Payload chosen for ExoMars 2018 lander & rover

ExoMars_2018_surface_platformTwo European instruments and four European contributions on two Russian instruments have been selected for the Russian-led science platform that will land on Mars as part of the ESA–Roscosmos ExoMars 2018 mission.

The first of the two ExoMars mission is in final preparation for launch next March. It consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter, which will investigate the possible biological or geological origins of important trace gases in the martian atmosphere, and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.

Schiaparelli will test key landing technologies and provide atmospheric and environmental data important for ESA’s contributions to subsequent missions to Mars. (…)

Following a call to the European scientific community issued in March 2015, nine proposals were received and assessed. ESA has now approved the selection of six European elements. This includes two fully European-led instruments, and four sensor packages to be included in two Russian-led instruments.

The two European-led instruments proposed are the Lander Radioscience experiment (LaRa) and the Habitability, Brine Irradiation and Temperature package (HABIT). [More at link]

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MARCI weather report, November 16-22, 2015

releaseimg_151116_151122Afternoon water-ice clouds associated with the aphelion cloud-belt were more abundant for the past week on Mars. Dust-lifting activity near the northern polar ice cap led to murky conditions over Acidalia and the plains westward to those of Arcadia. Looking to the southern highlands, a small dust storm was observed over Solis Planum at the end of the week. Relatively calm conditions allowed… [More at link, including video]

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THEMIS: Terra Sirenum – false color

Sirenum Fossae false color (THEMIS_IOTD_20151127)THEMIS Image of the Day, November 27, 2015. 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. The linear features at the top and bottom of this image are the graben called Sirenum Fossae.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity update: ‘Recipe for a successful rover plan’

NRB_501719368EDR_F0511102NCAM00257M_Sol 1177-79, November 25, 2015, update from USGS scientist Lauren Edgar: The 28 m drive on Sol 1174 ran successfully and Curiosity is now parked in front of a beautiful sand sheet and sand dune!

Today science and engineering teams cooked up a full 3-sol plan, to account for the second half of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  The team started with equal parts Mastcam and ChemCam to analyze the sand and bedrock, and to monitor the movement of sand across the rover deck and in nearby ripples.  The meat of the plan consists of SAM preconditioning, drop off of the “Greenhorn” drill sample to SAM, and an EGA (evolved gas analysis).  Essentially that means that we’ll heat the sample up in an oven and measure the major gases that are released.  Since this is a very power intensive activity, we kept the sides to a minimum… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Frosty crater

Frosty dunes in frosty crater (THEMIS_IOTD_20151126)THEMIS Image of the Day, November 26, 2015. This unnamed crater contains a small dune field in the central part of its floor. This image was collected in northern spring and the dunes are still frost covered. As the season moves into northern summer the dunes will shed the frost and appear dark.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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Curiosity: Edge of the sands

1174-navcamSol 1174, November 25, 2015. The Bagnold Dunes are beckoning, with complex patterns of wind-sculpted ripple crests. Below, two Mastcam-100 frames from Sol 1173 look northeast over layered crater-floor deposits to the rampart of Gale Crater’s wall in the distance. Both images, click to enlarge.

Sol 1174 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.


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Phobos’ demise to produce Martian ring system

mars_ring750Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, is slowly falling toward the planet, but rather than smash into the surface, it likely will be shredded and the pieces strewn about the planet in a ring like the rings encircling Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

[See also the recent report on the future break-up of Phobos, from the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting earlier this month.]

Though inevitable, the demise of Phobos is not imminent. It will probably happen in 20 to 40 million years, leaving a ring that will persist for anywhere from one million to 100 million years, according to two young earth scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a paper appearing online this week in Nature Geoscience, UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Black and graduate student Tushar Mittal estimate the cohesiveness of Phobos and conclude that it is insufficient to resist the tidal forces that will pull it apart when it gets closer to Mars. [More at links]

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How Mars’ atmosphere lost its carbon

PIA20163Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere — one that is far too thin to keep water from freezing or quickly evaporating. However, geological evidence has led scientists to conclude that ancient Mars was once a warmer, wetter place than it is today. To produce a more temperate climate, several researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere. For decades that left the question, “Where did all the carbon go?”

The solar wind stripped away much of Mars’ ancient atmosphere and is still removing tons of it every day. But scientists have been puzzled by why they haven’t found more carbon — in the form of carbonate — captured into Martian rocks. They have also sought to explain the ratio of heavier and lighter carbons in the modern Martian atmosphere.

Now a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, offer an explanation of the “missing” carbon, in a paper published today by the journal Nature Communications. [More at links]

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ExoMars 2016 readied to ship to launch site

EDM_module_being_installed_at_the_top_of_the_TGO_node_full_image_2The two ExoMars spacecraft of the 2016 mission are being prepared for shipping to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ahead of their launch in March.

A joint endeavour with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, ExoMars comprises two missions. The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli make up the 2016 mission, while the 2018 mission will combine a rover and a surface science platform. Both missions will be launched on Russian Proton rockets from Baikonur.

TGO and Schiaparelli are undergoing final preparations at Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, where they were today on display for media to view for the last time before they leave Europe. They will be shipped separately in the middle of next month, arriving at the cosmodrome on 21 and 23 December, respectively.

“It’s been a long road for ExoMars to reach this point, but we are now ready to launch in spring next year,” says Alvaro Gimenez, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “We are about to begin a new era of Mars exploration for Europe and our Russian partners.” [More at link]

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Curiosity update: ‘A feast of activities’

NLB_501632366EDR_F0510874NCAM00255M_Sol 1174-76, November 24, 2015, update from USGS scientist Lauren Edgar: As many Americans are making plans for Thanksgiving, we’re making sure that Curiosity has plenty to do over the holiday weekend.  On Sol 1173, Curiosity drove 45 m to the south, which put us in a great position in front of a small sandsheet and the stoss side of a large dune.

Today we’re planning 3 sols to cover part of the long weekend (we’ll plan an additional 3 sols tomorrow).  I was the Geology Science Theme Lead today, and it was a real challenge to fit everything into the plan while staying within our power constraints.  On the first sol, Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam on a small patch of sand to assess its composition and morphology.  Then we’ll drive… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Shalbatana Vallis

Slides in Shalbatana Vallis (THEMIS_IOTD_20151125)THEMIS Image of the Day, November 25, 2015. The steep sided depression in this VIS image is Shalbatana Vallis, a channel located in Xanthe Terra.

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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HiRISE: Valley cross-cutting a circular landform

tumblr_ny8pfsIPZa1rlz4gso1_1280Valley cross-cutting a circular landform — These dune ridges are only tens of meters or less apart.Beautiful Mars series.
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Curiosity: Sand ripples and thin bright veins

1173-navcamSol 1173, November 24, 2015. At the edge of the Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity’s Navcam shot a five-frame composite showing the scene to the south and west (above). Note the light veins threading through the rock in the left foreground. Below, the rocks next to the rover are heavily cracked and broken, with small ripples of sand in the gaps. (Click either image to enlarge; the view above is also available as 1.8 MB file here.)

Sol 1173 raw images (from all cameras), and Curiosity’s latest location.



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Opportunity: Setting up on the workplane

1P501580764ESFCOPRP2506L5M1_L2L5L5L7L74206-hazcamSol 4206, November 23, 2015. With Opportunity parked at Pvt. Isaac White, the instrument arm swings into action to let scientists study the “workplane.” This is the vertical strip of ground that’s accessible to the arm, which can move only up and down. (To shift it left and right, the rover has to pivot on its wheels.)

The animation above (click to enlarge) shows the approximate area seen in the false-color Pancam at right (Holger Isenberg). The two frames were taken 26 minutes apart, starting about 2 p.m. local time.

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

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HiRISE: Jezero Crater M2020 candidate landing site

tumblr_ny8oiatu4u1rlz4gso1_1280Candidate landing site for 2020 mission in Jezero Crater. Beautiful Mars series.

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