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Exploration Of Mars


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#16    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 06 October 2006 - 06:41 PM

NASA's Mars Rover and Orbiter Team Examines Victoria Crater

The user posted image press release is reproduced below:

Oct 6, 2006
Erica Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726/1237

Guy Webster/Natalie Godwin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278/0850

RELEASE: 06-330

NASA's Mars Rover and Orbiter Team Examines Victoria Crater


NASA's long-lived robotic rover Opportunity is beginning to explore layered rocks in cliffs ringing the massive Victoria crater on Mars.

While Opportunity spent its first week at the crater, NASA's newest eye in the Martian sky photographed the rover and its surroundings from above. The level of detail in the photo from the high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will help guide the rover's exploration of Victoria.

"This is a tremendous example of how our Mars missions in orbit and on the surface are designed to reinforce each other and expand our ability to explore and discover," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program in Washington. "You can only achieve this compelling level of exploration capability with the sustained exploration approach we are conducting at Mars through integrated orbiters and landers."

"The combination of the ground-level and aerial view is much more powerful than either alone," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit. "If you were a geologist driving up to the edge of a crater in your jeep, the first thing you would do would be to pick up the aerial photo you brought with you and use it to understand what you're seeing from ground level. That's exactly what we're doing here."

Images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, orbiting the red planet since 1997, prompted the rover team to choose Victoria two years ago as the long-term destination for Opportunity. The images show the one-half-mile-wide crater has scalloped edges of alternating cliff-like high, jutting ledges and gentler alcoves. The new image by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter adds significantly more detail.

Exposed geological layers in the cliff-like portions of Victoria's inner wall appear to record a longer span of Mars' environmental history than the rover has studied in smaller craters. Victoria is five times larger than any crater Opportunity has visited during its Martian trek.

High-resolution color images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera since Sept. 28 reveal previously unseen patterns in the layers. "There are distinct variations in the sedimentary layering as you look farther down in the stack," Squyres said. "That tells us environmental conditions were not constant."

Within two months after landing on Mars in early 2004, Opportunity found geological evidence for a long-ago environment that was wet. Scientists hope the layers in Victoria will provide new clues about whether that wet environment was persistent, fleeting or cyclical.

The rovers have worked on Mars for more than 10 times their originally planned three-month missions. "Opportunity shows a few signs of aging but is in good shape for undertaking exploration of Victoria crater," said John Callas, project manager for the rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"What we see so far just adds to the excitement. The team has worked heroically for nearly 21 months driving the rover here, and now we're all rewarded with views of a spectacular landscape of nearly 50-foot-thick exposures of layered rock," said Jim Bell of Cornell. Bell is lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras. NASA plans to drive Opportunity from crater ridge to ridge, studying nearby cliffs across the intervening alcoves and looking for safe ways to drive the rover down. "It's like going to the Grand Canyon and seeing what you can from several different overlooks before you walk down," Bell said.

The orbiter images will help the team choose which way to send Opportunity around the rim, and where to stop for the best views. Conversely, the rover's ground-level observations of some of the same features will provide useful information for interpreting orbital images.

"The ground-truth we get from the rover images and measurements enables us to better interpret features we see elsewhere on Mars, including very rugged and dramatic terrains that we can't currently study on the ground," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. He is principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the rovers and orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. For images and information about the rovers, visit:


For images and information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mro

- end -

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Source: NASA Press Release 06-330

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#17    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 08:46 PM

Mars May Be Cozy Place for Hardy Microbes

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A class of especially hardy microbes that live in some of the harshest Earthly environments could flourish on cold Mars and other chilly planets, according to a research team of astronomers and microbiologists.

In a two-year laboratory study, the researchers discovered that some cold-adapted microorganisms not only survived but reproduced at 30 degrees Fahrenheit, just below the freezing point of water. The microbes also developed a defense mechanism that protected them from cold temperatures. The researchers are members of a unique collaboration of astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and microbiologists from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center of Marine Biotechnology in Baltimore, Md. Their results appear on the International Journal of Astrobiology website.

"The low temperature limit for life is particularly important since, in both the solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy, cold environments are much more common than hot environments," said Neill Reid, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and leader of the research team. "Our results show that the lowest temperatures at which these organisms can thrive fall within the temperature range experienced on present-day Mars, and could permit survival and growth, particularly beneath Mars's surface. This could expand the realm of the habitable zone, the area in which life could exist, to colder Mars-like planets."

Most stars in our galaxy are cooler than our Sun. The zone around these stars that is suitable for Earth-like temperatures would be smaller and narrower than the so-called habitable zone around our Sun. Therefore, the majority of planets would likely be colder than Earth.

In their two-year study, the scientists tested the coldest temperature limits for two types of one-cell organisms: halophiles and methanogens. They are among a group of microbes collectively called extremophiles, so-named because they live in hot springs, acidic fields, salty lakes, and polar ice caps under conditions that would kill humans, animals, and plants. Halophiles flourish in salty water, such as the Great Salt Lake, and have DNA repair systems to protect them from extremely high radiation doses. Methanogens are capable of growth on simple compounds like hydrogen and carbon dioxide for energy and can turn their waste into methane.

The halophiles and methanogens used in the experiments are from Antarctic lakes. In the laboratory, the halophiles displayed significant growth to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1 degree Celsius). The methanogens were active to 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 degrees Celsius).

"We have extended the lower temperature limits for these species by several degrees," said Shiladitya DasSarma, a professor and a leader of the team at the Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. "We had a limited amount of time to grow the organisms in culture, on the order of months. If we could extend the growth time, I think we could lower the temperatures at which they can survive even more. The brine culture in which they grow in the laboratory can remain in liquid form to minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 28 degrees Celsius), so the potential is there for significantly lower growth temperatures."

The scientists also were surprised to find that the halophiles and methanogens protected themselves from frigid temperatures. Some arctic bacteria show similar behavior.

"These organisms are highly adaptable, and at low temperatures they formed cellular aggregates," DasSarma explained. "This was a striking result, which suggests that cells may ‘stick together' when temperatures become too cold for growth, providing ways of survival as a population. This is the first detection of this phenomenon in Antarctic species of extremophiles at cold temperatures."

The scientists selected these extremophiles for the laboratory study because they are potentially relevant to life on cold, dry Mars. Halophiles could thrive in salty water underneath Mars's surface, which can remain liquid at temperatures well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). Methanogens could survive on a planet without oxygen, such as Mars. In fact, some scientists have proposed that methanogens produced the methane detected in Mars's atmosphere.

"This finding demonstrates that rigorous scientific studies on known extremophiles on Earth can provide clues to how life may survive elsewhere in the universe," DasSarma said.

The researchers next plan to map the complete genetic blueprint for each extremophile. By inventorying all of the genes, scientists will be able to determine the functions of each gene, such as pinpointing the genes that protect an organism from the cold.

Many extremophiles are evolutionary relics called Archaea, which may have been among the first homesteaders on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. These robust extremophiles may be able to survive in many places in the universe, including some of the roughly 200 worlds around stars outside our solar system that astronomers have found over the past decade. These planets are in a wide range of environments, from so-called "hot Jupiters," which orbit close to their stars and where temperatures exceed 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), to gas giants in Jupiter-like orbits, where temperatures are around minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 150 degrees Celsius).

The discovery of planets with huge temperature disparities has scientists wondering what environments could be hospitable to life. A key factor in an organism's survival is determining the upper and lower temperature limits at which it can live.

Although Martian weather conditions are extreme, the planet does share some similarities with the most extreme cold regions of Earth, such as Antarctica. Long regarded as essentially barren of life, recent investigations of Antarctic environments have revealed considerable microbial activity. "The Archaea and bacteria that have adapted to these extreme conditions are some of the best candidates for terrestrial analogues of potential extraterrestrial life; understanding their adaptive strategy, and its limitations, will provide deeper insight into fundamental constraints on the range of hospitable environments," DasSarma said.

The team's research was supported through grants from the Space Telescope Science Institute's Director's Discretionary Research Fund, a National Science Foundation, and the Australian Research Council.

The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington.

One of five centers forming the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) the Center of Marine Biotechnology, located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, employs researchers who apply the tools of modern biology and biotechnology to study, protect, and enhance marine and estuarine resources.

With research centers in Baltimore, Rockville, and College Park, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute is the newest of 13 institutions forming the University System of Maryland. UMBI has 85 ladder-ranked faculty and a 2006 budget of $60 million. Celebrating the institution's 20th year of service to Maryland and the world, UMBI is led by microbiologist and former biotechnology executive Dr. Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera. For more information visit http://www.umbi.umd.edu
.

Release Date: 1:00PM (EDT) October 19, 2006
Release Number: STScI-2006-48

Contact:

Neill Reid
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
(Phone: 410-338-4971, E-mail: inr@stsci.edu)

Shiladitya DasSarma
University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, Baltimore, Md.
(Phone: 410-234-8847; E-mail: dassarma@umbi.umd.edu)

Source: HubbleSite - Newsdesk

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#18    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 11:51 PM

During Solar Conjunction, Mars Spacecraft Will Be on Autopilot

Every day for the past decade, the U.S. has had a presence at Mars, using spacecraft to understand this extreme world and its potential as a past or present habitat for life.

During that time, all spacecraft have become virtually incommunicado for about two weeks every two years. The reason is solar conjunction, which occurs again from October 18-29, 2006. Solar conjunction is the period when Earth and Mars, in their eternal march around the Sun, are obscured from each other by the fiery orb of the Sun itself. Like dancers on either side of a huge bonfire, the two planets are temporarily invisible to each other.

user posted image
Image above: Both Sides Now
For a couple of weeks during October 2006, Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
+ Click for larger image


Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory respond in a variety of ways. They turn off some instruments. They collect data from others and store it. In some cases, they continue sending data to Earth, knowing that some data will be lost. Whether they get a break from everyday operations depends on what mission they're supporting.

No one attempts to send new instructions to Mars during solar conjunction. It's impossible to predict what information might be lost due to interference from charged particles from the Sun, and that lost information could potentially endanger the spacecraft. Instead, prior to solar conjunction, engineers send two weeks worth of instructions and wait.

While that may seem risky, automatic pilot has come a long way. Engineers have become skilled at letting spacecraft be on their own. Like parents who raise youngsters to be responsible and let them go on a short vacation with their friends, they've done all they can to ensure the voyagers will be healthy and safe.

The Question: To Rest ...

"We worry a little bit because it's always possible that something unexpected could happen," said Jake Matijevic, engineering team chief for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers. "But, the rovers have made it through solar conjunction before and we think they'll be OK."

user posted image
Image above: Clouds Passing Overhead
Opportunity acquired images of clouds passing over Victoria Crater using the navigation camera on the rover's 950th sol (martian day) of exploration on Mars (Sept. 25, 2006). Both rovers will continue searching the Martian sky for clouds during solar conjunction.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
+ Click for larger image


Mission planners have already sent detailed schedules of activities to the rovers. Spirit and Opportunity will scan the Martian sky for clouds, measure atmospheric dust, conduct chemical analysis of dust, rocks, and soils, and take pictures. Opportunity will join Spirit in staying put temporarily. Both rovers will store the data and transmit it to Earth later.

Solar conjunction might even be an opportune time for some team members to take a few, well-deserved vacation days.

... Or Not to Rest?

In contrast, it's hard for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team to stay away. The newest mission to arrive at Mars, the orbiter recently began operating all of its instruments for the first time. The team is lining up to see some of the most detailed images of Mars ever returned, as well as new data that will likely rewrite our current understanding of the Martian environment. Though scientists will turn off the high-resolution camera during solar conjunction, some other instruments may still collect data.

user posted image
Image above: Work Continues
Ramona Tung studies a mockup of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, while colleague Tracy Drain reviews data from the Shallow Radar instrument during Mars solar conjunction. Both women are engineers working on the mission. Team members made the model out of everyday objects, such as a plastic cup and baby bottle, to save wear and tear on a much more fragile, official model of the spacecraft. They use it to visualize the movement of the many components and instruments on the spacecraft before writing computer codes that tell the spacecraft what to do. Meanwhile, in an adjacent room, a team of scientists meets to discuss the Mars Climate Sounder, which continues operating during conjunction. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
+ Click for larger image


"The spacecraft is getting a break, but everyone on the ground is still working just as hard," said engineer Robert Sharrow, a system engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

That's true for the Mars Odyssey team too, who may be busier than usual in coming weeks.

"Solar conjunction is not typically looked at as time off," said Odyssey Science Office Manager Gaylon McSmith. "One of the things we'll be doing is getting ready to increase our global mapping coverage of Mars, using a technique known as off-nadir pointing."

Starting in December, instead of keeping the spacecraft pointed straight down at the surface of Mars (nadir), navigators will rotate the spacecraft to collect stereo images -- slightly offset images of the same terrain. Like a pair of human eyes, the stereo views will enable Odyssey's thermal camera to perceive depth and the relative position of surface features.

Odyssey will continue sending its own data to Earth and relaying data from NASA's two Mars rovers. Based on experience, Mars explorers know they will lose some data while Mars is behind the sun with respect to Earth. "After solar conjunction, we'll have a big cleanup job telling the rovers what information to re-transmit," said Matijevic.

Some Things Get Better with Age

These activities pose no problems for the pros. Mars Global Surveyor, the granddaddy of all spacecraft at Mars, has continously mapped Mars since 1999. Team members have solar conjunction down pat, and rest easier than in prior solar conjunctions, when an antenna problem caused some worries.

user posted image
Image above: A Complex Maneuver
For a time, the dish antenna on Mars Global Surveyor did some careful maneuvering to stay in contact with Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
+ Click for larger image


For a long time, explained Project Manager Tom Thorpe, an obstruction limited the range of motion of the dish antenna that sends data to Earth. To get around the problem, navigators flip-flopped the spacecraft's high-gain antenna in a fairly complex procedure called a "Beta Supplement," which enabled them to point the dish at Earth. They had to be careful to keep the dish from hitting the boom that supports it.

Suddenly, last year, the obstruction disappeared. Engineers concluded that the problem likely resulted from a kink in the cabling rather than, as some had originally thought, a loose screw that wiggled loose during launch.

"This is our fifth solar conjunction and we've pretty much got it down to a science," Thorpe said. "We're in our 5th Mars year of sensing -- one Mars year is equal to almost 2 Earth years -- and we're still making new discoveries all the time."


Source: NASA - Missions - Mars Rovers

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#19    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 11:23 PM

AFRL Tests Mars Flyer Concept


The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) press release is reproduced below:

linked-image
Joe MacKrell (left) of Naval Research Laboratory and Larry Lemke of NASA Ames demonstrate
the Vertical Wind Tunnel testing of the Mars Flyer Model.
(Air Force photo Holly Jordan

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --- Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) researchers continue to play a critical role in the future of Mars exploration.

Scientists from AFRL’s Air Vehicles Aerospace Vehicle Integration and Demonstration Branch, NASA Ames Research Center, and Naval Research Laboratory met from September 18-20 to perform testing of a Mars Flyer model in AFRL’s vertical wind tunnel.

The Mars Flyer is an unmanned air vehicle concept that would fly over the surface of Mars, collecting data and transmitting vital information about the Mars surface and atmosphere back to researchers on Earth. It would collect data such as evidence of water or ice just below the planet’s surface, evidence of methane related processes in the atmosphere, and the structure and turbulent behavior of the atmosphere itself. Airplanes over Mars can be just as useful, in many ways, as airplanes over the Earth.

While the concept of a Mars Flyer is not new, different designs and concepts have been tested over the years in an attempt to determine the best approach for the task.

The latest Mars Flyer concept, the Mars Advanced Technology Airplane for Deployment, Operations, and Recovery (MATADOR), is a versatile folding delta-wing vehicle. The MATADOR is designed to be deployed high above the Mars surface with wings folded in. The wings would then fold out and transition into horizontal flight.

The sturdy, folding-wing design allows the MATADOR to deploy safely through the thin Mars atmosphere with the assistance of thrusters. It also allows the vehicle to perform a more controlled landing on the Mars surface, rather than a riskier crash landing, when its flight is complete. The design saves the need for heavier vehicle packaging, thereby allowing the craft to carry more fuel or payload.

During testing, the MATADOR model was suspended in the test section, subjected to upward-blowing winds reaching 14 to 17 mph, which simulates the craft’s path through the Mars atmosphere during the critical first 30 seconds after it emerges from its aeroshell. This aeroshell will be similar to that used on many Mars lander missions, including the recent Mars Exploration Rover mission.

The purpose of the test was to simulate low speed flight, similar to that which would be encountered within the Mars atmosphere and to develop flight control algorithms necessary to transition the vehicle from a vertical descent to horizontal flight.

The testing allowed researchers to make necessary adjustments to the craft and to verify computer-simulated data and information gathered from previous tests.

With the vertical wind tunnel testing complete, the MATADOR model may next undergo additional wind tunnel tests leading up to a high altitude flight test, using a helium balloon to tow the aircraft up to altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet. At these altitudes, the properties of the Earth’s atmosphere are very similar to the properties of the thin Martian atmosphere at about 10,000 feet. above the surface.

by Holly Jordan, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Vehicles Directorate

Source: AFRL News Release

Edited by Waspie_Dwarf, 03 April 2007 - 01:23 AM.
corrected link

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#20    ROGER

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 01:06 AM

I have been away from my desk  few days so I am catching up. Autonomous planes that fly through Mars thin Air. OK I see a need for it. In about 30 years if all goes well. But to be used with a research Base or maned orbiter to remote direct it.

The world can't end in 2012, I have a yogurt that expires in 2013.

#21    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 02:49 AM

NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows in Brief Spurts on Mars

The IPB Image press release is reproduced below:

Dec. 6, 2006
Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726/1237

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278

RELEASE: 06-362

NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows in Brief Spurts on Mars


WASHINGTON - NASA photographs have revealed bright new deposits seen in two gullies on Mars that suggest water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years.

"These observations give the strongest evidence to date that water still flows occasionally on the surface of Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, Washington.

Liquid water, as opposed to the water ice and water vapor known to exist at Mars, is considered necessary for life. The new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars. The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor provided the new evidence of the deposits in images taken in 2004 and 2005.

"The shapes of these deposits are what you would expect to see if the material were carried by flowing water," said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. "They have finger-like branches at the downhill end and easily diverted around small obstacles." Malin is principal investigator for the camera and lead author of a report about the findings published in the journal Science.

The atmosphere of Mars is so thin and the temperature so cold that liquid water cannot persist at the surface. It would rapidly evaporate or freeze. Researchers propose that water could remain liquid long enough, after breaking out from an underground source, to carry debris downslope before totally freezing. The two fresh deposits are each several hundred meters or yards long.

The light tone of the deposits could be from surface frost continuously replenished by ice within the body of the deposit. Another possibility is a salty crust, which would be a sign of water's effects in concentrating the salts. If the deposits had resulted from dry dust slipping down the slope, they would likely be dark, based on the dark tones of dust freshly disturbed by rover tracks, dust devils and fresh craters on Mars.

Mars Global Surveyor has discovered tens of thousands of gullies on slopes inside craters and other depressions on Mars. Most gullies are at latitudes of 30 degrees or higher. Malin and his team first reported the discovery of the gullies in 2000. To look for changes that might indicate present-day flow of water, his camera team repeatedly imaged hundreds of the sites. One pair of images showed a gully that appeared after mid-2002. That site was on a sand dune, and the gully-cutting process was interpreted as a dry flow of sand.

Today’s announcement is the first to reveal newly deposited material apparently carried by fluids after earlier imaging of the same gullies. The two sites are inside craters in the Terra Sirenum and the Centauri Montes regions of southern Mars.

"These fresh deposits suggest that at some places and times on present-day Mars, liquid water is emerging from beneath the ground and briefly flowing down the slopes. This possibility raises questions about how the water would stay melted below ground, how widespread it might be, and whether there's a below-ground wet habitat conducive to life. Future missions may provide the answers," said Malin.

Besides looking for changes in gullies, the orbiter's camera team assessed the rate at which new impact craters appear. The camera photographed approximately 98 percent of Mars in 1999 and approximately 30 percent of the planet was photographed again in 2006. The newer images show 20 fresh impact craters, ranging in diameter from 7 feet (2 meters) to 486 feet (148 meters) that were not present approximately seven years earlier. These results have important implications for determining the ages of features on the surface of Mars. These results also approximately match predictions and imply that Martian terrain with few craters is truly young.

Mars Global Surveyor began orbiting Mars in 1997. The spacecraft is responsible for many important discoveries. NASA has not heard from the spacecraft since early November. Attempts to contact it continue. Its unprecedented longevity has allowed monitoring Mars for over several years past its projected lifetime.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, manages the Mars Global Surveyor mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about NASA's Mars missions, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/mars

- end -

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Source: NASA Press Release 06-362

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#22    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:06 AM

New Gully Deposit in a Crater in Terra Sirenum

IPB Image
Figure A - High resolution: + Without annotation | + With annotation

IPB Image
Figure B (left side) - High resolution: + Without annotation | + With annotation
Figure C (right side) - High resolution: + Without annotation | + With annotation

IPB Image
Figure D

Has liquid water flowed on Mars in this decade?

In June 2000, we reported the discovery, using the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera, of very youthful-looking gullies found on slopes at middle and high latitudes on Mars. Since that time, tens of thousands of gullies have been imaged by all of the Mars orbiting spacecraft: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

During the years since the original June 2000 report, the Mars Global Surveyor's camera was used to test the hypothesis that the gullies may be so young that some of them could still be active today. The test was very simple: re-image gullies previously seen by the camera and see if anything has changed.

In two cases, something changed. One of those cases is presented here. A gully on the wall of an unnamed crater in Terra Sirenum, at 36.6 degrees south, 161.8 degrees west, was initially imaged by the camera on Dec. 22, 2001 (Figure A, left). It showed nothing noteworthy at the location where a change would later be observed, but a group of nearby gullies exhibited an unusual patch of light-toned material. As part of our routine campaign to re-image gully sites using the camera, another image of this location was acquired on April 24, 2005. A new light-toned deposit had appeared in what was otherwise a nondescript gully (Figure A, right). This deposit was imaged again by the camera on Aug. 26, 2005, at a time when the sun angle and season were the same as in the original December 2001 image, to confirm that indeed the light-toned feature was something new, not just a trick of differing lighting conditions. In August 2005, the feature was still present.

Figure A: This set of images shows a comparison of the gully site as it appeared on Dec. 22, 2001 (left), with a mosaic of two images acquired after the change occurred (the two images are from Aug. 26, 2005, and Sept. 25, 2005). Sunlight illuminates each scene from the northwest (top left). The 150-meter scale bar represents 164 yards.

Figure B: This is a mosaic of images that cover the entire unnamed crater in Terra Sirenum. The location of the light-toned gully deposits, old and new, is indicated. This is a mosaic of images acquired by the camera in 2005 and 2006. The 500-meter scale bar equals approximately 547 yards.

Figure C: This image shows an enlargement of a portion of another image from August 2005, showing details of the new, light-toned gully deposit. The new material covers the entire gully floor, from the point at which the gully emerged from beneath a mantled slope, down to the spot at which the channel meets the crater floor. At this break in slope, the gully material, as it was emplaced, spread out into five or six different fingers (this is called a "digitate" termination as in finger digits). The 75-meter scale bar represents a distance of about 82 yards.

Figure D: To confirm that the new, light-toned gully deposit is not just a trick of changing illumination conditions as the sun rises to different levels in the sky each season, the Mars Orbiter Camera team repeatedly imaged this site throughout 2005 and 2006. Four examples are shown here, acquired in April 2005, August 2005, February 2006 and April 2006. The "i=" indicates solar-incidence angle, or the height of the sun in the local sky, relative to a case where the sun would be directly overhead (i=0 degrees). Thus, the higher the incidence angle, the lower the sun would appear in the sky to an observer on the ground.

These images show that a material flowed down through a gully channel, once between December 2001 and April 2005. After the flow stopped, it left behind evidence -- the light-toned deposit. The deposit is thin enough that its thickness cannot be measured in the camera's 1.5-meters-per-pixel images. However, it does exhibit a digitate termination, suggesting that the material flowed in a fluid-like manner down the approximately 25 degree slope before splaying out into multiple small lobes at the point where the crater wall meets the crater floor and the slope suddenly drops to near zero. This deposit, and a similar one in a crater in the Centauri Montes, together suggests that the materials involved were low-volume debris flows containing a mixture of sediment and a liquid that had the physical properties of liquid water. In this case, we propose that the water came from below the surface, emerged somewhere beneath the mantle covering the original crater wall, and then ran down through a previously existing gully channel. No new gully was formed, but an old one was re-activated.

The light tone of the new gully deposit, and that of the older, neighboring gullies, is intriguing. We cannot know from these images whether the light tone indicates that ice is still present in and on the surface of the deposit. Indeed, ice may not be likely: under present conditions on the surface of Mars, ice would be expected to have sublimed, or vaporized, away fairly shortly after the new deposit formed. However, the light-toned material could be frost that forms and re-forms frequently as trapped water-ice sublimes and "exhales" from within the deposit. Alternatively, the light-tone may result if the deposit consists of significantly finer grains (for example, fine silt) than the surrounding surfaces, or if the deposit's surface is covered with minerals such as salts formed as water evaporated from the material.

Do these images prove that water has flowed on Mars? No, they cannot. However, they provide the first very tantalizing evidence that this may have occurred. While the surface environment on Mars is extremely dry, drier than the most arid deserts on Earth, liquid water from beneath the Martian surface may have come out of the ground and flowed across this little portion of the red planet in this decade.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#23    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:14 AM

Before-and-After Look at Impact Craters

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+ Figure A (left image) - High resolution
+ Figure B (middle image) - High resolution
Figure C (right image) - High resolution: + Without annotation | + With annotation

Two of the 20 new impact craters determined by the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera science operations team to have formed between May 1999 and March 2006 occur at a location that the narrow-angle camera imaged previously. This is surprising given that the narrow-angle camera, with its 3-kilometer-wide (1.9-mile-wide) field of view, has only covered about 5.2 percent of the Martian surface. One of the two craters that formed where the camera had already taken a narrow-angle image is featured here.

