Curiosity update: Drilling at Okoruso

1330MH0006000010501161C00_DXXXSol 1332-33, May 4, 2016, update from USGS scientist Lauren Edgar: Contact science activities on Sol 1330 went well, and we’re ready to drill at “Okoruso.”  As seen in the above MAHLI image, this target looks like pretty typical Stimson bedrock, so it will be helpful to compare to the altered rock that we sampled at Lubango.

Today’s two-sol plan is focused on drilling and MAHLI imaging on the first sol, with a lot of targeted remote sensing on the second sol.  Activities on the second sol include a Mastcam multispectral observation of the drill hole, a large Mastcam mosaic to document… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Plains – false color

Plains near Argyre (THEMIS_IOTD_20160504)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 4, 2016. Today’s false color image shows multiple textures of the plains located northwest of the Argyre basin. The THEMIS camera contains 5 filters. The data from different filters can be combined in multiple ways to create a false color images. These false color images may reveal subtle variations of the surface not easily identified in a single band image.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Mineral clues to subglacial volcanos in Sisyphi Montes

PIA20335-16Volcanoes erupted beneath an ice sheet on Mars billions of years ago, far from any ice sheet on the Red Planet today, new evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests.

The research about these volcanoes helps show there was extensive ice on ancient Mars. It also adds information about an environment combining heat and moisture, which could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life.

Sheridan Ackiss of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and collaborators used the orbiter’s mineral-mapping spectrometer to investigate surface composition in an oddly textured region of southern Mars called “Sisyphi Montes.” The region is studded with flat-topped mountains. Other researchers previously noted these domes’ similarity in shape to volcanoes on Earth that erupted underneath ice. [The new results were presented (PDF) in March 2016 at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.]

“Rocks tell stories. Studying the rocks can show how the volcano formed or how it was changed over time,” Ackiss said. “I wanted to learn what story the rocks on these volcanoes were telling.” [More at links]

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HiRISE: Highlands to lowlands in far-west Arabia

tumblr_o6m1k7GFyx1rlz4gso1_1280From the highlands to the lowlands in the far western Arabia region.

Beautiful Mars series.

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Opportunity: Brushing Pierre Pinaut

1P515418013ESFCQE1P2580L5M1_L4L5L5L5L6Sol 4362, May 1 2016. In preparing for grinding into the target dubbed Pierre Pinaut, Opportunity’s science team has brushed the surface to clear away dust and small pebbles. (The unbrushed view is here.)

The image at right shows a color view (by Holger Isenberg) of the target using the Pancam, and below is a four-frame Microscopic Imager composite taken on Sol 4360 (April 30). Both images enlarge when clicked.

4360-miOpportunity raw images, its latest mission status, a location map. and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

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THEMIS: Ganges Chasma – false color

Ganges Chasma's mantled floor (THEMIS_IOTD_20160503)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 3, 2016. Today’s false color image shows part of Ganges Chasma. The THEMIS camera contains 5 filters. The data from different filters can be combined in multiple ways to create a false color image. These false color images may reveal subtle variations of the surface not easily identified in a single band image.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity update: Characterizing next drill site

NRB_515477918EDR_F0540938NCAM00353M_Sol 1330-31, May 2, 2016, update from USGS scientist Lauren Edgar: Over the weekend, Curiosity completed the drilling investigation at Lubango, and we drove ~13 m to the “Ovitoto” area (note that this area is only ~4 m away from Lubango as the crow flies, but it took some maneuvering to get there).  This area is composed of typical unaltered Stimson bedrock, which we’ll use to compare to the altered bedrock at Lubango. 

I was on duty as GSTL today, and we put together a full plan of contact science to characterize the next potential drill site.  The two-sol plan starts with a ChemCam observation of “Okoruso,” followed by MAHLI of the same site. ChemCam LIBS shots tend to blow away a lot of dust, so this will… [More at link]

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How does boiling water reshape Mars terrain?

boiling water on Marsngeo2706-f3At present, liquid water on Mars only exists in small quantities as a boiling liquid, and only during the warmest time of day in summer. Its role has therefore been considered insignificant until now.

However, an international team including scientists from the CNRS, Université de Nantes and Université Paris-Sud and headed by Marion Massé, from the Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique de Nantes (CNRS/Université de Nantes) has now shown that even though water that emerges onto the surface of Mars immediately begins to boil, it creates an unstable, turbulent flow that can eject sediment and cause dry avalanches. The flow of small amounts of a boiling liquid therefore significantly alters the surface.

The discovery of this exotic process, unknown on our planet, radically changes our interpretation of the Martian surface, making it difficult to undertake a direct comparison of flows on the Earth and on Mars. These findings are published on 2 May 2016 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

It is well known that water boils at 100 °C. But this is only true at sea level, since boiling point depends on atmospheric pressure: the higher the altitude, the thinner the atmosphere, and the lower the boiling point. For instance, at the top of Mount Everest, water boils at 60 °C. But on Mars, where the atmosphere is much thinner than on Earth, it can boil at temperatures as low as 0 °C. During the Martian summer, when the subsurface water ice begins to melt and emerge at the surface, where the mean temperature reaches 20 °C, it immediately starts to boil. This is also the case for the flows of saline water discovered last year. So could an evaporating liquid alter the Martian landscape? [More at links]

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HiRISE: Crater central peak

ESP_045166_1690The appearance of an impact crater depends on several factors, including the material in which the crater was formed and the size of the impact itself. This image covers a rocky peak in the center of an unnamed crater, approximately 40 kilometers across.

