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SwRI Scientists Publish First Radiation Measurements From The Surface Of Mars

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

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.”

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NASA Curiosity: First Mars Age Measurement And Human Exploration Help

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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.”

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New Views Of Mars From Sediment Mineralogy

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

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.”

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Hidden Details Revealed In Nearby Starburst Galaxy: Green Bank Telescope’s New Vision Debuts

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Composite image of starburst galaxy M82. CREDIT: Bill Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Hubble/NASA

Composite image of starburst galaxy M82. CREDIT: Bill Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Hubble/NASA

Using the new, high-frequency capabilities of the National Science Foundation’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomers have captured never-before-seen details of the nearby starburst galaxy M82. These new data highlight streamers of material fleeing the disk of the galaxy as well as concentrations of dense molecular gas surrounding pockets of intense star formation.

M82, which is located approximately 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major, is a classic example of a starburst galaxy — one that is producing new stars tens- to hundreds-of-times faster than our own Milky Way. Its relatively nearby location made it an ideal target for the GBT’s newly equipped “W-Band” receiver, which is capable of detecting the millimeter wavelength light that is emitted by molecular gas. This new capability makes the GBT the world’s largest single-dish, millimeter-wave telescope.

“With this new vision, we were able to look at M82 to explore how the distribution of molecular gas in the galaxy corresponded to areas of intense star formation,” said Amanda Kepley, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, and lead author on a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “Having this new capability may help us understand why stars form where they do.”

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Geminid Meteor Shower To Show Through The Moonlight Friday Night

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

The annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the best shooting-star displays each year, returns to our skies late this week. Skygazers and nature enthusiasts throughout the Northern Hemisphere will be out watching. Anyone can join in. You need no equipment and no special knowledge.

Every year in mid-December, Earth passes through a stream of rock bits that are being shed by a superheated asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. In 2013 we should see the meteor shower at its most active from 9 or 10 p.m. (local time) on Friday December 13th until the first light of dawn Saturday morning.

“We’ll have interference from moonlight in the sky this year,” says Robert Naeye, editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine, “but the brighter meteors will shine through anyway. You’ll probably see quite a few.”

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