Figures A and B: The first two figures show sub-frames of an image acquired on March 13, 2006. The first one has been colorized using a table derived from the colors of Mars as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera. The impact site is located near 27.3 degrees north latitude, 91.8 degrees west longitude, on the upper north flank of the Martian volcano Ulysses Patera. Fine details are evident at the impact site, showing how the blast moved dust around and interacted with craters and other small obstacles on the ground. The crater has a diameter of about 19.8 meters (about 65 feet).

Figure C: The third figure shows before-and-after narrow-angle camera views of the impact site. The before image was acquired on Feb. 24, 2002. The after image was acquired on March 13, 2006.

Other images from Mars-orbiting spacecraft cover this location and show the impact site, including data from the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera and Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System. These other data help constrain when the impact occurred. The last orbiter image obtained before the impact was taken on April 18, 2003. The first orbiter image that showed the impact feature was obtained on Feb. 7, 2004. Thus, the impact occurred between those dates, April 18, 2003, and Feb. 7, 2004.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#24    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:21 AM

Fresh Crater in Arabia Terra With Light-Toned Ejecta

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+ Figure A - High resolution

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Figure B - High resolution: + Without annotation + With annotation

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+ Figure C - High resolution

While most of the new impact craters found on Mars by the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera have dark ejecta patterns, a few of them also have light-toned ejecta, indicating that the impacting meteorite excavated to a depth where a light-toned material was present.

Figure A: The picture was acquired on Feb. 26, 2006. The single small crater of about 22.6 meters (about 74 feet) in diameter is surrounded by light and dark-toned ejecta. The crater occurs near 20.6 degrees north latitude, 356.8 degrees west longitude, in Arabia Terra.

Figure B: This set of images shows how the impact site appeared to the Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System infrared instrument before and after the impact. The white circle indicates the location of the impact site. Both images are from the Thermal Emission Imaging System band 9 (approximately 12.6 micrometers wavelength); the first image was obtained on June 30, 2002, the second on Oct. 5, 2003. In the 2003 image, the impact site appears as a bright spot, because it was warmer than the surroundings at the time the data were acquired.

Figure C: The final figure shows how the impact site appeared to the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter wide-angle cameras. The first image shows the site before the impact, on Aug. 31, 1999. The second shows the impact site as it appeared on May 7, 2003.

Taken together, the Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor data indicate that this impact occurred some time between June 30, 2002, and May 7, 2003.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

Edited by Waspie_Dwarf, 07 December 2006 - 03:29 AM.

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#25    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:28 AM

New Craters

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The Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera has found that meteorites are hitting the Martian surface and forming new craters all the time. If you were living on Mars, chances are that within 10 or 20 years, an impact would occur close enough to where you live that you'd notice it -- perhaps you'd hear the impact and it would startle you out of your seat.

A year ago, it had not occurred to the camera team that they could find places on Mars where meteorites had impacted the surface during the course of the mission. Such craters, if they were forming at all, would be a few meters to a few tens of meters across; much too small to notice (or so they thought) in the wide-angle camera coverage. But, on Jan. 9, 2006, they began to realize that not only could we find such craters, we might also be able to characterize the present-day impact cratering rate on Mars. Surveying for fresh craters formed during the mission would provide the first direct observation--for any body in the solar system, including Earth and its Moon--of the present-day cratering rate. This in turn can help test models used all the time by members of the scientific community to estimate the age of features on planetary surfaces.

The first fresh impact site, shown on this page, was first noticed on Jan. 9, 2006, in an image acquired three days earlier. The image was acquired by the wide-angle camera at its highest possible spatial resolution, about 240 meters (262 yards) per pixel. To the northwest of the area imaged by the narrow-angle camera, the red, wide-angle context frame showed a dark spot. This spot was not present in any previous image acquired by any spacecraft, from Mariner 9 (which arrived in 1971) on down through Mars Express (which arrived in 2003).

Figure A: The first figure shows two red, wide-angle camera context images. The first was taken on June 9, 2001, several years before the impact occurred. The second is the “discovery” image, acquired on January 6, 2006. In both cases, a white box indicates the location of the Mars Orbiter Camera narrow-angle image for which the context image was obtained. For scale, the white boxes are 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) wide.

Figure B: In this image, North is up in this map-projected view. The single, broad dark streak that emanates from the impact site and points toward the southwest (lower left) may indicate either the direction that the meteor came from, or its opposite. If it represents the direction that the impactor came from, then the streak results from disruption of dust on the Martian surface as the object came in. If the opposite, then it represents the direction that material was blasted from the impact site, away from the direction that the meteor came. In either case, the impactor came in at a somewhat oblique angle, and broke up just before hitting the ground, because it formed multiple small craters. The 300-meter scale bar represents 328 yards.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#26    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:34 AM

Groundwater May be Source for Erosion in Martian Gullies

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+ Figure C - (Right image) High resolution

Since their discovery early during the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera investigation, as first reported in June 2000, Martian gullies have presented a puzzle for the Mars science community: what fluid was responsible for the erosion that created the channels, and where did it come from? The gullies seem to be quite young in a geologic sense (millions of years or less), yet modern and geologically-recent Mars is an extremely dry place, where water ice sublimates directly to gas when the temperature is warm enough.

Since June 2000, many hypotheses have been discussed at scientific meetings, in the scientific journals and elsewhere. The original June 2000 hypothesis held that the fluid was liquid water (either pure, salty, acidic, etc.) that came to the surface where slopes intersected conduits of groundwater. Such slopes include crater walls, valley walls, hills, massifs and crater central peaks. Later investigators explored the possibility that rather than liquid groundwater, the source was ground ice, which, under some climate conditions, melted to produce liquid runoff. Still others noted that thick mantles covered a fraction of the gully-bearing slopes, suggesting that the mantles were ancient, dust-covered snow or ice packs that might melt at the base to make liquid water runoff. Water was not the only fluid considered by various colleagues; carbon dioxide can be fluid at some pressures and temperatures. Fluid carbon dioxide was also proposed as a candidate fluidizing agent. Even dry mass movement, or land sliding, of unconsolidated granular material can exhibit some fluid-like behavior. Such mass movements were considered as an explanation for the gullies.

The presence of channels primarily formed by erosion but also displaying features representing along-channel deposition, such as levees and meanders, and terminal depositional aprons consisting of dozens to hundreds of individual flow lobes, contributed to the general acceptance of the hypothesis that gullies involved the action of liquid water.

Throughout the Mars Global Surveyor mission, the Mars Orbiter Camera team continued to image gullies at every opportunity, looking for new gullies, taking higher resolution images of previously identified gullies, and monitoring the gullies for changes that might occur. Among the results of this extensive survey are numerous examples of gullies that have geological relations to other things in their vicinity. This provides support for the hypothesis that the fluid responsible for the gullies came from beneath the ground, either as groundwater or melting of ice in the Martian subsurface. Three of the best examples are presented here.

Figure A: The first picture shows a pair of gully channels that emerge, fully-born at nearly their full width, from beneath small overhangs on the north wall of Dao Vallis. These overhangs are probably created by the presence of a hard-rock layer. Liquid, probably water, percolated through permeable layers just beneath these harder, more resistant rock layers. The arrow points to the place where one of the two neighboring channels emerges. This is a sub-frame of an image acquired on Jan. 10, 2006, located near 34.2 degrees south latitude, 268.1 degrees west longitude. The 150-meter scale bar is about 164 yards wide.

Figure B: The second picture shows a gully that formed on the wall of a crater that intersected a mare-type ridge. The term, mare, is from the dark volcanic plains of Earth's moon, for example Mare Tranquilitatis was the plain on which the Apollo 11 crew landed in 1969. The lunar maria (maria is the plural form of mare), when viewed from above, have many "wrinkle" ridges. These ridges are the surface expression of thrust faults. The mare-type ridge in the picture shown here is thus the product of faulting, as rocks on the west (left) side of the image were thrust toward the east (right). Finding a gully associated with a fault is excellent evidence for the groundwater hypothesis, because ground water percolates through cracks and pores in the ground. On Earth, springs (where groundwater comes to the surface) are often found along fault lines. What is most important about this particular Martian gully is that it occurs equatorward of 30 degrees south, which is extremely unusual. The only gully in this crater is the one associated with the fault. It is essentially the site of a spring, now dried up perhaps. This picture is a sub-frame of an image located near 29.1 degrees south latitude, 207.5 degrees west longitude, acquired on Jan. 17, 2005.

Figure C: The third picture shows a small crater on the rim of a larger crater. Only a small portion of the wall of this larger crater is captured in the image. Immediately beneath the small crater occurs a group of gullies. The presence of these gullies also supports the groundwater hypothesis because impacting meteors will fracture the rocks into which they form a crater. In this case, there would be an initial set of subsurface fractures caused by the large impact that created the original, large crater. Then, when the smaller crater formed, it would have created additional fractures in its vicinity. These extra fractures would then have provided pathways, or conduits, through which ground water would come to the surface on the wall of the larger crater, thus creating the gullies observed. One might speculate that the group of gullies was formed by the impact that made the small crater, because of the heat and fracturing of rock during the impact process. However, the gullies are much younger than the small crater; the ejecta from the small crater has been largely eroded away or buried, and the crater partially filled, while the gullies appear sharp, crisp and fresh. This is a portion of an image located near 33.9 degrees south latitude, 160 degrees west longitude, acquired on March 31, 2006.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#27    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 07 December 2006 - 03:43 AM

New Gully Deposit in a Crater in the Centauri Montes Region

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+ Figure D (right image) - High resolution

Two Martian southern mid-latitude craters have new light-toned deposits that formed in gully settings during the course of the Mars Global Surveyor mission. Images from the Mars Orbiter Camera documented one case in an unnamed crater in Terra Sirenum, described in an accompanying release (click here: PIA09027). The second case, in an unnamed crater in the Centauri Montes region, east of the Hellas Basin, is described here.

Gullies were first described by Mars Orbiter Camera scientists in June 2000, and many examples were presented in our June 2000 web releases and in a paper published in the journal Science. Additional examples of these middle and high-latitude landforms can be seen among the other more than 1,600 web releases.

The new gully deposit in an unnamed crater in the Centauri Montes region is located near 38.7 degrees south latitude, 263.3 degrees west longitude. Like the new gully deposit in Terra Sirenum, this one has a light tone relative to its surroundings. It is on an equator-facing slope on which numerous narrow gully channels occur. As this slope is always in sunlight during the afternoons when Mars Global Surveyor passes overhead, the gullies always appear somewhat "washed out," just as craters on a full Moon do when viewed from Earth with a telescope.

The new, light-toned flow was first noticed by the Mars Orbiter Camera science operations team in an image acquired on Sept. 10, 2005. Re-examination of other images of this crater showed that the new deposit had actually been present on Feb. 21, 2004, when the distal (down-slope) end of the deposit was captured in other images. In February 2004, the deposit had gone unnoticed because only a small portion of it was imaged. This location was first imaged by the Mars Orbiter Camera on Aug. 30, 1999. The deposit was not present at that time. Thus, it formed between Aug. 30, 1999 and Feb. 21, 2004.

Roughly 20 percent brighter than the surface as it appeared before the flow occurred, the new deposit exhibits characteristics consistent with transport and deposition of a fluid that behaved like liquid water and likely transported some fine-grained sediment along with it. The distal end of the flow broke into several branches, or digits, and the material diverted and flowed around low obstacles. As with the example in Terra Sirenum, the depth of the flow is too thin to be measured in 1.5-meter-per-pixel (1.7-yard-per-pixel) images, so a very small volume of liquid and sediment was involved. While the material flowed and easily budded into several branches, it also must have moved slow enough to not topple over some of the low obstacles in its path.

Figure A: This figure shows the southeast wall of the unnamed crater in the Centauri Montes region, as it appeared in August 1999, and later in September 2005. No light-toned deposit was present in August 1999, but appeared by February 2004. The 300-meter scale bar represents 328 yards.

Figure B: This picture is a colorized view of the light-toned gully deposit, draped over a topographic image derived from Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data. The color comes from a table derived from the colors of Mars as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment.

Figure C: The third figure is a mosaic of several Mars Global Surveyor images, colorized using a table derived from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera color data and overlain on a sub-frame of a Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System image. The 1-kilometer scale bar represents about 0.62 miles.

Figure D: The fourth figure is a colorized view of the light-toned gully deposit as viewed from an oblique perspective, draped over topography derived from Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data. The color comes from a table derived from the colors of Mars as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera.

The new light-toned flow, by itself, does not prove that liquid water was involved in its genesis. However, this observation and the similar light-toned flow in Terra Sirenum together show that some gully sites are indeed changing today, providing tantalizing evidence there might be sources of liquid water beneath the surface of Mars right now. In both cases, these new flows may be indicating the locations of aquifers (subsurface rocks saturated with water) that could be detected by orbiting, ground-penetrating radar systems such as the Mars Express Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding or the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Mars Shallow Subsurface Radar.

The Mars Global Surveyor mission is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., built and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera.

