Opportunity: Northern composite view

4886-navcam1F561938584EFFD0DMP1212R0M1Sol 4886, October 22, 2017. Above is a composite view of Navcam shots starting with one that looks straight up the slope Opportunity is parked on (left side) and continuing on the north side around to look straight downslope (right side), thus profiling the Perseverence Valley channel.

At right are the front and rear Hazcam views. (Click any image to enlarge it.)

1R561938743EFFD0DMP1312R0M1Opportunity raw images, its latest mission status, location map, and atmospheric opacity, known as tau.

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curiosity: Progress toward resumed drilling

PIA22063_hiresNASA’s Mars rover Curiosity team is working to restore Curiosity’s sample-drilling capability using new techniques. The latest development is a preparatory test on Mars.

The five-year-old mission is still several months from the soonest possible resumption of drilling into Martian rocks. Managers are enthusiastic about successful Earth-based tests of techniques to work around a mechanical problem that appeared late last year and suspended use of the rover’s drill.

“We’re steadily proceeding with due caution to develop and test ways of using the rover differently from ever before, and Curiosity is continuing productive investigations that don’t require drilling,” said Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Curiosity touched its drill to the ground Oct. 17 for the first time in 10 months. It pressed the drill bit downward, and then applied smaller sideways forces while taking measurements with a force sensor.

“This is the first time we’ve ever placed the drill bit directly on a Martian rock without stabilizers,” said JPL’s Douglas Klein, chief engineer for the mission’s return-to-drilling development. “The test is to gain better understanding of how the force/torque sensor on the arm provides information about side forces.” [More at link]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HiRISE: Window into the past

ESP_051841_1750The layered sedimentary deposits inside the giant canyons of Mars have puzzled scientists for decades. These light toned deposits have fine, horizontal laminations that are unlike the rugged rim rock of the Valles Marineris.

Various ideas for the origin of the layered sediments have suggested lake deposits, wind blown dust and sand, or volcanic materials that erupted after the canyon was formed, and possibly filled with water.

One particular layered deposit, called Ceti Mensa, attracted attention because its deep red color in images collected by the Viking Orbiter mission during the 1970s. Located in west Candor Chasma in the north of the Valles Marineris, Ceti Mensa is an undulating plateau that rises 3 kilometers above the canyon floor and is bounded by steep scarps up to 1.5 kilometers in height. Deep red hues are on the west-facing scarp in particular. The red tint may be due to the presence of crystalline ferric oxide, suggesting that the material may have been exposed to heat or water, or both. [More at link]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curiosity update: Feeding SAM some sand

NLB_561731647EDR_F0661804NCAM00353M_-br2Sol 1852, October 20, 2017, update by MSL scientist Ken Herkenhoff: MSL drove over 20 meters on Sol 1850, to an area with lots of bedrock exposed. We had several nice targets to choose from, but were limited in what we could plan because we want to prepare for a SAM evolved gas analysis (EGA) of sand from “Ogunquit Beach,” which requires significant power. We are planning only 2 sols today, to get synced back up with “Mars time” on Monday, so will not be driving this weekend.

Despite the power constraints, we were able to plan a lot of activities today. Sol 1852 will start with Navcam searches for clouds and dust devils, followed by Mastcam mosaics of the expected path ahead (southward). Then ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock target “Balfour” and a block named “Ripon.” Late that afternoon, MAHLI will acquire a full suite of images of Balfour before APXS is placed on it for an overnight integration. We considered brushing Balfour… [More at link]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THEMIS: Thin lines of dunes on Meroe Patera

Dunes in Meroe Patera (THEMIS_IOTD_20171023)THEMIS Image of the Day, October 23, 2017. This image shows part of the dune field near Meroe Patera. High resolution imaging by other spacecraft has revealed that the dunes in this region are moving. Winds are blowing the dunes across a rough surface of regional volcanic lava flows. The paterae are calderas on the volcanic complex called Syrtis Major Planum. Dunes are found in both Nili and Meroe Paterae and in the region between the two calderas.

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.

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HiRISE: A highly disrupted crater

tumblr_oxq14dq3pP1rlz4gso1_1280This 2.5-kilometer diameter crater has been significantly altered from the usual bowl-shaped appearance we associate with craters. Material has covered significant portions of the ejecta and filled in the crater. This fill material has since been subject to erosion—like boulders weathering out of the slopes—and the crater rim is also highly irregular.

