A: It sits on the Red Planet, flapping a little creepily in the wind.
WInd, terrestrial or otherwise, is pretty amazing. From Mars to Earth to Jupiter, the movement is constant. Wherever there’s any bit of atmosphere, there’s always winds of change.
I may or may not be working on an episode about wind at the moment :)
The number of places in our solar system that could have ever supported life now stands at 2!
The first, of course, is Earth, because … well, us. According to an awesomely exciting announcement today by NASA and JPL, we can add Gale Crater to that list!
What they found: Curiosity’s rock drill recently uncovered clay-like minerals below Gale Crater’s rusty red surface. These muddy minerals, pictured above, hint at a “Gray Mars” era, when Gale Crater and the ancient stream bed it holds could have been home to intermittent lakes. When the onboard instruments scanned the chemical makeup of the clay, it found carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur compounds, a group of elements known as “CHONPS” that have to exist in order to create life as we know it. Most importantly, the minerals were pretty neutral in pH and were found in forms that point to a possible chemical energy system (another key ingredient for life).
What remains unknown: This does NOT mean that anything ever actually lived there. But it is the first time that the ingredients for the evolution of microbial life, and the correct conditions to support it, have been directly observed beyond Earth. Mars still has water frozen at its poles, and once had quite a bit of water above and below the surface. The rover will poke around this site, called Yellowknife Bay, for a while longer before heading toward the mountainous center of Gale Crater. There, it will study the multiple layers of rock present on the hillside in order to piece together an even clearer picture of Gale Crater’s muddy, moist, maybe* microbial Martian past.
*Maybe. Just want to emphasize that part.
Mars From Mariner 9
Early images of Mars as captured by Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. These images were included in Mars and the Mind of Man, a collection of essays to accompany the 1971 CalTech conversation between Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Walter Sullivan and Bruce Murray (the conversation about the future of planetary exploration I mentioned in this post).
Compare these earliest images of the red planet with those of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently watching over our rovers and creating a gorgeous picture book of Martian geology.
(via Brain Pickings)
Just your daily reminder that there’s a bad-ass robot powered by nuclear energy drilling holes and taking names on our neighboring planet right now, you know … lest you forget just how incredibly cool that is.
This is the most recent self-portrait of Curiosity, as she (yep, it’s a she) sits atop a rocky perch named for John Klein, the late Mars Science Laboratory deputy manager. The rover is embarking on the next phase of its mission: Drilling rock samples and scooping them into its internal chemical analysis machinery. You can see the first drill holes and scooped sample in the inset photos.
I’m amazed at how thin the red dusty layer is in some areas of Mars. Rather than be made of red rock through and through, those iron oxides only cover the red planet in a light dusting of rusty dust. Scrape it away or drill beneath it just a few centimeters and it’s ashy gray!
Continue your exploration! Check out an enlarged version of the composite self-portrait here. And for the truly adventurous, check out this interactive 360-degree panorama (especially if you’re on a mobile device … OH MAN so cool!!!!)
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this picture of Gale Crater last week, showing the complete mission progress of the Curiosity rover via its tire tracks.
If you look at this awesoem hi-res version, you can follow the little guy from the burnt landing site at left to its current spot in Yellowknife Bay at right (you can even make out its wheels!)
Wow. 9 years ago today, Mars rover Spirit bounced across the Martian landscape, eventually coming to a rolling stop inside Gusev Crater. Sadly, in 2010 the highly successful six-wheeled robot became stuck in a sand trap and stopped transmitting.
Spirit’s sister rover, Opportunity, lives on and still returns incredible science, a feat that mission scientists will continue for some time. “Every day is a gift at this point,” said rover mission principal investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, said last month at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “We’re just going to push the rover, and push ourselves, as hard as we can.”
When you’ve got Spirit, and you are ready to capitalize on Opportunity, Curiosity can take you to amazing places.
You know, like Mars.