cored, sealed, and cached by Perseverance. Simultaneously on Earth, a joint U.S. and European team is developing the landing systems, containment technology, robotic arms, Mars ascent system, rendezvous and orbital transfer systems, and a host of other systems required to bring these samples back to Earth.

As the first roundtrip mission to another planet, Mars Sample Return is a pathfinder that will pave the way for the next journey of discovery -- human exploration of Mars.

While there is much science that can be done on Mars by rovers like Perseverance, there are certain investigations (e.g., geochronology through isotope-dating) that can only be done with large-scale equipment in labs here on Earth. Want to know specifically how old Mars is? Gotta bring back samples. How about the detailed history of water, climate, or the potential for past life on Mars? Requires sample analysis in a lab here on Earth.

Later today, Martian surface sample acquisition will begin when JPL sends the signal to grab that first jewel to be stored in the Perseverance treasure chest.

The treasure hunt is about to start.

Managed by the Mars Exploration Program and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

Building a Mars Treasure Chest, One Test Tube at a Time – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

autoevolution 04 August, 2021 - 07:00pm

This week, the Perseverance team here on Earth hopes to make scientific treasure hunting history on Mars.

The planetary science community has, for decades, worked toward returning samples from another planet – something that has never been done in the history of spaceflight. With one command sent to the rover from JPL, for the first time ever, a spacecraft will core a scientifically-selected rock on another planet, and then seal and store this sample for eventual return to Earth.

Returning samples from Mars has been a horizon goal of planetary exploration since its inception. This is a moment countless scientists and engineers around the globe – including myself – have been focused on for decades. As a student in high school, I was inspired to consider an aerospace engineering educational path by such plans. As a young engineer at NASA, this quest consumed the first decade of my career.

Every mission to Mars has been a stepping stone for this goal, building the knowledge and capabilities to not just land the car-sized, nuclear-powered Perseverance rover on Mars, but outfit it with the appropriate science instruments to identify the most compelling samples and acquire them with the cleanest and most-sophisticated sampling system ever sent to space.

Like any grand challenge, progress to this historic milestone has been characterized in fits and starts. However, with Perseverance now on the Mars surface and the formulation of the next missions underway, the planetary science community has never been closer to this long-time goal.

Now the real work begins. In the coming years, guided by the careful analysis of hundreds of scientists across the globe, as many as 38 different samples from a variety of geologic units and surface materials will be cored, sealed, and cached by Perseverance. Simultaneously on Earth, a joint U.S. and European team is developing the landing systems, containment technology, robotic arms, Mars ascent system, rendezvous and orbital transfer systems, and a host of other systems required to bring these samples back to Earth.

As the first roundtrip mission to another planet, Mars Sample Return is a pathfinder that will pave the way for the next journey of discovery -- human exploration of Mars.

While there is much science that can be done on Mars by rovers like Perseverance, there are certain investigations (e.g., geochronology through isotope-dating) that can only be done with large-scale equipment in labs here on Earth. Want to know specifically how old Mars is? Gotta bring back samples. How about the detailed history of water, climate, or the potential for past life on Mars? Requires sample analysis in a lab here on Earth.

Later today, Martian surface sample acquisition will begin when JPL sends the signal to grab that first jewel to be stored in the Perseverance treasure chest.

The treasure hunt is about to start.

Managed by the Mars Exploration Program and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

NASA Mars helicopter scouts out rocks with 'curious lines'

CNET 04 August, 2021 - 06:08pm

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter snapped this view of the fascinating "Raised Ridges" area on Mars.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter is gearing up for its 11th flight, which could happen as soon as Wednesday night. It's a fairly simple relocation flight, so it's not expected to be as dramatic as the previous airborne journey. The Ingenuity team is still poring over images the rotorcraft snapped on that flight, and there are some noteworthy rocks on display.

Ingenuity is acting as a landscape scout for its ground-bound companion, the Perseverance rover. The helicopter took a look at an area with rippling sand called "Raised Ridges." 

Some of the rocks at Raised Ridges caught the eye of Perseverance science team member Kevin Hand, who has been inspecting a 3D version of the view. "If you look closely, you can see some curious lines across the surfaces of several rocks. Are these just made by eons of wind and dust blowing over the rocks, or might those features tell the story of water? We just don't know yet," Hand said in a NASA statement on Wednesday.

Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, a now-dry lakebed, because it's a perfect spot to seek out signs of ancient microbial life. Scientists are eager for a closer look at rocks that might tie into the red planet's watery history.

Ingenuity has been a smashing success. It represents the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, and has now settled into a co-starring role acting as an assistant to Perseverance. The team is evaluating whether to send the rover on a multi-day trip to Raised Ridges to drill a rock or sediment sample. The images from Ingenuity will help direct the rover's mission. 

Said Perseverance deputy project scientist Ken Williford, "These aerial previews from Ingenuity provide the kind of actionable data that allow us to whittle down our options and get on with the business of exploring our corner of Mars."

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