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Reposted from Astro Kos by LeftOfYou
While Curiosity continues to perform groundbreaking science in Mars' Gale Crater, NASA today announced the scientific instruments and capabilities for the next rover mission planned for 2020.

Come out into the tall grass for the details.



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Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 02:39 PM PDT

On Mars: Women

by LeftOfYou

It takes 102 people to run daily operations for the Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity Rover mission. Today, NASA recognizes and honors women on the project, assigning 76 of those rolls to women.

The rover and lab have now been on the Red Planet one full Martian Year, an auspicious milestone for NASA to choose to recognize the women on the project. NASA has also posted a series of video profiles of women engineers and scientists on the project which I would encourage for viewing by any girl who still shows interest in and aptitude for math and science, you know, before the culture stamps it out of her.

Happy birthday, Curiosity and MSL. And all hail to Women on Mars.

For all my Mars diaries and all things Martian on Daily Kos, go to Kossacks on Mars.

Twelve orbits a day provide the Mars Global Surveyor MOC wide angle cameras a global
Hopefully, humans will not be going to Mars within the lifetimes of any person now alive. Only unforeseen scientific and technological breakthroughs could change that hope. Antics like the Mars One project, still at the crazy-talk stage, likewise do not diminish that hope.

Stunt as policy in U.S. human spaceflight is thoroughly ingrained into NASA by successive Presidents and Congresses. So much so that President Kennedy's iconic promise, to send men to Moon before the end of his decade, remains the proud centerpiece of NASA's website on the history of human spaceflight. From the Apollo Program's humble beginnings as "spam in a can" during the seminal Mercury Program, through the Moon-walk missions, where geologists and other scientists always played second fiddle to the engineers and astronauts, NASA didn't even send a geologist to do science on the Moon until the last mission, Apollo 17. The cost of the Moon Shot stunt was put down to geopolitical interests in the Cold War, not to science and research funding.

. . . continued out in the tall grass.

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Christian Fundies should hate it because it belies the possibility of young Earth. Tea Partyers should hate it because their taxes help pay for it. Wall Street should hate it because they can't find a sure-fire way to make a gigabundle from JPL. The Koch brothers should hate it because no matter how often Curiosity drills a hole, it never strikes oil. Climate Hoaxers should hate it because if they can't accept tree rings as a basis for inferences about past conditions, good luck with what some nerd says about a rock on another planet. Specifically, about some of these rocks:

An even more impressive view of this panorama is available in higher-res images, here.

There go those crazy, nerdy, rock hound scientists and engineers running the Curiosity mission. They're making up silly theories about things that happened so long ago they couldn't possibly really know. That's the kind of drivel that thinking like a Republican, any kind of Republican, can lead to.

But no Republican posts in this space. This blog sides with science. This blog says go go go, all ye nerdy, rock hound scientists and engineers running the Curiosity mission. Teach us about the sandstone that the Mars Science Laboratory is preparing to study:

Material filling the space between grains of sand in sandstone is called cement, whatever its composition. Characteristics of the cement can vary greatly, depending on the environmental history that affected the rock. Sandstones with some clay-mineral cements are quite soft. Tap them with a hammer and they crumble. Sandstones with quartz cement can be very hard. Hit them with a hammer and they ring.

"A major issue for us now is to understand why some rocks resist erosion more than other rocks, especially when they are so close to each other and are both likely to be sandstones," said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. He is the principal investigator for the Mast Camera and the Mars Descent Camera on Curiosity.

Malin said that variations in cement material of sandstones could provide clues to different types of wet environmental conditions in the area's history.

Curiosity is now less than 100 meters away from its current objective, selected months ago, where deposits of four different types of layered sandstone are exposed and accessible to the MSL instruments. Some more, really cool science is on its way soon from Curiosity and the American heroes who put in the hard work of doing that science.

I don't care how many Republicans are offended.

For all On Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos, go to Kossacks on Mars.

For a really gee whiz look at this image from NASA's Curiosity Rover go to the JPL web site, here.

The perspective of tiny Earth viewed from one of her closest planetary neighbors, tells us all we need to know about the importance of preventing the itzy-bitsy dot of the cosmos that we occupy from becoming uninhabitable for humanity.

This place isn't very big and we are all stuck here together. As a species, humanity needs to figure that out, if, as a species, mankind is to have much of a future.

For all my Mars diaries and all things Martian on Daily Kos, go to Kossacks on Mars.

Reposted from LeftOfYou by LeftOfYou

Not only that, the unfaithful robotic tart intends to date other rocks, too, as she continues her Quixotic search for Mr. Goodbar Organic Carbon. An expose of the affair is in this YouTube.

A transcript is out in the tall grass for the bandwidth impaired.  

