InSight: Winning the ‘Claw Game’ on Mars

If you’ve ever played the claw machine at an arcade, you know how hard it can be to maneuver the metal “hand” to pick up a prize. Imagine trying to play that game when the claw is on Mars, the objects you’re trying to grasp are far more fragile than a stuffed bear and all you have is a stitched-together panorama of the environment you’re working in. Oh, and there might be a dust storm.

NASA’s InSight lander, slated to arrive on Mars Nov. 26, 2018, will be the first mission to use a robotic arm to grasp instruments from the spacecraft and release them into place on another planet. These instruments will help scientists study the deep interior of Mars for the first time.

“We have a lot riding on InSight’s robotic arm, so we’ve been practicing our version of the claw game dozens of times,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The difference, of course, is that, unlike the claw machine designers, our robotic arm team works hard to allow us to win every time.” [More at link]

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Mars & Earth river deltas branch in similar ways

aeolis1-640Planetary Geomorphology Image of the Month, October 16, 2018: Robert C. Mahon (University of New Orleans). Which morphologic features of sedimentary systems persist into the stratigraphic record? Ancient river deltas preserved as stratigraphic deposits on both Earth and Mars exhibit remarkable morphologic similarities to modern deltas on Earth (Images 1-3).

While channel dynamics may be expected to alter the geomorphic expressions of past channel networks, in many cases channel bodies appear to be preserved in their original configurations. Fully understanding the ways in which geomorphic features become preserved as stratigraphy can provide tools for us to both infer past processes from the ancient deposits with greater confidence, as well as to predict the geometries of ancient deposits in the subsurface (i.e. for resource exploration).

Theory developed in modern river deltas predicts that there should exist a characteristic bifurcation angle at river delta channel mouths of 72°, irrespective of gravitational acceleration or sediment type (Coffey and Shaw, 2017). We sought to test whether modification of this predicted bifurcation angle after initiation occurred in the transfer of geomorphic features to the ancient stratigraphic record on Earth using 3D seismic data.

We also sought to test the expected “universality” of this bifurcation geometry by looking at ancient deltaic deposits on Mars, using high resolution orbital imagery and digital terrain models. The initial finding… [More at link]

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THEMIS: Lava flows on plains east of Hecates Tholus

Volcanic plains east of Hecates Tholus (THEMIS_IOTD_20181016)THEMIS image of the Day, October 16, 2018. This VIS image shows the plains to the east of Hecates Tholus. In this false-color view lie several lava flow fronts and scattered impact craters.

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.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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HiRISE: Rising above it in Amazonis Planitia

ESP_055022_2035This image shows a bright, rectangular-looking landform surrounded by a dark floor. How did this feature get here if it looks so different than its surroundings?

The feature resembles a plateau. Dark streaks mark steep slopes on its sides while the top appears flat. The slope streaks are not all the same age, as we see a variation in colors from faint to dark. Craters in a variety of sizes and ages pepper the entire rectangle, but the dark, textured floor has very few noticeable craters.

The evidence suggests that this rectangular feature is a high-standing “island” of older land surrounded by one or more younger lava flows. This landmass is located in Amazonis Planitia, a smooth plains area potentially formed by large-scale lava floods between the Tharsis and Elysium volcanic regions. As lava flowed into this area, the rectangular plateau was too high to cover completely, leaving a bright spot sticking out of the dark basalt floor for us to find. [More at link]

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Scientists to debate Mars 2020 landing site

PIA22105-16Hundreds of scientists and Mars-exploration enthusiasts will convene in a hotel ballroom just north of Los Angeles [October 16-18] to present, discuss and deliberate the future landing site for NASA’s next Red Planet rover – Mars 2020. The three-day workshop is the fourth and final in a series designed to ensure NASA receives the broadest range of data and opinion from the scientific community before the Agency chooses where to send the new rover.

The Mars 2020 mission is tasked with not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life. The landing site for Mars 2020 is of great interest to the planetary community because, among the rover’s new medley of science gear for surface exploration, it carries a sample system that will collect rock and soil samples and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. The next Mars landing, after Mars 2020, could very well be a vehicle that would retrieve these Mars 2020 samples.

“The Mars 2020 landing site could set the stage for Mars exploration for the next decade,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “I’m looking forward to the spirited debate and critical input from the science and engineering community. Whichever landing site is ultimately chosen, it may hold the very first batch of Mars soil that humans touch.” [More at links]

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Opportunity: Efforts to communicate continue

NASA Mars Exploration Rover Status Report, October 10, 2018: The dust storm on Mars has effectively ended with atmospheric opacity (tau) over the rover site down to around 1.0 to 1.1, values are typical for storm-free conditions this time of year.

No signal from Opportunity has been heard since Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018). As stated previously, it is expected that Opportunity has experienced a low-power fault, a mission clock fault and an up-loss timer fault. The science team has been listening for the rover over a broad range of times using the Deep Space Network (DSN) Radio Science Receiver since loss of signal.

The team has been commanding “sweep and beeps” throughout their daily DSN pass. They are addressing a possible complexity with certain conditions within the mission clock fault. [More at link]

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THEMIS: Granicus Valles in false color

Granicus Valles (THEMIS_IOTD_20181015)THEMIS Image of the Day, October 15, 2018. This VIS image shows some of the complex channels that make up Granicus Valles. This channel system is located west of Elysium Mons.

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.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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HiRISE: Linear vent and flows to the southeast of Zunil Crater

tumblr_pgaliyY1hK1rlz4gso2_1280A linear vent and flows to the southeast of Zunil Crater. This is located within the Elysium quadrangle on Mars, a region with a volcanic past that for which we can still see evidence of old lava flows.

Beautiful Mars series. [More at links]

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THEMIS: Trouvelot Crater in false color

Trouvelot Crater in false color (THEMIS_IOTD_20181012)THEMIS Image of the Day, October 12, 2018. This VIS image shows Trouvelot Crater and a smaller crater on its floor. Dark blue tones in this version of color combination is often dark basaltic sands.

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.

See more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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HiRISE: The walls in Milankovic Crater

tumblr_pgal8wzomG1rlz4gso1_1280The walls in Milankovic Crater. The objective of this observation is to determine the nature of depressions in the mantle on the wall of Milankovic Crater. It seems that the deeper depressions into the mantle have a straight edge along the southern wall. Perhaps the straight forms are related to the latitude and sun angles together with a deeper, darker layer.

Beautiful Mars series. [More at links]

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