Curiosity: Rolling southward

1385-navcamSol 1385, June 29, 2016. In a drive more than 60 meters long, Curiosity continued its course southward over the rolling “pavement” of the Murray Formation. Off to the right stand isolated buttes which are eroded remnants of the overlying Stimson Formation. Click image to enlarge.

Sol 1385 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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HiRISE: Channeled valley east of Protonilus Mensae

tumblr_o971jmJfY51rlz4gso1_1280Channelized valley east of Protonilus Mensae. Beautiful Mars series.

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Computer-simulated dust devils may improve Mars weather forecasts

21_The_Serpent_Dust_Devil_on_Mars_PIA15116-br2Future manned missions to Mars could face a formidable phenomenon: towering red dust devils. These columns of wind-whipped sand and dust, some small and some 10 times taller than Earth’s tornadoes, have been spied on Mars by satellites and surface sensors. However, scientists have struggled to pinpoint just how strong they can be and how often they form. Now a team of Japanese scientists reporting in Geophysical Research Letters have simulated dust devil formation to bring some clarity to the debate.

Scientists have seen Martian dust devils in still images and in video and found their long tracks cutting across the Red Planet’s surface. For example, below is a video captured by NASA’s Spirit rover of a dust devil sweeping across Gusev Crater in 2005.

However, the number of observed dust devils is too low to make statistically sound statements about dust devil distribution.

Enter the team’s simulation. Specifically, the researchers used Martian weather parameters and dust devil dynamics to develop a high-resolution large-eddy simulation (a type of simulation used to model turbulence in a fluid, such as air). They used the simulation to generate virtual dust devils with different characteristics, including varying height, diameter, and pressure drop at the center of the vortex. The results suggest… [More at link]

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Curiosity update: Drive, then drive some more

NLB_520358799EDR_F0550940NCAM00299M_-br2Sol 1385, June 28, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: Not a lot to report today: these one-sol drive plans are pretty simple! (Well, as simple as driving a giant robot on another planet can be…) Yesterday’s drive took us a little over 60m and we’re planning another drive in the sol 1385 plan. Before the drive, we have a short science block with a ChemCam observation of the target “Epembe” and a Mastcam mosaic of “Baynes Mountain” to fill a gap in the 360 mosaic from yesterday. After that, we’ll drive for… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Capri Mensa – false color

Layered history in Capri Mensa (THEMIS_IOTD_20160629)THEMIS Image of the Day, June 29, 2016. Today’s false color image shows part of Capri Mensa. The THEMIS VIS 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: Mesas and buttes ahead

1384-navcam-brSol 1384, June 28, 2016. Looking toward the south, Curiosity’s Navcam shows a relatively sand-free and rolling surface of cracked rock, with several mesas and buttes in the distance. At left is a small part of Helgas Dune. For the full-resolution view (1 MB) click the image above or here.

Sol 1384 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.

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Curiosity update: Baynes Mountain

NLB_520271292EDR_F0550538NCAM00298M_-br2Sol 1384, June 27, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: Our weekend soliday plan was successful, putting us about halfway to our next likely drilling location. We are now in “unrestricted” planning again, meaning we will be getting data down overnight and can plan every day this week.

The Sol 1384 plan starts with ChemCam of the target “Berseba”. Mastcam will also image Berseba, as well as the ChemCam AEGIS target from the weekend. Mastcam then has a mosaic of the nearby “Baynes Mountain” to capture the details of the stratigraphy there, as well as some atmospheric observations. After that, the plan is to drive for about 70 meters and… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Vernal Crater floor – false color

Dunes on Vernal Crater floor (themis_iotd_20160628)THEMIS Image of the Day, June 28, 2016. Today’s false color image shows part of the floor of Vernal Crater. Dark blue in this band configuration often indicates sand or basaltic materials. The THEMIS VIS 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 may hunt for RSLs on Mt. Sharp

pia20602-16Ever since it was announced that there may be evidence of liquid water on present-day Mars, NASA scientists have wondered how best to further investigate these long, seasonally changing dark streaks in the hope of finding evidence of life — past or present — on the Red Planet.

“It’s not as simple as driving a rover to a potential site and taking a scoop of soil,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “Not only are these on steep slopes, we need to ensure that planetary protection concerns are met. In other words, how can we search for evidence of life without contaminating the sites with bugs from Earth?” (…)

The features of interest have been observed by NASA’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). They appear as dark lines that appear to ebb and flow over time. Planetary scientists think these gullies or recurring slope lineae (RSLs) may appear seasonally as a form of briny water at or near the surface of the Red Planet under warmer conditions.