This crater is located in Elysium Planitia, an area dominated by volcanic processes. It’s likely that the crater fill material is volcanic in origin, and possible that the rim was etched by lava, either flowing into the crater or spilling over after the crater filled completely. However, there are also signs of erosion by wind, like the parallel ridges in the rim breaches and between high-standing regions of the crater fill. It’s likely that the current appearance of this crater is due to a combination of surface processes. [More at link]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opportunity spends the week imaging

4884-la-bajada-pancamFCOpportunity Status Report, October 20, 2017: Opportunity is continuing her winter exploration of “Perseverance Valley” on the west rim of Endeavour Crater.

Although winter conditions are constraining activity, rover energy production has improved slightly, and more of the earlier relay passes from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are helping, as well. Opportunity has been able to avoid having to dedicate any sols to battery recharging.

The rover spent seven consecutive sols, Sols 4876 to 4882 (Oct. 11 to Oct. 17, 2017), collecting Panoramic Camera (Pancam) panoramas of the subject, called “La Bajada,” totaling over 40 color stereo image pairs. Also, on Sol 4876 (Oct. 11, 2017), Opportunity was able to support an evening atmospheric argon measurement with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

[Editor’s note: The composite image above is from Sol 4884 (October 20) and uses false-color Pancam images by Holger Isenberg. It shows part of the La Bajada target area; click the image to enlarge it.]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ExoMars aerobraking becomes too severe; shifts automatically to higher orbit

ExoMars-FCT-1024x709ExoMars has successfully performed a Flux Reduction Manoeuvre (FRM) for the first time. The manoeuvre was triggered by the excessive density of Mars’ atmosphere, which had slowed the spacecraft above the limit the operations team normally allows.

The manoeuvre happened on 19 September, just a month before ExoMars’ first arrival anniversary.

FRM together with the so-called ‘Popup’ manoeuvre are the spacecraft’s automatic responses meant to save it from critical conditions that could cause damage, such as excessive heat or deceleration.

They both trigger the propulsion system to bring the spacecraft out of a current (problematic) orbit into a higher orbit. The FRM raises the orbit by just a little so that aerobraking can continue with reduced drag. (…)

Unfortunately, predicting the Martian atmosphere is very complex and conditions can change significantly from one orbit to the next, hence these automatic manoeuvres are maintained on-board by the team in case the spacecraft encounters a much denser atmosphere than expected. [More at link]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THEMIS: Wind streaks near Meroe Patera

Northeast winds make streaks in Syrtis Major (THEMIS_IOTD_20171020)THEMIS Image of the Day, October 20, 2017. This image shows part of the dune field near Meroe Patera. High resolution imaging by other spacecraft has revealed that the dunes in this region are moving. Winds from the northeast (upper right) are blowing the dunes across a rough surface of regional volcanic lava flows and leaving wind streaks behind craters. The paterae are calderas on the volcanic complex called Syrtis Major Planum. Dunes are found in both Nili and Meroe Paterae and in the region between the two calderas.

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.

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Solar eruptions could electrify Martian moons

Powerful solar eruptions could electrically charge areas of the Martian moon Phobos to hundreds of volts, presenting a complex electrical environment that could possibly affect sensitive electronics carried by future robotic explorers, according to a new NASA study. The study also considered electrical charges that could develop as astronauts transit the surface on potential human missions to Phobos.

Phobos has been considered as a possible initial base for human exploration of Mars because its weak gravity makes it easier to land spacecraft, astronauts and supplies. The idea would be to have the astronauts control robots on the Martian surface from the moons of Mars, without the considerable time delay faced by Earth-based operators.

“We found that astronauts or rovers could accumulate significant electric charges when traversing the night side of Phobos — the side facing Mars during the Martian day,” said William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. “While we don’t expect these charges to be large enough to injure an astronaut, they are potentially large enough to affect sensitive equipment, so we would need to design spacesuits and equipment that minimizes any charging hazard.”

Farrell is lead author of a paper on this research published online Oct. 3 in Advances in Space Research. [More at links]

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment