HiRISE: Slope streaking

ESP_057080_1915We have been monitoring the slope streaks on this hill for several years. There are definitive changes between this September 2018 image and a previous one in December 2016. Earlier streaks have since faded and new, darker streaks are visible. These streaks are tens of meters wide.

These features are small avalanches of dust and sand from the hillsides. The surface dust is lighter in color, but when it avalanches away, it reveals underlying larger-grained sand particles that are much darker. Over time, the dust slowly rains down from the atmosphere and the streaks fade as they are coated with dust.

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Curiosity update: Makin’ the most of it

NRA_597777972EDR_F0731104NCAM00353M_-br2Sol 2257, December 11, 2018, update by MSL scientist Brittney Cooper: Even on Mars, where every second of Curiosity’s sol is planned, things don’t always go quite as expected. This morning we learned that Curiosity didn’t complete her planned drive yesterday and instead stopped at the mid-drive point. We had to decide whether to finish the remainder of the previously planned drive, or bump towards a red Jura candidate and potential drill target in today’s plan.

After some thoughtful discussion, we decided to make the most of where Curiosity ended up, and planned a bump toward the nearby target “Rock Hall” (located to the right of centre in the image above). Targeted ChemCam LIBS and Mastcam multispectral observations were then planned to characterize Rock Hall and confirm if it’s a member of the red Jura. Tosol’s bump will have Curiosity set up for drilling… [More at link]

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InSight: First selfie

PIA22876_hiresNASA’s InSight lander isn’t camera-shy. The spacecraft used a camera on its robotic arm to take its first selfie – a mosaic made up of 11 images. This is the same imaging process used by NASA’s Curiosity rover mission, in which many overlapping pictures are taken and later stitched together. Visible in the selfie are the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments.

Mission team members have also received their first complete look at InSight’s “workspace” – the approximately 14-by-7-foot (4-by-2-meter) crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft. This image is also a mosaic composed of 52 individual photos.

In the coming weeks, scientists and engineers will go through the painstaking process of deciding where in this workspace the spacecraft’s instruments should be placed. They will then command InSight’s robotic arm to carefully set the seismometer (called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS) and heat-flow probe (known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3) in the chosen locations. Both work best on level ground, and engineers want to avoid setting them on rocks larger than about a half-inch (1.3 cm).

“The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it’ll be extremely safe for our instruments,” said InSight’s Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren’t on Mars, but we’re glad to see that.” [More at link]

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THEMIS: Asimov Crater rim and infill

Asimov Crater rim and infill (THEMIS_IOTD_20181212)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 12, 2018. Located in Noachis Terra, Asimov Crater has an unusual crater floor morphology.

At some point after the crater formed, the interior was filled by materials that reached almost to the top of the crater rim. At some later point, deep depressions formed along the inner crater rim. Channels dissect both sides of these depressions.

The mechanism of both the filling of the crater and the formation of the depressions is not known. Two other nearby craters also have filled floors and interior depressions. This VIS image shows the southwestern section of the interior depression.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Curiosity update: Hunt for red Jura continues

NLA_597690209EDR_F0731010NCAM00291M_-br2Sol 2256, December 10, 2018, update by MSL scientist Rachel Kronyak: After a successful weekend of activities and driving, we were hopeful that we would wake up on Sol 2256 and be ready for contact science and drilling. Unfortunately, Mars had other plans; similar to Friday’s planning, our workspace turned out to be just as fractured and unsuitable for drilling, so onward we go in search for a drill target elsewhere (again)! Our first two attempts at finding drillable red Jura were unlucky, so this time, we’ll try our luck and head towards a third candidate drill location, called “Region C.” Fingers crossed that the third time’s the charm!

The plan for Sol 2256 includes a nice long science block before we drive. During the science block, we’ll collect ChemCam data on two targets: “Sandy Haven,” a small soil patch, and “Tarness Haven,” a block of reddish outcrop in front of the rover. We’ll also acquire a Mastcam multispectral mosaic looking ahead towards Region C to assess for color variations that will help us determine where the best red Jura location for drilling may be. The environmental group will also be acquiring some Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere; these include a line of sight image and a dust devil movie…. [More at link]

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HiRISE: The enduring charm of spiders

ESP_056927_0940Araneiform terrain (colloquially: spider-like terrain) is located in the south polar region of Mars and evolves in appearance over the spring and summer. In the season shown here, the thin bright lines on the surface (the spider legs) are troughs and many of these features have dark fan-shaped markings emanating from them.

Our current theory for how these patterns are formed is that during winter a carbon dioxide ice layer develops over the surface. When sun rays strike this surface, this carbon dioxide ice acts in a similar way to our atmosphere: it allows the sun light to penetrate but traps the infrared radiation creating a greenhouse-like effect… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Rim of two craters

At the junction of two craters (THEMIS_IOTD_20181211)THEMIS Image of the Day, December 11, 2018. In the center of this VIS image is a crater rim, which is shared by two craters. The crater with the deeper floor is at the bottom of the image, and this part of the rim has deeply incised channels.

The crater to the top of the image has a relatively higher floor. In this image, as well as some other similar cases, it is difficult to identify the younger crater.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Curiosity update: Thinking on our wheels

NLA_597417434EDR_F0730800NCAM00288M_-br2Sol 2254-55, December 10, 2018, update by MSL scientist Mariah Baker: Today was one of those planning days when you realize the importance of being able to adapt quickly and think on your feet (i.e., wheels) when operating a rover on Mars. Our previous plan brought us to the Lothian E area, where we hoped to find an exposure of red Jura rock that was suitable for drilling. Unfortunately, the bedrock at this location appeared just as fractured as at the previous site, forcing the team to rethink the weekend plan.

The new possibilities included trying to drill a very small portion of the outcrop at Lothian E, do a short “bump” to another possible candidate in the near vicinity, or give up on this site and head in the direction of our long-term strategic route. Making these tactical decisions requires a lot of quick thinking; the team must weigh immediate scientific priorities with long-term goals, and must try to determine the best potential drill target with limited data. We never know exactly what we will find when we arrive at a new site, so the best we can do is use long distance imaging and lessons learned from previous sites to make an educated decision on where to send the rover next... [More at link]

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Curiosity: Skyline south

2255-navcamSol 2255, December 10, 2018. Four Navcam frames trace the skyline toward the south. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sol 2255 raw images (from all cameras).

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HiRISE: Swiss cheese on a red planet

ESP_056310_0940The Martian south polar cap is a layer of carbon dioxide ice, full of pits that make it look like Swiss cheese. The pits form when the Sun heats the ice and makes it sublimate (transform from a solid to a gas). Because it’s at the pole, the Sun never gets very high in the sky, so steep slopes get more heat and sublimate faster, causing pits to form and grow. This is balanced by new carbon dioxide frost that forms on flatter areas…. [More at link]

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