For more information about images from the Mars Orbiter Camera, see http://www.msss.com/mgs/moc/index.html
.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Source: NASA - Missions - Mars

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#28    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 10:49 PM

NASA Selects Proposals for Future Mars Missions and Studies

The linked-image press release is reproduced below:

Jan. 8, 2007
Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726

RELEASE: 07-03

NASA Selects Proposals for Future Mars Missions and Studies


WASHINGTON - On Monday, NASA selected for concept study development two proposals for future robotic missions to Mars. These missions would increase understanding of Mars' atmosphere, climate and potential habitability in greater detail than ever before.

In addition, NASA also will fund a U.S. scientist to participate in a proposed European Mars mission as well as fund instrument technology studies that could lead to further contributions to future Mars missions.

"These mission selections represent unprecedented future research that will lead to further advancing our knowledge and understanding of the Red Planet's climate, and atmospheric composition," said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Each Mars mission proposal will receive initial funding of approximately $2 million to conduct a nine-month implementation feasibility study. Following these detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select one of the two proposals by late 2007 for full development as a Mars Scout mission. The mission developed for flight would have a launch opportunity in 2011 and cost no more than $475 million.

The selected Mars mission proposals are:

* Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN: The mission would provide first-of-its-kind measurements and address key questions about Mars climate and habitability and improve understanding of dynamic processes in the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere. The principal investigator is Bruce Jakosky, University of Colorado, Boulder. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will provide project management.

* The Great Escape mission: The mission would directly determine the basic processes in Martian atmospheric evolution by measuring the structure and dynamics of the upper atmosphere. In addition, potentially biogenic atmospheric constituents such as methane would be measured. The principal investigator is Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, will provide project management.

NASA has selected Alian Wang of Washington University, St. Louis, to participate as a member of the science team for the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission. Wang will receive approximately $800,000 to study the chemistry, mineralogy and astrobiology of Mars using instrumentation on the ExoMars mission, scheduled for launch in 2013.

NASA also has selected two proposals for technology development studies that may lead to further NASA contributions to ExoMars or other Mars missions. The two technology development studies, funded for a total of $1.5 million, are:

* Urey Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector: The Urey instrument would investigate organics and oxidant materials on Mars using three complementary detection systems. The principal investigator is Jeffrey Bada, University of California at San Diego.

* Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or MOMA: The instrument would investigate organic molecular signatures and the environment in which they exist using a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph. The principal investigator is Luann Becker, University of California at Santa Barbara.

These selections were judged to have the best science value among 26 proposals submitted to NASA in August 2006 in response to an open announcement of opportunity.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. The Mars Exploration Program Office is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for the Mars Exploration Program, Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov

- end -

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Source: NASA Press Release 07-03

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-boggingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 1952 - 2001

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#29    Altheia

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 01:30 PM

Did NASA accidentally kill life on Mars?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the red planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist is theorizing.

The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn't recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch presented his theory in a paper delivered at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

The paper was released Sunday.

Based on a more expansive view of where life can take root, the paper's findings may prompt NASA to look for a different type of Martian life when its next spacecraft to visit Mars is launched later this year, one of the space agency's top scientists said.

Last month, scientists excitedly reported that new photographs of Mars showed geologic changes that suggest water occasionally flows there -- the most tantalizing sign that Mars is hospitable to life.

In the 1970s, the Viking mission found no signs of life.

But it was looking for Earth-like life, in which salt water is the internal liquid of living cells.

Given the cold dry conditions of Mars, life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid consisting of a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Schulze-Makuch.

That's because a water-hydrogen peroxide mix stays liquid at very low temperatures, or -68 degrees Fahrenheit, and doesn't destroy cells when it freezes. It can suck water vapor out of the air.

The Viking experiments of the 1970s wouldn't have noticed hydrogen peroxide-based life and, in fact, would have killed it by drowning and overheating the microbes, said Schulze-Makuch.

One Viking experiment seeking life on Mars poured water on soil. That would have essentially drowned hydrogen peroxide-based life, he said. And different experiment heated the soil to see if something would happen which would have baked Martian microbes.

"The problem was that they didn't have any clue about the environment on Mars at that time," Schulze-Makuch said. "This kind of adaptation makes sense from a biochemical viewpoint."

Even Earth has something somewhat related. He points to an Earth bug called the bombardier beetle that produces a boiling-hot spray that is 25 percent hydrogen peroxide as a defense weapon.

Schulze-Makuch acknowledges he can't prove that Martian microbes exist, but given the Martian environment and how evolution works, "it makes sense."

In recent years, scientists have found life on Earth in conditions that were once thought too harsh, such as an ultra-acidic river in Spain and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica.

Schulze-Makuch's research coincides with work being completed by a National Research Council panel nicknamed the "weird life" committee. The group worries that scientists may be too Earth-centric when looking for extraterrestrial life.

The problem for scientists is that "you only find what you're looking for," said Penn State University geosciences professor Katherine Freeman, a reviewer of the NRC work.

A new NASA Mars mission called Phoenix is set for launch this summer, and one of the scientists involved said he is eager to test the new theory about life on Mars.

However, scientists must come up with a way to do that using the mission's existing scientific instruments, said NASA astrobiologist and Phoenix co-investigator Chris McKay.

He said the Washington State scientist's paper piqued his interest.

"Logical consistency is nice, but it's not enough anymore," McKay said.

Other experts said the new concept is plausible, but more work is needed before they are convinced.

"I'm open to the possibility that it could be the case," said astrobiologist Mitch Sogin of the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

A member of the National Research Council committee, Sogin also cautioned against "just-so stories about what is possible."

http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/01/07/mars.life.ap/index.html


#30    Waspie_Dwarf

Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 01:13 AM

MRO, MGS, and Viking Views of Martian Dust Devils
Captioned Image Release No. MSSS-1 — 12 February 2007



(Left to right) (a) Syria/Claritas Dust Devil, (b) Amazonis Planitia Dust Devils, (c ) Dust Devil and Wind Gust Streaks
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(Left to right) (d) Dust-raising Event Comparison, (e) Dust Devil Features, (f) Viking 1 Dust Devil
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(g) Viking 1 Dust Devil, Animated
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Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
Click on pictures for high resolution images.


Dust devils are spinning, columnar vortices of wind that move across a landscape, pick up dust, and look somewhat like miniature tornadoes. They most commonly occur on warm, dry, nearly windless days; but they can also sometimes occur in association with a passing storm front.

Dust devils are a very common occurrence on Mars. Between 15 September 1997 and 21 January 2006, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) imaged more than 11,455 active dust devils occurring in the martian afternoon between about 1 and 3 p.m. local time. Dust devils were seen at nearly all latitudes, from 72°S to 62°N, and streaks created on the ground by passing dust devils were observed from 80°S to north of 80°N. The MGS MOC and later the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Imager (CTX) continued observing dust devil activity through 2006, and CTX continues to watch for new dust devils every day in 2007.