When crater diameters on Mars exceed 5 to 8 kilometers, their shape changes from a simple, bowl-like depression to a more complex form. Rocks under the center of the crater rise as they rebound from the impact shock, lifting materials from below the surface to a peak in the center of the crater. This uplift of rocks from depth provides scientists a window into the composition of the subsurface, making crater central uplifts interesting targets for HiRISE images. [More at link]

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ExoMars 2018 mission slips to July 2020 launch

Exomars PHASE B1 8.05.2008[The launch of the second phase of the ExoMars mission, scheduled for 2018 has been pushed back to 2020.] (…)

The second ExoMars mission involves a Russian-led surface platform and a European-led rover, also to be launched on a Proton from Baikonur. Russian and European experts made their best efforts to meet the 2018 launch schedule for the mission, and in late 2015, a dedicated ESA-Roscosmos Tiger Team, also including Russian and European industries, initiated an analysis of all possible solutions to recover schedule delays and accommodate schedule contingencies.

The Tiger Team presented its final report during a meeting of the Joint ExoMars Steering Board (JESB) held in Moscow. Having assessed the possible ways to ensure successful mission implementation, the JESB concluded that, taking into account the delays in European and Russian industrial activities and deliveries of the scientific payload, a launch in 2020 would be the best solution.

ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner and Roscosmos Director General Igor Komarov discussed the ExoMars 2018 situation. After considering the Tiger Team report and the JESB recommendations, they jointly decided to move the launch to the next available Mars launch window in July 2020… [More at link]

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Is super-resolution restoration the future of high-resolution Mars orbital imaging?

tumblr_inline_o6evui0GBc1rauj3h_500An online posting at the Beautiful Mars blog by Alfred McEwen (University of Arizona) examines the question of future improvements in high-resolution orbital imaging of Mars both for geological studies and mission operations. The question is prompted by a research paper recently published in the journal Planetary and Space Science. The paper was the subject of a news release by University College, London, where the lead author (Yu Tao) is a research associate.

With NASA looking for ideas for a new orbiter with improved imaging, McEwen outlines the difficulties of gaining higher resolution of the Martian surface than the HiRISE camera (of which McEwen is the principal investigator). HiRISE produces resolution of about 30 centimeters (10 inches), but its images ineviably cover only narrow strips of the Martian surface. While gaining higher resolution is desirable, it faces hurdles, McEwen says. A few of these include: the atmosphere forcing a high orbital altitude, dustiness of the atmosphere reducing image signal to noise, spacecraft pointing stability, the need to track on ground features during the exposure, and so on.

McEwen examines the techniques described in the paper, both for orbital imaging and imaging at the surface (by a rover). Imaging at the surface produces much better “super-resolution” restoration, he notes, because a rover’s camera can take a sequence of images that vary only slightly in pointing. The super-resolution image processing technique described in the paper can extract details from a stack of images that overlap almost wholly.

In conclusion, McEwen notes, “For the highest-priority sites, super-resolution restoration may provide an economical alternative to flying a more capable camera and spacecraft, in order to achieve a modest improvement in resolution (probably no better than a factor of two).”

He adds that while a small drone helicopter has been proposed for NASA’s 2020 rover, “This drone is very limited in range, and can only travel about half a kilometer per day before stopping to recharge, so we need orbital imaging to first find the best places to land.”

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Curiosity: At the dumps

LubangoSol 1327, April 30, 2016. At Lubango, the CHIMRA sample handling device dropped the sieved (fine) portion of the drill tailings on the ground for the APXS to analyze (upper left).

To the upper right of the white debris next to the drill hole, an earlier dump pile contains contains gray drill tailings. The quantity was in excess of what was needed, so these tailings were dumped without being sieved. ChemCam will do shots on both piles to look for variations in composition due to particle size.

Sol 1327 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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THEMIS: Peraea Cavus – false color

Peraea Cavus basin (THEMIS_IOTD_20160502)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 2, 2016. Today’s false color image shows part of Peraea Cavus, a basin located east of Hadriacus Mons. The THEMIS camera contains 5 filters. The data from different filters can be combined in multiple ways to create a false color image. These false color images may reveal subtle variations of the surface not easily identified in a single band image.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity update: Wrapping it up at Lubango

NLB_515132770EDR_F0540746NCAM00207M_-br2Sol 1326-29, April 29, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: After a nice rest on Sol 1325, Curiosity was charged up and ready for lots of science! On Sol 1326, we started off with multispectral Mastcam observations of the pile of dumped powder from the “Lubango” drill target and the targets “Rubikon” and “Ebony”. Then ChemCam had a passive observation of the dump pile, followed by active observations using the laser on Rubikon as well as “Ida” and “Lorelei”. Mastcam documented the ChemCam observations as usual, and then finished the science block with an atmospheric observation. Later in the day on Sol 1326, MAHLI observed the dump pile and drill tailings, as well as a bedrock target called “Nara Valley”. Finally, APXS had an overnight observation of the dump pile. [More at link]

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Maars on Mars: Valuable sites in the search for traces of past Martian life

fig1Planetary Geomorphology Image of the Month, April 29, 2016: Sandro Rossato (University of Padova, Italy). Terrestrial maar-diatremes are small volcanoes (see this previous post for a general description) which have craters whose floor lies below the pre-eruptive surface and are surrounded by a tuff ejecta ring 2-5 km wide (Figure 1) that depends on the size of the maar itself and on the depth of the explosion (Lorenz, 2003). Maar-diatremes constitute highly valuable sites for in situ investigations on planetary bodies, because they expose rocks at the surface from a great range of crustal depths and are sites which could preferentially preserve biomarkers.

The explosive eruptions that produce maar-diatremes can penetrate down to at least 2.2 km (Valentine, 2012), meaning that material deriving from different depths in the crust can be analyzed and sampled quite easily by a rover at the surface, having been exposed and fragmented. Secondly, but more importantly in the search for signs of life, many maar-diatreme structures on Earth host, or have hosted long-lived lakes… [More at link]

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