NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed to scientists slender dark markings — possibly due to salty water – that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly close to the Martian equator.
“The equatorial surface region of Mars has been regarded as dry, free of liquid or frozen water, but we may need to rethink that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson, principal investigator for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.
Tracking how these features recur each year is one example of how the longevity of NASA orbiters observing Mars is providing insight about changes on many time scales. Researchers at the American Geophysical Union meeting Tuesday in San Francisco discussed a range of current Martian activity, from fresh craters offering glimpses of subsurface ice to multi-year patterns in the occurrence of large, regional dust storms.
Thousands of amateur (ham) radio operators around the world were able to say “Hi” to NASA’s Juno spacecraft Oct. 9 as it swung past Earth on its way to Jupiter.
According to Donald Kirchner, University of Iowa research engineer on Juno and one of the coordinators of the all-volunteer “Say Hi to Juno” project, all licensed amateur radio operators were invited to participate by visiting a website and following posted instructions.
“The idea was to coordinate the efforts of amateur radio operators all over the world, and send a message in Morse code that could be received by the University of Iowa-designed-and-built instrument on the Juno spacecraft,” he says. “We know that over a thousand participated, and probably many more than that.”
One of the most powerful tools for understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies has been the use of computer simulations–numerical models of astrophysical processes run on supercomputers and compared with astronomical observations. Getting computer simulations to produce realistic-looking galaxies has been a challenge, however, and different codes (simulation programs) produce inconsistent results.
Now, an international collaboration led by astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, aims to resolve these issues through an ambitious multi-year project named AGORA (Assembling Galaxies of Resolved Anatomy). AGORA will run direct comparisons of different codes using a common set of initial conditions and astrophysical assumptions. Each code treats some aspects of the physics differently, especially the way that energy from stars and supernovas is fed back into the simulated galaxies. The simulations are being run at the best resolutions currently possible, and they are using the same input physics as much as possible. The simulation results will be systematically compared with each other and against a variety of observations using a common analysis and visualization tool.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) will get a new system allowing it to continuously monitor the sky to study the Earth’s ionosphere and detect short bursts of radio emission from astronomical objects. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) signed a $1 million contract under which NRL will fund a system to capture data from low-frequency radio receivers mounted on VLA antennas that will allow simultaneous and completely independent operation alongside the VLA’s standard scientific observations.
“This essentially will turn the VLA into two telescopes, working in parallel to perform different types of scientific research simultaneously,” said Dale Frail, NRAO’s Director for New Mexico Operations.
The new system, called VLITE (VLA Ionospheric and Transient Experiment), will tap data from 10 VLA antennas, and is a pathfinder for a proposed larger system called the Low Band Observatory (LOBO) that would equip all 27 antennas of the VLA. “The new system will operate independently of the VLA’s higher-frequency systems, using a separate path for data transmission and processing,” said Paul Ray, NRL’s VLITE system engineer.
In the first 300 days of the Mars Science Laboratory surface mission, the Curiosity rover cruised around the planet’s Gale Crater, collecting soil samples and investigating rock structures while the onboard Radiation Assessment Detector made detailed measurements of the radiation environment on the surface of Mars.
“Our measurements provide crucial information for human missions to Mars,” said Dr. Don Hassler, a Southwest Research Institute program director and RAD principal investigator. Hassler is the lead author of “Mars’ Surface Radiation Environment Measured with the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover,” scheduled for publication in the journal Science online on December 9, 2013. “We’re continuing to monitor the radiation environment, and seeing the effects of major solar storms on the surface and at different times in the solar cycle will give additional important data. Our measurements also tie into Curiosity’s investigations about habitability. The radiation sources that are of concern for human health also affect microbial survival as well as the preservation of organic chemicals.”
NASA’s Curiosity rover is providing vital insight about Mars’ past and current environments that will aid plans for future robotic and human missions.
n a little more than a year on the Red Planet, the mobile Mars Science Laboratory has determined the age of a Martian rock, found evidence the planet could have sustained microbial life, taken the first readings of radiation on the surface, and shown how natural erosion could reveal the building blocks of life. Curiosity team members presented these results and more from Curiosity in six papers published online today by Science Express and in talks at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
The second rock Curiosity drilled for a sample on Mars, which scientists nicknamed “Cumberland,” is the first ever to be dated from an analysis of its mineral ingredients while it sits on another planet. A report by Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and co-authors, estimates the age of Cumberland at 3.86 billion to 4.56 billion years old. This is in the range of earlier estimates for rocks in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is working.
“The age is not surprising, but what is surprising is that this method worked using measurements performed on Mars,” said Farley. “When you’re confirming a new methodology, you don’t want the first result to be something unexpected. Our understanding of the antiquity of the Martian surface seems to be right.”
The first detailed examination of clay mineralogy in its original setting on Mars is offering new insights on the planet’s past habitability, research led by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist David T. Vaniman has found.
The sedimentary rock samples tested were collected by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity at Yellowknife Bay in Gale Crater on Mars. The rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction and Fluorescence (CheMin XRD/XRF) instrument analyzed the samples.
“The in situ X-ray diffraction results reveal the presence of smectite, a type of clay mineral typical of soils and sediments that have not been deeply buried, heated, or otherwise altered,” Vaniman said. “The X-Ray diffraction data are also important for what they do not detect – clay minerals such as chlorite or illite that would have formed in strongly alkaline or hydrothermal fluids.”