Curiosity rover discovers that evidence of past life on Mars may have been erased

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Livescience.com 16 July, 2021 - 09:06am 52 views

NASA's Perseverance rover is on a road trip across Mars, and that means stopping for some sightseeing. On Wednesday, NASA shared snaps from a roadside attraction that's caught the rover team's attention.

The object of interest is a patch of rock left over from when Jezero Crater was a lake, in the far distant past when Mars was more watery than it is today.

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"Check out this patch of rock I found: looks kind of like garden pavers, and is probably exposed bedrock," NASA tweeted along with a GIF of the rover checking the spot out. "Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like."

Check out this patch of rock I found: looks kind of like garden pavers, and is probably exposed bedrock. Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like. Spending a few days investigating…https://t.co/p9A2vJFjIV pic.twitter.com/0bc8lPiQLS

Perseverance is logging a few days at the site to get a closer look. The rover has a lot of science ahead, but one of its main missions is to seek out evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet. A former lake is a perfect place to investigate Mars' past habitability. 

The images shared by NASA show the rover checking out the "pavers" with the gear on the end of its robotic arm.   

"The arm lets the rover work as a human geologist would: by holding and using science tools with its 'hand' or turret," NASA said in a rover explainer. "The rover's own 'hand tools' extract cores from rocks, takes microscopic images and analyzes the elemental composition and mineral makeup of Martian rocks and soil."

NASA's robotic explorer arrived on Mars in February and is into its first official science campaign with its companion Ingenuity helicopter acting as a scout. The bedrock investigation is a sign of science to come as the rover teases out the story of Mars' ancient history. 

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Read full article at Livescience.com

Georgia Tech grad now living on Martian time as part of Perseverance rover project

WSB Atlanta 16 July, 2021 - 12:01pm

ATLANTA — If you think you have a weird work schedule, odds are Luke Walker has you beat.

Walker is currently a flight system systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For the last six years Walker, a Georgia Tech B.S. and MBA grad, has worked on the Mars Perseverance project in several different roles.

In order for him to do his job he has to be on Mars time, which has more hours in a day than Earth time.

“A Mars day is 25 hours,” said Walker. “During early operations, you’re trying to optimize everything, so we only operate the rover during Martian daytime. We sync our schedule to when the rover is awake, so every day, I wake up 40 to 50 minutes later than the last day. Daytime could be from noon to 10 p.m. and it slowly rotates around.”

Since the rover landed on Mars in February, Walker has held two different roles.

“During the first five days on Mars, he worked on the surface operations transition, where he had to make sure Perseverance was safe and healthy and started configuring the rover. Since then, he has served as team lead for the mechanisms chair, where he analyzes data that is sent back from the rover,” Georgia Tech said in a news release.

Walker said one of the most exciting parts of the project for him so far was landing day, where he watched Perseverance land on Mars from mission control.

“It was a really interesting experience because you have no control. We plan everything months in advance, and we’ve already put the plans on board the rover, so we don’t do any commanding live,” Walker said. “All we are doing is sitting and watching, holding on, and hoping for the best. That moment when I heard ‘Touchdown confirmed, Perseverance is safe on Mars,’ it was just a huge relief.”

Walker and his crew got the first images from Mars about two to three hours after it landed.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling to see those pictures,” Walker said. “I think for the first five days, every time an image would come back, everyone would crowd around the computer screen and just watch. No matter what we were doing, we would stop and pause and look at the pictures. Even if you were supposed to be doing something more important, getting these pictures back from another planet or a place no one has ever seen is pretty neat.”

Walker credits his love for space to “visiting the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center when he was a kid. Initially wanting to be an astronaut, Walker, a Texas native, realized that he needed to get involved in aerospace engineering, which eventually led him to Georgia Tech.”

NASA's Mars rover snaps shots of unique rock formation in 'ancient lakebed'

New York Post 16 July, 2021 - 12:01pm

July 15, 2021 | 2:10pm | Updated July 15, 2021 | 2:10pm

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has sent pictures back to Earth of a unique rock formation within what the space agency called an “ancient lakebed” in its latest reported discovery during it mission on the Red Planet.

“Check out this patch of rock I found: looks kind of like garden pavers, and is probably exposed bedrock,” read a message from the research robot’s Twitter account on Wednesday. “Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like. Spending a few days investigating…”

Perseverance arrived on Mars on Feb. 18 after a six-month journey through space. The rover’s landing site was at the Jezero Crater, and “scientists believe the area was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta,” according to NASA.

Check out this patch of rock I found: looks kind of like garden pavers, and is probably exposed bedrock. Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like. Spending a few days investigating…https://t.co/p9A2vJFjIV pic.twitter.com/0bc8lPiQLS

The rover is being assisted by Integrity, NASA’s Mars helicopter, which made its ninth flight on Mars earlier this month. Integrity made history on April 19 by completing the first controlled flight by an aircraft on a planet other than Earth.

