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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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Martian Laser Surpasses 100,000 Zaps

December 6, 2013 1 comment

The ChemCam laser instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover fired its 100,000th shot recently, chronicling its adventures on Mars with a coffee-table-book’s worth of spectral data that might rival snapshots gathered during a long and satisfying family vacation here on Earth. ChemCam zaps rocks with a high-powered laser to determine their composition and carries a camera that can survey the Martian landscape.

“ChemCam has greatly exceeded our expectations,” said Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary scientist and Principal Investigator of the ChemCam Team. “The information we’ve gleaned from the instrument will continue to enhance our understanding of the Red Planet, and will nicely complement information from the other nine instruments aboard Curiosity as we continue our odyssey to Mount Sharp.”

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NASA Cassini Spacecraft Provides New View Of Saturn And Earth

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

NASA has released a natural-color image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible.

The new panoramic mosaic of the majestic Saturn system taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday.

Cassini’s imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn’s rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn’s second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring.

“In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

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Curiosity Confirms Origins Of Martian Meteorites

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Earth’s most eminent emissary to Mars has just proven that those rare Martian visitors that sometimes drop in on Earth — a.k.a. Martian meteorites — really are from the Red Planet. A key new measurement of Mars’ atmosphere by NASA’s Curiosity rover provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origins of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origins of other meteorites.

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

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Mars Hand Lens Imager Sends Ultra High-Res Photo From Mars

October 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Planetary Science Institute

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Planetary Science Institute

An instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover has sent back to scientists on Earth an ultra high-resolution image of a penny the rover carried to Mars.

The coin was photographed by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard Curiosity in northern Gale crater on Mars. The penny, a 1909 VDB penny minted in Philadelphia during the first year that Lincoln cents became available, is part of the MAHLI calibration target and came from Earth. The images were acquired on Oct. 2, on sol 411 – the 411th Martian day – of the mission.

“I’m so proud of how beautifully this camera has performed on Mars,” said R. Aileen Yingst, Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist and deputy Principal Investigator for MAHLI. “I can’t wait to apply this newly available capability to real geologic targets on our way to Mt. Sharp.”

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Science Benefits From Diverse Landing Area Of NASA Mars Rover

October 2, 2013 1 comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

NASA’s Curiosity rover is revealing a great deal about Mars, from long-ago processes in its interior to the current interaction between the Martian surface and atmosphere.

Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust has provided new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover’s science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in five reports in the Sept. 27 edition of the journal Science.

A key finding is that water molecules are bound to fine-grained soil particles, accounting for about 2 percent of the particles’ weight at Gale Crater where Curiosity landed. This result has global implications, because these materials are likely distributed around the Red Planet.

Curiosity also has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using a standard laboratory method for identifying minerals on Earth. The findings about both crystalline and non-crystalline components in soil provide clues to the planet’s volcanic history.

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NASA Rover Gets Movie As A Mars Moon Passes Another

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The larger of the two moons of Mars, Phobos, passes directly in front of the other, Deimos, in a new series of sky-watching images from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.

Large craters on Phobos are clearly visible in these images from the surface of Mars. No previous images from missions on the surface caught one moon eclipsing the other.

Large craters on Phobos are clearly visible in these images from the surface of Mars. No previous images from missions on the surface caught one moon eclipsing the other.

These observations of Phobos and Deimos help researchers make knowledge of the moons’ orbits even more precise.

“The ultimate goal is to improve orbit knowledge enough that we can improve the measurement of the tides Phobos raises on the Martian solid surface, giving knowledge of the Martian interior,” said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. He is a co-investigator for use of Curiosity’s Mastcam. “We may also get data good enough to detect density variations within Phobos and to determine if Deimos’ orbit is systematically changing.”

Full Story and Video: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-253