There are two RSL candidates that may be within Curiosity’s reach, on the side of the 3.1-mile-high (5-kilometer-high) Mount Sharp. The rover’s Remote Micro-Imager (part of ChemCam) would be the main instrument for imaging the possible sites. The goal would be to study the regions over time to see if there are any changes and to rule out other causes for the changes, such as dry avalanches. [More at link]

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Opportunity: Mini-mesa in the valley

4415-navcamSol 4415-16, June 25-26, 2016. This little flat-topped feature, a mini-mesa sitting on the floor of Marathon Valley with the profile of a tree-stump, is probably an erosional remnant. The Navcam composite view was taken on Sol 4415 and looks northward toward Hinners Point.

Below is a Pancam view taken on Sol 4416 (false color by Holger Isenberg) of the mini-mesa remnant. The reddish tints in the false-color view suggest the mesa rock and its nearby surroundings may contain clay minerals. Both images enlarge when clicked.

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

4416-pancam-mesa

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Curiosity update: Phobos transit and Soliday

FRB_520015701EDR_F0550310FHAZ00206M_-br2Sol 1382-83, June 27, 2016, update from USGS scientist Ryan Anderson: Contact science in the Sol 1380-1381 plan went well, so we’re back to driving in the weekend plan!

Sol 1382 will start with a Mastcam video of Phobos crossing in front of the sun, plus a multispectral observation of the brushed target “Koes”. ChemCam will then analyze the targets “Koes,” “Kongola,” and “Rundu” and Mastcam will document those observations. After that, we will drop off some of the “Oudam” sample to SAM for analysis.

On Sol 1383 the rover will drive and then collect the usual post-drive images, including an 8×1 mosaic along the side of the rover to study changing textures as we drive. We’ll also take some extra Navcam images of a crater in the distance. Later in the day, Mastcam has a couple of atmospheric observations and ChemCam has an auto-targeted observation. [More at link]

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Four edible crops grown on simulated Mars soil

065_20160627_illustrationScientists of Wageningen University & Research centre [in The Netherlands] are working on growing crops on Mars and moon soil simulants. Just like the real Martian and moon soil these contain heavy metals in almost the same quantities. Four of the crops grown were tested for heavy metal content. No concentrations were detected that would be dangerous for human health. The four crops are therefore safe to eat and, for some heavy metals, the concentrations were even lower than in the crops grown in potting soil.

Earlier research of the Wageningen scientists had already demonstrated that crops are able to grow quite well on Mars and moon soil simulant if organic matter is added to the soils. Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and copper are known to be present in the soils. If they are taken up in the parts of the crops that may be eaten, they can make the vegetables inedible for humans.

“For radish, pea, rye and tomato we did a preliminary analysis and the results are very promising,” says ecologist Wieger Wamelink. “We can eat them and I am very curious as to how the tomatoes will taste. Unfortunately, we have not been able to test all ten crops yet, which is why we set up a crowdfunding campaign through which people can feel a genuine participation in this research. Donors will receive a variety of potential gifts of which my personal favourite is a dinner based on the harvest that will include potatoes grown on Mars soil simulant.” [More at link]

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Curiosity finds manganese oxide in Mars rocks

PIA20752_hiresChemicals found in Martian rocks by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover suggest the Red Planet once had more oxygen in its atmosphere than it does now.

Researchers found high levels of manganese oxides by using a laser-firing instrument on the rover. This hint of more oxygen in Mars’ early atmosphere adds to other Curiosity findings — such as evidence about ancient lakes — revealing how Earth-like our neighboring planet once was. [The research appears in Geophysical Research Letters.]

This research also adds important context to other clues about atmospheric oxygen in Mars’ past. The manganese oxides were found in mineral veins within a geological setting the Curiosity mission has placed in a timeline of ancient environmental conditions. From that context, the higher oxygen level can be linked to a time when groundwater was present in the rover’s Gale Crater study area.

“The only ways on Earth that we know how to make these manganese materials involve atmospheric oxygen or microbes,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Now we’re seeing manganese oxides on Mars, and we’re wondering how the heck these could have formed?” [More at link and here]

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THEMIS: Margaritifer Terra – false color

Margaritifer Terra (THEMIS_IOTD_20160627)THEMIS Image of the Day, June 27, 2016. Today’s false color image shows part of Margaritifer Terra. Dark blue in this band configuration often equates with sand or basaltic materials. The THEMIS VIS 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 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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HiRISE: Southwestern Elysium Planitia

tumblr_o959b03XFE1rlz4gso2_1280Southwestern Elysium Planitia. Beautiful Mars series.

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