“My science team is poring over these color images from the #MarsHelicopter’s latest flight,” Perseverance’s Twitter account posted last week along with video of Martian terrain. “Ingenuity crossed over a region that would be tricky for me to drive on, adding a new perspective to the picture of Jezero Crater that I’m piecing together.”

Perseverance’s mission on Mars includes searching the Red Planet for signs of ancient microbial life, collecting samples, surveying the geological features within the Jezero Crater, and sending images back to Earth.

Perseverance marked NASA’s ninth landing on Mars and is the agency’s fifth rover. She is also the largest, weighing in at more than a metric ton.

'Alien burp' may have been detected by NASA's Curiosity rover

Livescience.com 16 July, 2021 - 12:01pm

The methane is likely to have been produced recently

Methane blips have pinged on Curiosity's detection systems six times since the rover landed in Mars' Gale crater in 2012, but scientists weren't able to find a source for them. Now, with a new analysis, researchers may have traced the methane burps to their origin.

To calculate the unknown methane source, researchers at the California Institute of Technology modeled the methane gas particles by splitting them into discrete packets. Taking into account the wind speed and direction at the time of their detection, the team traced their parcels of methane back through time to their possible points of emission. By doing this for all of the different detection spikes, they were able to triangulate regions where the methane source is most likely located — with one being just a few dozen miles away from the rover.

"[The findings] point to an active emission region to the west and the southwest of the Curiosity rover on the northwestern crater floor," the researchers wrote in their paper. "This may invoke a coincidence that we selected a landing site for Curiosity that is located next to an active methane emission site."

Even if the methane is being produced by non-biological processes, it could point to geological activity closely tied to the presence of liquid water — a vital ingredient for past or present life to thrive. 

Curiosity detected the methane blips through an instrument called the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, which is capable of detecting trace quantities of the gas at less than one-half part per billion (ppb), or about the quantity of a pinch of salt dropped into an Olympic-size swimming pool. The methane spikes that led the team to the potential source were registered at roughly 10 ppb. 

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Previous attempts to cross-check Curiosity's methane spikes with atmospheric methane levels detected by  the European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) have failed. This could either mean that there is methane in the Martian atmosphere and the TGO somehow isn't picking it up, or there isn't any atmospheric methane on Mars and Curiosity is parked right on top of a local source.

Though we still don't know whether the methane comes from tiny life-forms, the detectable life span of methane is only 330 years, after this it is completely destroyed by exposure to sunlight. That means whatever produced the methane could be still producing it today. Scientists' next job will be to find out what that something is.

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Microbes burping methane on Mars may be right next to NASA rover

New Scientist 16 July, 2021 - 12:01pm

An unknown source may be producing methane close to NASA’s Curiosity rover, with potential implications for life on Mars.

Since Curiosity landed in Gale crater on Mars in 2012, it has used an instrument called the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) to measure the amount of methane in its vicinity. Alongside a background level of about 0.41 parts per billion, on six occasions Curiosity has witnessed methane spikes, where methane levels have risen to 10 parts per billion, for unknown reasons.

Yangcheng Luo at the California …

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NASA Mars Rover Found Bedrock That Looks Like Flagstones

Futurism 16 July, 2021 - 12:01pm

Perseverance has been cruising through the Jezero Crater, an area scientists suspect is an ancient dried up lake bed about 30 miles in diameter, not far from the planet’s equator. That also makes it of particular interest to NASA, as scientists believe the area was once flooded with water — and possibly teeming with ancient life.

Check out this patch of rock I found: looks kind of like garden pavers, and is probably exposed bedrock. Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like. Spending a few days investigating…https://t.co/p9A2vJFjIV pic.twitter.com/0bc8lPiQLS

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) July 14, 2021

We’re closer than ever before in filling in the numerous gaps in our knowledge about how the area was formed more than 3.5 billion years ago. At the time, scientists suspect Mars was flush with river channels, some of which splashed over to form a lake in the Jezero crater, according to a NASA profile of the area.

“Material like this, from the early days of this ancient lakebed, can help capture what that lake was like,” the rover’s update reads. “Spending a few days investigating…”

Some of the rocks present in the Jezero Crater are believed to be as old as 3.6 billion years. Studying them could help answer several questions about what early Mars looked like — and how it has evolved since then.

Earlier this month, Perseverance traveled to a new lookout overlooking an area dubbed “Séítah,” a vast sandy landscape of layered rock — and potentially bedrock.

“It’s an area of dunes with some good science targets in and around it,” the rover tweeted at the time. “I’ll spy a few from here, doing science from afar, then circle around and keep exploring.”

Make sure to stay tuned. With the help of its speedy — and much smaller — helicopter companion, Perseverance will likely make far more exciting discoveries as it journeys across the Martian landscape.

More on Perseverance:  NASA’s Mars Helicopter Sends Back Stunning Color Photos

Curiosity rover accidentally landed near active methane source on Mars

Daily Mail 16 July, 2021 - 10:55am

By Chris Ciaccia For Dailymail.Com

The 2019 revelation that methane was found on Mars sent shockwaves throughout the scientific community, as almost all of the gas on Earth is produced by life. 

Now, scientists believe they have located the source — and it's almost exactly where NASA's Curiosity rover is.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology used modeling techniques to determine that of the six methane spikes discovered since May 2017, the most recent is roughly a 'few dozen miles' from Curiosity, Space.com notes.

Scientists believe they have located the source of methane on Mars, roughly a 'few dozen miles' from where NASA's Curiosity rover is

They took the methane gas particles, split them into different groups, took wind speed, direction and traced them back to approximately where the six points of emission came from.   

'..[O]ur back-trajectory modeling for atmospheric transport strongly supports surface emission sites in the vicinity of the Curiosity rover in northwestern Gale crater,' researchers wrote in the study. 

'This may invoke a coincidence that we selected a landing site for Curiosity that is located next to an active methane emission site.' 

Curiosity landed inside the Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, at a point now known as Bradbury Landing, named after famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. The rover made its first successful test drive on August 22, sixteen days later. 

So far, it has traveled over 16 miles and spent 3,179 sols (Martian days) on its mission, snapping over 800,000 pictures.

Curiosity landed inside Mars' Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 at a spot now known as Bradbury Landing

This view shows the first successful test drive of Curiosity on August 22, 2012 at Bradbury Landing

NASA’s Curiosity rover first measured a ‘strong signal’ of the molecule on June 15, 2013. But, some experts questioned the reliability of the discovery. 

The six methane spikes were discovered by Curiosity's Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS), which is able to find small amounts of methane at less than one-half part per billion (ppb).

One definite detection of about 15 ppb was discovered, while the others registered around 10 ppb.   

In 2019, both the Curiosity rover and the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft confirmed the presence of the unexpected discovery.  

The measurement from Curiosity found 21 parts per billion of methane in the air, three times what was found during a 2013 measurement. 

NASA has made sure that the methane is not from the rover itself, with the team operating it checking extensively.  

According to Scientific American, between 90 and 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is 'biological in origin,' with much of it stemming from cows, goats and yak burps. 

Other sources include termites, rice paddies, swamps and natural gas leakage and photosynthetic plants.

It's unclear if an organism burping is causing the methane detections from Curiosity, but it provides researchers with a better place to look for the gas.

'This would make this site interesting to visit, or other similar sites that could have the same properties,' Håkan Svedhem, the project scientist for the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) said in an interview with New Scientist.   

On Earth, methane has a detectable life span of 330 years and then it is completely destroyed by sunlight exposure. Its presence, however, is not a definitive sign of life.

As such, whatever is producing the methane may still be around, whether it's biological or geological in nature. 

The TGO has had trouble confirming the presence of the colorless, odorless gas in Mars' atmosphere, but that may be due to the fact it is looking during the day, whereas the Curiosity rover has detected it at night.   

The study was published June 3 on the preprint server Research Square and has not yet been peer-reviewed.   

In May, NASA said the Curiosity rover may have discovered organic, or carbon-containing, salts on Mars, which the agency said could be chemical remnants of organic compounds. 

The search for life on other planets has captivated mankind for decades.

But the reality could be a little less like the Hollywood blockbusters, scientists have revealed.

They say if there was life on the red planet, it probably will present itself as fossilized bacteria - and have proposed a new way to look for it.

Here are the most promising signs of life so far -

When looking for life on Mars, experts agree that water is key.

Although the planet is now rocky and barren with water locked up in polar ice caps there could have been water in the past.

In 2000, scientists first spotted evidence for the existence of water on Mars.

The Nasa Mars Global Surveyor found gullies that could have been created by flowing water.

The debate is ongoing as to whether these recurring slope lineae (RSL) could have been formed from water flow.

Earth has been hit by 34 meteorites from Mars, three of which are believed to have the potential to carry evidence of past life on the planet, writes Space.com.

In 1996, experts found a meteorite in Antarctica known as ALH 84001 that contained fossilised bacteria-like formations.

However, in 2012, experts concluded that this organic material had been formed by volcanic activity without the involvement of life.

The first close-ups of the planet were taken by the 1964 Mariner 4 mission.

These initial images showed that Mars has landforms that could have been formed when the climate was much wetter and therefore home to life.

In 1975, the first Viking orbiter was launched and although inconclusive it paved the way for other landers.

Many rovers, orbiters and landers have now revealed evidence of water beneath the crust and even occasional precipitation.

Earlier this year, Nasa's Curiosity rover found potential building blocks of life in an ancient Martian lakebed.

The organic molecules preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock in Gale Crater — believed to have once contained a shallow lake the size of Florida's Lake Okeechobee — suggest conditions back then may have been conducive to life.

Future missions to Mars plan on bringing samples back to Earth to test them more thoroughly.

Experts said the methane observations provide 'one of the most compelling' cases for present-day life.

Curiosity's methane measurements occurred over four-and-a-half Earth years, covering parts of three Martian years.

Seasonal peaks were detected in late summer in the northern hemisphere and late winter in the southern hemisphere. 

The magnitude of these seasonal peaks – by a factor of three – was far more than scientists expected.

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