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kottke.org posts about Mars

Landing on Mars next week: the Curiosity rover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2012

The rest of you can have your Olympics, but the early August event I’m most looking forward to is the arrival on Mars of the Curiosity rover. But NASA has had some problems in the past delivering payloads to Mars, so this is going to be somewhat of a nail-biter. If you haven’t seen it, Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror is well worth watching to see the logistical challenge of getting the rover down to the surface.

Curiosity will hopefully land on the surface on Aug 6 at about 1:30 am ET.

Martian twister

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2012

On a recent pass, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught this dust devil dancing its way across the surface of Mars.

Mars Tornado

The active dust devil displays a delicate arc produced by a westerly breeze partway up its height. The dust plume is about 30 yards or meters in diameter.

The image was taken during the time of Martian year when that planet is farthest from the sun. Just as on Earth, winds on Mars are powered by solar heating. Exposure to the sun’s rays declines during this season, yet even now, dust devils act relentlessly to clean the surface of freshly deposited dust, a little at a time.

Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right.

Flowing water on Mars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2011

From late last week, news that NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found possible evidence that there’s flowing water on Mars.

Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.

“The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

Top 10 astronomy photos of 2009

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2009

One of the better lists out there: the top astronomy photos of the year. From the list, this is a more detailed view of the Martian landscape than we’re used to seeing:

Martian landscape

My personal favorite, the photos taken by the LRO of Apollo 11’s landing site, made the list as well.

Life on Mars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2009

Not so fast. Not sure how I missed this last week, but scientists have discovered large quantities of methane in Mars’ atmosphere, and indication that the planet is active “geologically or biologically”.

The origin of methane could either be geologic where water reacts with hot rock and produces methane gas which escapes through pores in the planet’s surface in a process called serpentinization. Or it could be evidence of biology under the surface, where the methane generated by microbes could accumulate and then escape through the rocks.

Mars rovers still roving

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2008

Those plucky Mars rovers are still going. Their planned roving time was three months but now more than four years in, NASA is sending Opportunity off on a two-year trek to visit a large crater.

The mission team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 100m per day. But even at that pace, the journey could take two years. The rover will stop to study rocks on the way, and in winter months it cannot move because there is not enough sunlight to provide sufficient power for driving.

Martians have water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2008

Water on Mars: confirmed.

Laboratory tests aboard NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander’s robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

The lander itself added, on Twitter, “FTW!”

Asparagus on Mars!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2008

Scientists think that Mars’ alkaline soil might be able to grow asparagus.

Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Mr Kounaves said the soil seemed “very friendly… there is nothing about it that is toxic,” he said. “It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard — you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well.”

Mars Phoenix: ice on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2008

About 2 hours ago, the Mars Phoenix rover twittered that it had found evidence of ice on Mars.

Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!

The Mars rover said “w00t”. Here’s the w00t-less press release and the associated images that show the ice sublimating from the surface over the last four days.

Budget cuts at NASA means that one

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2008

Budget cuts at NASA means that one of the two Mars rovers will be shut down, even though it’s still doing useful science.

Besides resting Spirit, scientists also likely will have to reduce exploration by Opportunity, which is probing a large crater near the equator. Instead of sending up commands to Opportunity every day to drive or explore a rock, its activities may be limited to every other day, said John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.

The rovers were originally deployed for three-month missions but have operated for more than four years.

Update: NASA decided not to go through with Mars rover budget cuts. (thx, jeff)

Red Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2007

High silica content of Martian soil is

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2007

High silica content of Martian soil is yet another indicator of past water on Mars. “The fact that we found something this new and different after nearly 1,200 days on Mars makes it even more remarkable.”

Using ground penetrating radar, NASA has discovered

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2007

Using ground penetrating radar, NASA has discovered an ice deposit at Mars’ south pole so large that if melted, it would cover the entire planet under 30 feet of water.

Good news, everyone! (spoken in my best

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2007

Good news, everyone! (spoken in my best Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth from Futurama): one Mars thingie (the Reconnaissance Orbiter) has spotted another Mars thingie, the Pathfinder lander and its Sojourner rover.

Photographs taken by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2006

Photographs taken by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor suggest that liquid water may still run on Mars. Successive photos of crater gullies show activity in the last 4 years.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently snapped a picture

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2006

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently snapped a picture of the Opportunity rover perched on the rim of Victoria Crater. Opportunity drove more than 5 miles from its landing site to get there. High resolution photo here. Here’s where Opportunity is located on Mars.

Middle school students in Indiana and Australia

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2005

Middle school students in Indiana and Australia are building edible moon rovers, with the idea that if you’re going to ship a car to the moon or Mars, why not have it be edible when you get there?

A whole lake of ice has been discovered on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2005

A whole lake of ice has been discovered on Mars.