Active dust devils have been observed to occur in both the northern and southern hemispheres during all seasons of the year. Most dust devils occur in mid-summer in each hemisphere. The largest dust devils, towering more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) into the sky (e.g., Wind Action--The Dust Devils of Amazonis Planitia), occur in northern Amazonis Planitia, in a region near Syria Planum and Claritas Fossae, and immediately west of Schiaparelli Basin. Contrary to a belief that was common in the Mars science community before the MGS mission, dust devils do not give rise to dust storms. In fact, when dust storms are raging, dust devils are much, much less common, especially during the dustiest times of the martian year.

The pictures presented here summarize some of the observations of dust devils obtained in recent years by the MGS MOC and MRO CTX, and by the Viking 1 orbiter nearly 30 years ago.

(a) Syria Claritas Dust Devil
This MGS MOC image shows streamers of dust being lifted from the ground and rotating around a low pressure center to form a large dust devil in the Syria/Claritas region of Mars. This picture was acquired by MOC on 31 October 2004 near 15.2°S, 108.2°W. Sunlight illuminates the scene from the upper left and north is toward the top/upper right. By knowing the elevation of the sun above the local horizon, the direction from which the sun was shining, and by measuring the length of the shadow cast by this dusty vortex, MOC scientists estimated that the dust devil at this stage of formation had reached a height of about 400 meters (~1,300 feet) above the surface. The streamers indicate that the winds in this vortex were spinning in a clockwise direction. Observations of many thousands of dust devils on Earth has demonstrated that dust devils, which are very short duration events, are not impacted by the Coriolis effect; they do not spin one way in the northern hemisphere and the other way in the southern hemisphere.

(b) Amazonis Planitia Dust Devils
MGS MOC images acquired over the past four martian years showed that hundreds of dust devils form each afternoon in northern Amazonis Planitia during the spring and summer seasons. These particular dust devils show up each year like clockwork, beginning around the start of spring and ending just after autumn arrives. The MRO CTX picked up the task of monitoring northern Amazonis dust devil activity where the MGS MOC left off. Communication with MGS was lost just days before the MRO Primary Mission began in early November 2006. From that point forward, whenever possible, the CTX team has acquired images of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) width, some of them several hundred kilometers long, covering the areas of known dust devil activity. Also, the team has used Mars Color Imager (MARCI) daily global observations at roughly 1 km/pixel scale to monitor this area for the very largest dust devils, whenever the viewing geometry permits. This MRO CTX image shows a portion of the survey region in northwestern Amazonis as it appeared around 3 p.m. local time (on the ground) on 23 November 2006. The image center is near 36.5°N, 157.1°W, and sunlight illuminates the map-projected scene from the left/lower left. More than a dozen dust devils, of various sizes, are seen—all occurring at the same time! The dark shadows of these dust devils indicate that the larger ones tower several kilometers into the sky. North is up.

(c ) Dust Devil and Wind Gust Streaks
Dust devils commonly, although not always, create a streak on the ground as they pass over and disrupt fine coatings of dust on the surface. This MGS MOC image shows hundreds of crisscrossing dark streaks created by individual dust devils. The image also shows a suite of linear, parallel streaks formed not by dust devils, but by wind gusts. These features are located on Malea Planum near 67.2°S, 316.2°W. They were imaged by MOC during southern summer on 26 November 2003, with sunlight illuminating the scene from the upper left. North is toward the top/upper right.

(d) Dust-raising Event Comparison
This is a portion of a MGS MOC red wide angle camera image of terrain in the Noachis Terra region of Mars, as it appeared on 8 May 1999. At the time, winds were blowing across the region from the northwest, raising dust from the ground to form dust plumes, a dust storm, and near the north margin of the windy area, a dust devil. This image captures, in one moment of time, the full array of the types of dust-raising events that occur on the red planet. Over the course of the 1997–2006 MGS mission, the MOC team observed that dust is raised somewhere on the planet nearly every day. In this image, north is toward the top/upper right and sunlight illuminates the terrain from the upper left.

(e) Dust Devil Features
This picture shows two views that were acquired simultaneously by the MGS MOC on 28 December 2002. The top view is a portion of a red wide angle camera context frame; the white box shows the location of the lower image, a narrow angle camera image of a single large dust devil in northern Amazonis Planitia. The context frame shows that several other large dust devils were occurring at the same time. The narrow angle image is labeled to indicate key features, including a streak created on the surface as the dust devil traveled from the upper left (northwest) toward the lower right (southeast). The dust devil's shadow shows the tight, narrow vortex and a larger plume of dust at higher altitude above the vortex. The shadow also shows that the dust devil was bent by wind shear between points A and B. Because the angle that sunlight was impinging on the dust devil is known, the shadow can be used to measure the height and key features in the dust devil. The kink at A is about 0.64 km (2100 feet) above the surface, the bend at B is about 1.24 km (4070 ft) altitude, point C is at 1.68 km (5510 ft), and the top of the dust plume is near 2.82 km (9250 ft).

(f and g) Viking 1 Dust Devil
On 1 August 1978, the two cameras of the Viking 1 orbiter's imaging system acquired overlapping pictures of a region in Syria/Sinai that showed a light-toned columnar feature casting a shadow toward the southeast (lower right). The two images, 755A10 and 755A11, were obtained just 15 seconds apart. During that time, the bright feature and its shadow changed. The feature was a dust devil, and the Viking cameras caught it in motion. Nearly three decades later, the MGS MOC acquired an image on 22 March 2005 of the area, with the ephemeral dust devil long, long gone. During the 15 second interval between the two Viking 1 images, the dust devil moved toward the northeast (upper right) at a rate of about 18 meters (59 feet) per second. Sunlight illuminates all of the images from the upper left; north is up.

A full report about dust devils observed by the MGS MOC, containing 32 figures, was recently published by Bruce A. Cantor, Katherine M. Kanak, and Kenneth S. Edgett (2006, Mars Orbiter Camera observations of martian dust devils and their tracks (September 1997 to January 2006) and evaluation of theoretical vortex models, Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, E12002, doi:10.1029/2006JE002700).

Full-resolution views of these figures, without annotation:

          o (a) Syria/Claritas Dust Devil
          o (b) (the figure is not annotated)
          o (c ) Dust Devil and Wind Gust Streaks
          o (d) Dust-raising Event Comparison
          o (e) Dust Devil Features
          o (f) Viking 1 Dust Devil
          o (g) (the non-annotated still frames are in (f), above)

Additional images of dust devils and dust devil streaks acquired by MGS MOC can be seen here: Dust Devils.

Citation and Credit
The image(s) and caption are value-added products. MSSS personnel processed the images and wrote the caption information.

Source: Malin Space Science Systems

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