This report from NASA emphasizes that knowing the age of rock samples is critical to the search for evidence of past life in Mars' ancient habitable zones. That evidence isn't going to be found in rocks that have been exposed on the Martian surface for extremely long times because cosmic and solar radiation destroys the kinds of organic compounds Curiosity is looking for. If Curiosity finds organic carbon, it will probably be in a younger rock, less exposed to the troublesome Martian radiation.

Fortunately, the science team has discovered a way to use the SAM suite of instruments to date rocks. These components of the roving science lab can measure isotopes in parts per trillion and make other, equally precise measurements of the composition of a sample.  

So, Curiosity is dating rocks, now. Not only that, the Ol' Cougar is looking for the younger ones.

Although Curiosity is more than half way through her projected life cycle, she isn't letting dating rocks distract her from looking out for future Martian astronauts. Curiosity continues to make and report continuous radiation measurements that will allow NASA to evaluate and manage the risks of human habitation on the 4th planet, should that occur as some now plan.

Remember, a full transcript of the video is out in the tall grass.

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The discovery of water on ancient Mars isn't news, of course. Orbital observations and the work by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and other NASA rovers have confirmed numerous locations where liquid water accumulated or flowed on ancient Mars. But until recently, those discoveries did little to advance our knowledge of whether those ancient waters might have provided suitable environments for ancient Martian microbes.

As explained in the National Geographic just a few years ago:  

Mars likely had liquid water early in its past—but it was probably too acidic and oxidizing for life, scientists say.

That's the latest news from the longer-than-expected visits to the red planet by NASA's rovers Spirit and Opportunity, said Andrew Knoll, a Harvard University researcher and member of NASA's Mars program.

"That's not a very good place to live, and it's a worse place for the kind of chemistry that we think gave rise to life on Earth," he said

Now, the MSL on the Curiosity Rover has turned those assumptions on their head. Follow me out into the tall grass for the full story.  
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Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 12:39 PM PST

Curiosity finds water on Mars.

by xxdr zombiexx

Reposted from DFH Local No 420 by xxdr zombiexx

Curiosity's SAM Instrument Finds Water and More in Surface Sample

The first scoop of soil analyzed by the analytical suite in the belly of NASA's Curiosity rover reveals that fine materials on the surface of the planet contain several percent water by weight. The results were published today in Science as one article in a five-paper special section on the Curiosity mission.

"One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil," said Laurie Leshin, lead author of one paper and dean of the School Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically." The sample also released significant carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds when heated.

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For decades, scientists have hypothesized that some meteorites striking Earth originated on Mars, after being blasted into space when other space objects slammed into the Red Planet or by explosive volcanic eruptions. In the 1990's those surmises took on particular poignancy when researchers set off a scientific firestorm by announcing that they had discovered submicroscopic structures that appeared to be fossilized lifeforms and found biochemical signatures in those structures. See this video about a presumably Martian meteorite designated ALH84001:

(The bandwidth impaired will find a transcript of the video out in the tall grass.)

Interestingly, there was little controversy about where the rock came from. Scientists inferred the Martian origin of ALH84001 by analyzing the composition of atmospheric gas found within it, comparing it to measurements from the first NASA Martian landers, and finding the gases matched the atmosphere of Mars:  

The strongest link between Mars and the martian meteorites is the discovery of martian atmosphere gas inside the meteorites. But even before martian atmosphere gas was discovered in the meteorites by Bogard and Johnson (1983), many scientists thought that the meteorites were from Mars because of their young crystallization ages and their complex chemical compositions. Even then, it was certain that the meteorites were not from the Earth because their oxygen isotope compositions are utterly distinct from those of Earth rocks (Clayton and Mayeda, 1996).
However, no matter how good a scientific inference may be, measurable and testable observations are always preferred, the more precise, the better. Thanks to the Mars Science Laboratory on the Curiosity Rover, we now have those observations. According to NASA:  
A key new measurement of the inert gas argon in Mars' atmosphere by Curiosity's laboratory provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origin of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origin of other meteorites.

The new measurement is a high-precision count of two forms of argon -- argon-36 and argon-38 -- accomplished by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument inside the rover. These lighter and heavier forms, or isotopes, of argon exist naturally throughout the solar system. On Mars the ratio of light to heavy argon is skewed because much of that planet's original atmosphere was lost to space. The lighter form of argon was taken away more readily because it rises to the top of the atmosphere more easily and requires less energy to escape. That left the Martian atmosphere relatively enriched in the heavier isotope, argon-38.

Years of past analyses by Earth-bound scientists of gas bubbles trapped inside Martian meteorites had already narrowed the Martian argon ratio to between 3.6 and 4.5 (that is 3.6 to 4.5 atoms of argon-36 to every one of argon-38). Measurements by NASA's Viking landers in the 1970s put the Martian atmospheric ratio in the range of four to seven. The new SAM direct measurement on Mars now pins down the correct argon ratio at 4.2.

