HiRISE: Mars 2020 candidate landing site in northeast Syrtis Major

tumblr_p0g854oBWC1rlz4gso2_1280A candidate 2020 mission landing site in the northeast region of Syrtis Major. Beautiful Mars series.

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Opportunity taking Pancam stereo shots

Opportunity Status Report, December 7, 2017: Opportunity is continuing her winter exploration of Perseverance Valley on the west rim of Endeavour Crater.

The past week the rover spent conducting an extensive Panoramic Camera (Pancam) color stereo imaging campaign with large Pancam panoramas collected on almost every sols (day). The plan forward is to complete this imaging campaign before moving on to the next waypoint further down Perseverance Valley. [More at link]

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THEMIS: Giant landslide in Melas Chasma

Giant landslide in Melas Chasma canyon (THEMIS_IOTD_20171208)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 8, 2017. This VIS image is located along the northern side of the chasma. The linear features are on the surface of a large landslide. This region of Melas Chasma is covered by several very large landslide deposits.

Melas Chasma is part of the largest canyon system on Mars, Valles Marineris. At only 563 km long (349 miles) it is not the longest canyon, but it is the widest.

Located in the center of Valles Marineris, it has depths up to 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) from the surrounding plains, and is the location of many large landslide deposits, as will as layered materials and sand dunes.  There is evidence of both water and wind action as modes of formation for many of the interior deposits.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity: Scouting ahead, checking soil

1896-mastcam34FLB_565907227EDR_F0671016FHAZ00337M_Sols 1896-97, December 6-7, 2017. On Sol 1896, the Mastcam took a look ahead toward a depression which may be a small, much weathered impact crater (above, center). At right, the Hazcam shows a scatter of pebbles and soil immediately in front of the rover on Sol 1897. Click either image to enlarge it.

Sol 1897 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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Opportunity’s tilted winter strategy works

PIA22071_hiresNASA’s senior Mars rover, Opportunity, has just passed the shortest-daylight weeks of the long Martian year with its solar panels in encouragingly clean condition for entering a potential dust-storm season in 2018.

Before dust season will come the 14th Earth-year anniversaries of Mars landings by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity in January 2004. Their missions were scheduled to last 90 Martian days, or sols, equivalent to about three months.

“I didn’t start working on this project until about Sol 300, and I was told not to get too settled in because Spirit and Opportunity probably wouldn’t make it through that first Martian winter,” recalls Jennifer Herman, power subsystem operations team lead for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Now, Opportunity has made it through the worst part of its eighth Martian winter.” (…)

Both Opportunity and Spirit are in Mars’ southern hemisphere, where the Sun appears in the northern sky during fall and winter, so solar-array output is enhanced by tilting the rover northward. Spirit could not maintain enough energy to survive through its fourth Martian winter, in 2009, after losing use of two wheels, long past their planned lifetime. It became unable to maneuver out of a sand trap to the favorable northward tilt.

Opportunity’s current exploration of fluid-carved “Perseverance Valley” positioned it well for working productively through late fall and early winter this year. The rover has used stops at energy-favorable locations to inspect local rocks, examine the valley’s shape and image the surroundings from inside the valley.

The valley runs downhill eastward on the inner slope of the western rim of Endurance Crater, which is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. Since entering the top of the valley five months ago, Opportunity’s stops between drives have been at north-facing sites, on the south edge of the channel. The rover team calls the sites “lily pads” and plans routes from each one safely to the next, like a frog hopping from lily pad to lily pad. [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Welcome to Torridon!

NLB_565811603EDR_F0671016NCAM00261M_-br2Sol 1897-98, December 6, 2017, update by MSL scientist Rachel Kronyak: As indicated by our long wheel tracks in the Navcam image above, our planned ~25-meter drive on Sol 1896 was successful, bringing us to another stop along our route on the Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR). We’ll actually spend a few days at this stop, where we plan to assess the surrounding bedrock, soil, and what we think might be a small impact crater.

The bedrock around the rover at this stop is quite rubbly, which made choosing targets for APXS and MAHLI measurements slightly more difficult, as it’s often hard to place the arm in contact with rough surfaces. Nevertheless, we planned a very busy 2 sols of science activities! We’ll spend Sol 1897 using the robotic arm to collect APXS and MAHLI data on 2 bedrock targets (named “Muck” and “Wick”) and a soil target named “Sandness.” Overnight on Sol 1897, we’ll be conducting a SAM preconditioning activity that will set us up to perform an exciting geochrononology experiment over the weekend on our stored “Ogunquit Beach” sand sample. [More at link]

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HiRISE: Defrosting dunes

tumblr_p0g7wlbH4w1rlz4gso1_1280Defrosting dunes. They’re melting! They’re melting! Beautiful Mars series.

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THEMIS: Dunes swirl across landslide rubble

Swirled dunes in Melas Chasma (THEMIS_IOTD_20171207)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 7, 2017. This VIS image is located along the northern cliff face of Melas Chasma. The linear features are large landslide surfaces. A region of sand dunes is located along the change in elevation from the cliff face at the top of the image and the floor of the canyon at the bottom of the image. The dunes’ dark tint suggests the sand features are free of light-colored dust, and thus are likely active currently.

Melas Chasma is part of the largest canyon system on Mars, Valles Marineris. At only 563 km long (349 miles) it is not the longest canyon, but it is the widest.

Located in the center of Valles Marineris, it has depths up to 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) from the surrounding plains, and is the location of many large landslide deposits, as will as layered materials and sand dunes.  There is evidence of both water and wind action as modes of formation for many of the interior deposits.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 69,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dunes fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Clays quickly cooked in early Mars steambath

alterationNew research suggests that the bulk of clay minerals on Mars could have been formed as the planet’s crust cooled and solidified, not by later interactions with water on the surface as has long been assumed. (…)

There are thousands of ancient phyllosilicate outcrops on the Martian surface. Phyllosilicates, or clays, are formed by the interaction of water with volcanic rock, leading many scientists to conclude that there must have been sustained surface water, groundwater or active hydrothermal systems at some point in Martian history. But the new research, published in the journal Nature, suggests that the clays may have formed during the creation of the Martian crust itself, long before any water flowed on the planet.

Backed by lab experiments and computer models, the researchers lay out how the scenario would have worked. In the very early solar system, Mars and other rocky planets are thought to have been covered by oceans of molten magma. As the Mars magma ocean began to cool and solidify, water and other dissolved volatiles would be outgassed to the surface, forming a thick, steamy atmosphere surrounding the planet. The moisture and heat from that high-pressure steam bath would have converted vast swaths of the newly solidified surface to clay. As the planet then evolved over billions of years, volcanic activity and asteroid bombardments would have covered the clays in some places and excavated them in others, leading to the widespread but patchy distribution seen on the surface today.

“The basic recipe for making clay is you take rock and you add heat and water,” said Kevin Cannon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Central Florida who led the research while completing his Ph.D. at Brown. “This primordial atmosphere created by a magma ocean would have been the hottest and wettest Mars ever was. It’s a situation where you could pervasively alter the crust and then just shuffle those materials around afterward.” [More at links]

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Curiosity: Making tracks

1896-navcamNSol 1896, December 6, 2017. Soft, smooth ground preserves rover tracks, as Curiosity heads eastward atop Vera Rubin Ridge. This Navcam composite view looks northwest. Follow the rover tracks back and note the impact crater inside the Gale Crater rim in the distance. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sol 1896 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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