"We really nailed it," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, lead author of an Oct. 16 paper reporting the finding in Geophysical Research Letters. "This direct reading from Mars settles the case with all Martian meteorites."

So while controversy may continue about what Martian meteorites tell us about Mars, the question of their origin is now "nailed" shut.


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Sun Sep 01, 2013 at 01:18 PM PDT

On Mars: Us?

by LeftOfYou

We may all be Martians.

Evidence is building that Earth life originated on Mars and was brought to this planet aboard a meteorite, said biochemist Steven Benner of The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Florida.

According to, Dr. Benner bases his conclusions on an assessment of the necessity of certain forms of oxidized molybdenum for the earliest life forms to emerge from the primal muck, of whichever planet. He further explains:
It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed," Benner said in a statement. "This form of molybdenum couldn’t have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because 3 billion years ago, the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did. It’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet.

Dr. Benner presented his research this week in Florence, Italy, at the annual Goldschmidt geochemistry conference. His work is even more intriguing when viewed with other recent findings about another chemical deemed essential to the initial formation of the first lifeforms, phosphate. According to recently announced research by planetary geochemist Christopher Adcock at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, at the time the first lifeforms emerged, Mars was warmer and wet with atmospheric oxygen, and it's waters bore phosphate levels double what was available at that time in Earth's waters.

The experimental findings suggest phosphate is released as much as 45 times faster during interactions between water and rock on Mars than on Earth. All in all, phosphate concentrations in wet environments on early Mars may have been twice those of early Earth.

"It's exciting whenever you find evidence that has positive implications for the possibility of life outside of Earth," Adcock said.

Notwithstanding all of the foregoing, it seems a bit sensational to suggest so strongly that Earth life may have originated on Mars. The evidence certainly supports a hypothesis of the possibility, but hardly seems preponderant, much less conclusive. So, for now, I'm going to postpone my claim of Martian citizenship and keep my antennae hidden.

For all my On Mars diaries and everything Mars on Daily Kos, visit Kossacks on Mars.


Even after Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory have sojournied on Mars for over a year, NASA and the team at JPL are still deploying new capabilities for the robust robot scientist. This time, as reported by USA Today, the capability is autonomous navigation. Using less sophisticated software and imaging, NASA has built a lesser autonomous navigation capacity on a previous Mars rover, Opportunity. It's never been a secret that Autrnav would be deployed for Curiosity at some point. That point has been reached:

Mark Maimone, a rover mobility engineer and one of its navigators at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained how Curiosity did it without a backseat driver:

"Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain. The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one."

If you want to see something else really cool from Curiosity, come out into the tall grass.  
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Wed Aug 14, 2013 at 06:04 PM PDT

On Mars: Extreme Sports

by LeftOfYou

This is JPL's idea, not mire. But it is very, very cool.

Will astronaut snowboarding become an Olympic event?

Here is a transcript of the video:  

Serina Diniega, JPL Systems Engineer:

We were looking at these strange features on Mars, what we call linear gullies because they're long troughs. They can extend up to two kilometers, which is just over a mile, and they're really strange because they go down and they end abruptly in a pit.  

A lot of features on the Earth that are similar end in a debris apron because stuff has been moved from the top to the bottom. But these don't have the apron. They just have a pit at the end, so we were wondering how they could form.

Frozen carbon dioxide accumulates on the surface and we think that some of this accumulation will compress down and actually form ice slabs and ice blocks. So, we bought some frozen carbon dioxide, dry ice blocks, and we took it out to a dune slope and we put it down and we saw what happened.

Most dune slopes will be at 33 degrees and that's a nice, steep slope. And so we did it with a water ice block and the sand got wet and it didn't move. And we did it with a wooden block, and it moved three inches and then it stopped.

With the dry ice block, we expected to see a bit more activity, but we didn't expect it to just move and move and move and move and keep moving all the way to the bottom. But, even on the other side of the dune, which is more like six degrees, it's very shallow, you put the block on and we pushed it and it would just slide right down, and the only reason it would stop is because it hit the bushes at the bottom.  

Dry ice, as it heats up, turns into gas that pushes against the sand as it comes out, After a few hours, it has carved out a little feature that looks like what we see on Mars. They will move down that dune slope and carve out a shallow trough. When a block of ice is on the sand surface, that sand is just a little bit warmer and so it causes a cushion of air to form and that lifts that block just a little bit so when it moves forward, it's like it's lubricated and it can just slide very easily. When it got to the bottom, instead of just sitting there, it would disappear as the area heated up. Then, that could possibly leave a pit.

I'm looking forward to the day when astronauts can engage in a whole new area of extreme sports. They could snowboard down these carbon dixoide covered dunes  on a cushion of carbon dioxide. They would just shoot right down those slopes. It would be amazing.

Let's see a robot explorer do that!

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos, go to Kossacks on Mars.

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