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Waspie_Dwarf

Exploration Of Mars

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Posted (edited)

The Exploration of Mars


This original "Exploration of Mars" topic became excessively long. As a result the topic has been split into individual, mission based, topics. The "Exploration of Mars" topic is now for news and discoveries not specific to any one mission.

Links to the other topics can be found below:Waspie_Dwarf

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Next phase reached in definition of Mars Sample Return mission


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Artist's view of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) ascent module lifting off from Mars' surface with the Martian soil samples.

Credits: ESA


7 April 2006
ESA has taken a further step in preparing for participation in Mars Sample Return (MSR), the landmark mission to return samples from the Red Planet, with the announcement of the next phase of industrial activity.

The Phase A2 activity will address many critical issues and identify key areas in which Europe can participate in this flagship of the Aurora Programme.
The search for evidence of life outside the Earth is one of the fundamental goals of space exploration, and has been one of the driving forces behind the efforts to explore the planet Mars. This investigation, key to unlocking the ‘big’ question regarding life in the universe, is increasing in pace and is already beginning to provide answers. This is also one of the leading scientific threads of ESA’s Aurora Space Exploration Programme that was approved at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level held in Berlin last December.

Currently four orbiting explorers are scanning the surface of Mars in ever more detail, including Europe’s own Mars Express, while on the Red Planet itself two NASA rovers are due to be joined in 2013 by ESA’s ExoMars rover. The ExoMars mission will take Mars exploration and the search for life to a new level, with an advanced set of life detection instruments as well as the capability to drill into the Martian surface to search for signs of life, a first for Mars. These missions, while providing a wealth of data, are however somewhat limited in that they must take the laboratory to Mars, facing restrictions on power, mass and having to carry out scientific operations in a very harsh environment. The obvious question then arises; why not bring Mars to the laboratory? Hence, the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission.

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Artist's impression of the Mars Sample Return orbiter. As currently envisaged, the Mars Sample Return will be a two-stage endeavour: a spacecraft that includes a return capsule to be launched in 2011 and inserted into orbit around Mars, to be followed two years later by a second spacecraft carrying a descent module and a Mars ascent vehicle.

Credits: ESA


The MSR mission has been recognised by European and International scientists as one of the next major milestones in the exploration of the Red Planet, and would represent a quantum leap in the study of possible life there with scientists able to use the full range of Earth based facilities and laboratories. This mission also represents a critical step on the path to the ultimate goal of performing a human mission to Mars, since it involves the full sequence of landing, operating, launching from Mars and returning back to Earth. The technology developments required to enable a MSR mission are also to some extent common to future lunar exploration missions.

ESA recognises the importance of this mission in the frame of the European Aurora Programme, and is now embarking on a twelve month Mars Sample Return Systems Study. This work, which builds on a first study step initiated in 2003, will prepare the way for Europe to play a key role in an international MSR mission. Past ESA work has already defined as a starting point an MSR mission launched in two parts. The first consists of a Mars orbiter and an Earth return capsule, while the second carries the surface lander and the Mars ascent vehicle which will launch the sample into Mars orbit ready for return to Earth. The new ‘MSR Phase A2 Systems Study’, which will be undertaken by European industry in close coordination with ESA, will be performed in two main steps.

The first step will address the remaining options still to be assessed and choices to be made with respect to the overall mission design. This includes the option of having the orbiter ‘capture’ the sample container in Mars orbit, or having the ascent vehicle perform a docking manoeuvre. This trade-off, as with much of the work to be performed in this first step, will draw upon the technology development and experience gained during the initial phases of the Aurora Programme.

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Aurora Programme is part of Europe's strategy for space, endorsed by the European Union Council of Research and the ESA Council in 2001. The objective of the Aurora is first to formulate and then to implement a European long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of solar system, with Mars, the Moon and the asteroids as the most likely targets. Future missions under the programme will carry sophisticated exobiology payloads to investigate the possibility of life forms existing on other worlds within the Solar System. The Programme will also provide for the missions and technology necessary to complement those planned in the existing ESA and national programmes, in order to bring about a coherent European framework for exploration and to progressively develop a unified European approach.

Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab


The refinement of the mission architecture will also include interaction with international partners, in order to prepare for future cooperation on the MSR mission. Additional work will also be performed to assess the impact of features such as surface mobility on the MSR mission, i.e. what is the cost of being able to move around and select specific samples. Having refined the mission design, development paths will be identified for each of the critical capabilities involved in the mission.

The second step of the Phase A2 work will identify within the capability development paths, steps which might be accomplished through precursor missions. Such missions would include the demonstration of critical technologies associated with, for example, soft-precision landing. As an outcome of this, a shortlist of candidate precursor mission concepts will be made.


Both of these steps will be performed in close interaction with the scientific community, in particular through science workshops both covering the requirements and objectives of the MSR mission itself, but also the possible scientific elements of potential precursor missions. The details of these science workshops will be made available in the near future.

Through the MSR Phase A2 System Study, Europe not only aims to play a key role in this landmark mission, but is also pro-actively addressing the necessary steps to take in order to achieve its ambitious goals. These steps have already been initiated in the frame of ongoing technology development within the Aurora Programme, and may be continued through the possibility of intermediate precursor missions to both demonstrate the technologies associated with Mars Sample Return, while also advancing our scientific understanding of the Moon and Mars.

Further steps in the definition of a Mars Sample Return mission, building upon the outcomes of the Phase A2 work, will be implemented in the frame of the Exploration Core Programme the element within the Aurora Programme which covers activities for the preparation of the future exploration of the Moon and Mars, both robotically and ultimately with humans.


Source: ESA - News Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted (edited)

Soggy Sands of Mars?


The University of California Davis press release is reproduced below:

April 6, 2006

user posted image
This "razorback" feature was photographed by Mars Rover Opportunity at Endurance Crater, Mars in July 2004. (NASA/JPL)

Cracks and fins in the sand in an American desert look very similar to features seen on Mars and may indicate the recent presence of water at the surface, according to a new study by researcher Greg Chavdarian and Dawn Sumner, associate professor of geology at UC Davis.

"Recent, as in ongoing now," Sumner said.

Images from the Mars rover "Opportunity" show patterns of cracks across the surface of boulders and outcrops. Some of these cracks are associated with long, thin fins that protrude from the surface.

Those features look very similar to cracks and fins that form on the sulfate-rich sands at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The desert national park has a similar geological environment to the area of Mars visited by Opportunity, Sumner said.

Chavdarian spent weeks surveying the features at White Sands for an undergraduate research project. He conducted lab experiments to try and reproduce the effects. He found that the cracks at White Sands only form and grow in damp sand, especially during the wet months of the winter. In June, the sand was dry and cracks were filled in or worn away.

Cracks do form in drying mud, but this is not mud, Sumner said. There was no explanation for the formation of these types of cracks in sulfate sands before Opportunity landed, she said.

Chavdarian also looked at two types of thin, brittle fins poking a few inches out of the desert sand, usually facing into the wind. The most common type was found only in January when the sand was moist.

Chavdarian and Sumner think that the fins are formed when water seeps into cracks in the sand, carrying minerals with it. The water evaporates away, leaving behind those minerals, which are exposed as the wind blows sand away. Windblown material sticks to the exposed fin, making it larger and stronger.

If the cracks and fins seen by the Opportunity rover on Mars are formed in the same way as the features at White Sands, it would provide evidence for water at the surface of Mars away from the polar ice caps, Sumner said. Mars' ice caps are mostly carbon dioxide with some water ice.

The research is published in the April issue of the journal Geology.


Source: UC Davis Press Release Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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Controlling robots that search for Mars life


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The ExoMars rover will be ESA's field biologist on Mars. Its aim is to further characterise the biological environment on Mars in preparation for robotic missions and then human exploration.
This mission calls for the development of a Mars orbiter, a descent module and a Mars rover. The Mars orbiter will have to be capable of reaching Mars and putting itself into orbit around the planet. On board will be a Mars rover within a descent module.

The Mars descent module will deliver the rover to a specific location by using an inflatable braking device or parachute system.

Using conventional solar arrays to generate electricity, the Rover will be able to travel a few kilometres over the rocky orange-red surface of Mars. The vehicle will be capable of operating autonomously by using onboard software and will navigate by using optical sensors. Included in its approximately 40 kg exobiology payload will be a lightweight drilling system, a sampling and handling device, and a set of scientific instruments to search for signs of past or present life.

Credits: ESA



11 July 2006
As part of ESA's ambitious, long-term Aurora exploration programme, ExoMars will search for traces of life on Mars. The mission requires entirely new technologies for self-controlled robots, built-in autonomy and cutting-edge visual terrain sensors.

The fourth decade of this century could see Europe participating in a manned mission to Mars in what would be one of humanity's grandest space expeditions ever.
Aurora is ESA's programme aimed at the long-term robotic and human exploration of the Solar System, with Mars and the Moon as the main targets.

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The Moon is one of the most likely targets of the Aurora Programme, a European long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of Solar System.
Aurora is part of Europe's strategy for space, endorsed by the European Union Council of Research and the ESA Council in 2001. Future missions under the programme will carry sophisticated exobiology payloads to investigate the possibility of life forms existing on other worlds within the Solar System. The Programme will also provide for the missions and technology necessary to complement those planned in the existing ESA and national programmes, in order to bring about a coherent European framework for exploration and to progressively develop a unified European approach.

Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab


A human mission to the Red Planet would be a major, multi-year undertaking requiring fantastic, entirely new capabilities such as automated cargo vessels, prepositioned supplies and tools, and communication and navigation satellites in Mars orbit similar to Earth's current GPS systems.
Scientists and engineers are already working on ESA's first robotic 'precursor' mission, ExoMars, due for launch around 2011.

ExoMars will explore the biological environment on Mars in preparation for further robotic and, later, human activity. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of exobiology – the search for life on other planets.

The main element of the mission is a wheeled, robotic rover vehicle, similar in concept to NASA's current Mars Rover mission, but having different scientific objectives and improved capabilities.



ExoMars: a wheeled rover delivered in a dramatic direct approach

The mission will likely consist of a carrier spacecraft, a descent module, some sort of landing system, and the surface rover, and the mission profile is likely to include a dramatic direct approach to Mars, with the carrier spacecraft discarded after the rover detaches itself for descent to the surface.


The rover will use solar arrays to generate electricity, and will travel over the rocky orange-red surface of Mars, transporting an up to 12-kilogram experimental payload including a first-ever lightweight drilling system, as well as a sampling and handling device, and a set of scientific instruments to search for signs of past or present life.
Due to distance time-lag and complexity, ExoMars will self-navigate using 'smart' electro-optics to visually sense and interpret the surrounding terrain and will be capable of operating autonomously using intelligent onboard software.

Automated control a major advance

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Michael McKay, ESOC Flight Operations Director

Credits: ESA


This automated mode of operation is a major advance for ESA, long used to controlling spacecraft directly using human controllers. And not only will the rover's onboard control systems be new.
"ExoMars will require entirely new techniques and technology for several aspects of the Earth-based rover control system, not just an upgrade of what we have today," says Mike McKay, a senior spacecraft controller and Mars expert based at ESOC, ESA's Spacecraft Operations Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany.



ESA spacecraft have long had some ability to make independent decisions based on external influences. For example, onboard instruments will automatically shut down if solar radiation suddenly rises, or the spacecraft will automatically switch into a diagnostic 'safe mode' if anything goes wrong. But for the most part, lengthy instructions still must be pre-programmed by mission controllers on Earth and sent up for later, step-by-step, execution.
And ESA controllers have never before operated a mission that moved about on the surface of another body; Huygens – which touched down successfully on Titan in 2005 – was an atmospheric probe and not a lander, although it functioned briefly after reaching Titan's surface.

Robotic task: traverse kilometres of terrain in search of life

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Autonomous sequence for ExoMars path planning

Credits: ESA


In one typical example of the rover's autonomous operation, ground controllers might radio up a high-level command telling it to drive to a scientifically interesting spot anywhere from 500 to 2000 metres away and conduct science operations, such as drilling beneath the surface to sample soil for life signs. But the vehicle would handle the details of the move on its own.
It would survey the ground with a 3D camera, create a digital terrain model, verify its present location, run internal simulations and then make an autonomous decision on the best path to follow, based on obstacles, the rover's current status and risk/resource considerations.

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Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight and Exploration Operations Department in ESA’s Operations directorate.

Credits: ESA-D.Scuka


"Then it will drive itself to the target. We expect its target accuracy to be within one-half metre over a traverse of 20 metres," says Bob Chesson, head of the Human Spaceflight and Exploration Operations Department in ESA’s Operations directorate.
ExoMars profits from current robotic explorers

As the next generation of robot, ExoMars will profit from lessons learned from the current generation, including NASA's Mars Explorer Rover (MER) mission, including the need for improved locomotion ability, improved local terrain sensing – to avoid ground slippage – and the need for higher autonomy to transverse cluttered terrain.



Earlier missions, such as NASA's Sojourner rover in 1997, used an even less sophisticated approach, with Sojourner sensing its surrounding terrain, but then with all processing and path planning being done on Earth. "We're not shy in trying to learn from the experiences of our sister agencies," says Chesson.


Innovative ground control to enable autonomous functioning

For ExoMars, the controllers on Earth would most likely be located in a 'rover dedicated control room', similar in concept to the dedicated control rooms (DCR) that ESA now sets up for individual missions that orbit planets.
ESOC will serve as the overall mission operations control centre (MOCC), controlling the launch and early orbit phase (LEOP), the cruise to Mars, the separation and landing of the Descent Module and the Rover egress, with management of rover surface operations likely to be conducted from the Rover Operation Centre located at ALTEC, the Advanced Logistic Technology Engineering Center, in Turin, Italy.

"The design of the rover ground control system, or ground segment, depends on the scientific and operational goals of the rover, which are not yet final, so the ground system is still evolving," says Chesson. "In principle, the basic telemetry and telecommand functions would be essentially the same as now, but it will have significantly new capabilities to allow for the rover's autonomous functioning."

The ground control system will at least require computing facilities to enable high-level mission planning tools and to allow monitoring of the rover's digital terrain and 3D modelling, ground path and trajectory planning, on-ground simulation and tight integration with the payload control and scientific operations.

"Classic direct control methods just won't work when we operate on the surface of Mars in an unstructured environment and with a significant signal time delay, says Reinhold Bertrand," a planning engineer and robotics expert at ESOC. "ExoMars will require a change in culture; we have to 'let the child walk on its own' while we develop a truly interdisciplinary operations concept."

Source: ESA - Spacecraft Operations

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NASA Marks 30th Anniversary of Mars Viking Mission


The IPB Image press release is reproduced below:

July 14, 2006
Erica Hupp
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1237

Marny Skora
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
757-864-3315

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

RELEASE: 06-279

NASA Marks 30th Anniversary of Mars Viking Mission


Thirty years after the first successful landing on Mars by NASA's Viking spacecraft, the ambitious mission continues to evoke pride and enthusiasm for future space exploration.

NASA's Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander, became the first space probes to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and conduct on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet.

Viking 1 was launched August 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars June 19, 1976. On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia. Viking 2 was launched September 9, 1975, and entered Mars orbit August 7, 1976. The Viking 2 lander touched down at Utopia Planitia September 3, 1976.

"The Viking team didn't know the Martian atmosphere very well, we had almost no idea about the terrain or the rocks, and yet we had the temerity to try to soft land on the surface," recalled Gentry Lee, Solar System Exploration chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We were both terrified and exhilarated. All of us exploded with joy and pride when we saw that we had indeed landed safely."

"The Viking mission looms like a legendary giant, an incredible success against which all present and future missions will be measured," said Doug McCuiston, Mars Exploration Program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Originally designed to function for 90 days, the Viking spacecraft continued collecting data for more than six years. The landers accumulated 4,500 up-close images of the Martian surface. The accompanying orbiters provided more than 50,000 images, mapping 97 percent of the planet. Measurements of the atmosphere and surface of Mars obtained by the orbiters and landers are still being analyzed and interpreted.

Viking provided the first measurements of the atmosphere and surface of Mars. The data suggested early Mars was very different from the present day planet. Viking performed the first successful entry, descent and landing on Mars. Derivations of a Viking-style thermal protection system and parachute have been used on every U.S. Mars lander mission, including Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., managed the Viking Program. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory built the orbiters, provided the deep space network and managed the science mission. NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, designed the Titan/Centaur rockets that propelled the spacecraft on their journey. NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., provided the launch facility for the program. Scientists from across NASA served on the Viking science teams.

For more information about Viking, visit


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

- end -

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


Source: NASA Press Release 06-279

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Mars' dust storms may produce peroxide snow


The UC Berkley press release is reproduced below:

Robert Sanders, Media Relations | 31 July 2006

BERKELEY - The planet-wide dust storms that periodically cloak Mars in a mantle of red may be generating a snow of corrosive chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, that would be toxic to life, according to two new studies published in the most recent issue of the journal Astrobiology.

user posted image
showing how electrical charge builds up as in terrestrial
thunderstorms. Though on Earth, lightning is common,
there is no evidence that lightning accompanies storms
on Mars.
(NASA)


Based on field studies on Earth, laboratory experiments and theoretical modeling, the researchers argue that oxidizing chemicals could be produced by the static electricity generated in the swirling dust clouds that often obscure the surface for months, said University of California, Berkeley, physicist Gregory T. Delory, first author of one of the papers. If these chemicals have been produced regularly over the last 3 billion years, when Mars has presumably been dry and dusty, the accumulated peroxide in the surface soil could have built to levels that would kill "life as we know it," he said.

"If true, this very much affects the interpretation of soil measurements made by the Viking landers in the 1970s," said Delory, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory. A major goal of the Viking mission, comprised of two spacecraft launched by NASA in 1975, was testing Mars' red soil for signs of life. In 1976, the two landers aboard the spacecraft settled on the Martian surface and conducted four separate tests, including some that involved adding nutrients and water to the dirt and sniffing for gas production, which could be a telltale sign of living microorganisms.

The tests were inconclusive because gases were produced only briefly, and other instruments found no traces of organic materials that would be expected if life were present. These results are more indicative of a chemical reaction than the presence of life, Delory said.

"The jury is still out on whether there is life on Mars, but it's clear that Mars has very chemically reactive conditions in the soil," he said. "It is possible there could be long-term corrosive effects that would impact crews and equipment due to oxidants in the Martian soil and dust."

All in all, he said, "the intense ultraviolet exposure, the low temperatures, the lack of water and the oxidants in the soil would make it difficult for any microbe to survive on Mars."

The article by Delory and his colleagues appearing in the June issue of Astrobiology demonstrates that the electrical fields generated in storms and smaller tornadoes, called dust devils, could split carbon dioxide and water molecules apart, allowing them to recombine as hydrogen peroxide or more complicated superoxides. All of these oxidants react readily with and destroy other molecules, including organic molecules that are associated with life.

A second paper, coauthored by Delory, demonstrates that these oxidants could form and reach such concentrations near the ground during a storm that they would condense into falling snow, contaminating the top layers of soil. According to lead author Sushil K. Atreya of the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan, the superoxidants not only could destroy organic material on Mars, but accelerate the loss of methane from the atmosphere.

Coauthors of the two papers are from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; the University of Michigan; Duke University; the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; the SETI Institute; Southwest Research Institute; the University of Washington, Seattle; and the University of Bristol in England.

user posted image
Greg Delory and a truck instrumented to measure
electric fields that he used to chase dust devils around
Arizona (2002).
(Greg Delory/UC Berkeley)


Delory and his colleagues have been studying dust devils in the American Southwest to understand how electricity is produced in such storms and how the electric fields would affect molecules in the air - in particular, molecules like those in the thin Martian atmosphere.

"We are trying to look at the features that make a planet habitable or uninhabitable, whether for life that developed there or for life we bring there," he said.

Based on these studies, he and his colleagues used plasma physics models to understand how dust particles rubbing against one other during a storm become positively and negatively charged, much the way static electricity builds up when we walk across a carpet, or electricity builds in thunderclouds. Though there's no evidence for lightning discharges on Mars, the electric field generated when charged particles separate in a dust storm could accelerate electrons to speeds sufficient to knock molecules apart, Delory and his colleagues found.

"From our field work, we know that strong electric fields are generated by dust storms on Earth. Also, laboratory experiments and theoretical studies indicate that conditions in the Martian atmosphere should produce strong electric fields during dust storms there as well," said co-author Dr. William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Since water vapor and carbon dioxide are the most prevalent molecules in the Martian atmosphere, the most likely ions to form are hydrogen, hydroxyl (OH) and carbon monoxide (CO). One product of their recombination, according to the second study, would be hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). At high enough concentrations, the peroxide would condense into a solid and fall out of the air.

If this scenario has played out on Mars for much of its history, the accumulated peroxide in the soil could have fooled the Viking experiments looking for life. While the Labeled Release and the Gas Exchange experiments on the landers detected gas when water and nutrients were added to Martian soil, the landers' Mass Spectrometer experiment found no organic matter.

At the time, researchers suggested that very reactive compounds in the soil, perhaps hydrogen peroxide or ozone, could have produced the measurements, imitating the response of living organisms. Others suggested a possible source for these oxidants: chemical reactions in the atmosphere catalyzed by ultraviolet light from the sun, which is more intense because of Mars' thin atmosphere. The predicted levels were far lower than needed to produce the Viking results, however.

Production of oxidants by dust storms and dust devils, which seem to be common on Mars, would be sufficient to cause the Viking observations, Delory said. Thirty years ago, some researchers considered the possibility that dust storms might be electrically active, like Earth's thunderstorms, and that these storms might be a source of the new reactive chemistry. But this had been untestable until now.

"The presence of peroxide may explain the quandary we have had with Mars, but there is still a lot we don't understand about the chemistry of the atmosphere and soils of the planet," he said.

The theory could be tested further by an electric field sensor working in tandem with an atmospheric chemistry system on a future Mars rover or lander, according to the team members.

The team includes Delory, Atreya, Farrell, and Nilton Renno & Ah-San Wong of the University of Michigan; Steven Cummer of Duke University, Durham, N.C.; Davis Sentman of the University of Alaska; John Marshall of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.; Scot Rafkin of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas; and David Catling of the University of Washington.

The research was funded by NASA's Mars Fundamental Research Program and by NASA Goddard internal institutional funds.


Source: UC Berkley Press Release

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Mars surface probably can't support life


The University of Michigan press release is reproduced below:

July 31, 2006

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The question of whether the planet Mars can support life has entranced lay people and scientists for years. New research suggests that dust devils and storms on Mars produce oxidants that would render the planet's surface uninhabitable for life as we know it.

user posted image
Image:: This is an artist's concept of an
electrically-charged dust storm on Mars. The
"+" and "-" symbols represent positive and
negative electric charges, respectively.
Print-resolution image
Credit: NASA


"As a consequence, any nascent life (microorganisms, for example) or even prebiotic molecules would find it hard to get a foothold on the surface of Mars, as the organic material would be scavenged efficiently by the surface oxidants," said Sushil Atreya, University of Michigan professor in the Department of Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences.

Atreya is lead author on one of two papers published last month in the journal Astrobiology that discuss the findings. Atreya's paper: "Oxidant Enhancement in Martian Dust Devils and Storms: Implications for Life and Habitability."

The research for both papers was conducted by the U-M Department of Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of California, Berkley, with several other universities and institutes participating.

The results also explain inconsistencies in earlier space experiments that sought to determine if Mars had or did support life. Mars is thought to have formed with the same ingredients that on Earth led to the formation of molecules associated with life. Yet, organic molecules have never been detected on Mars' surface, Atreya said.

The first Astrobiology paper calculated the excess carbon monoxide, hydroxyl and eventually hydrogen atoms produced when electric fields generated by dust devils and storms cause carbon dioxide and water molecules to split. Hydrogen and hydroxyl have been known to play a key role in the production of hydrogen peroxide in the Martian atmosphere.

UCLA-Berkeley's Gregory Delory, senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory, is first author, with co-authors Atreya and William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. That paper is called "Oxidant Enhancement in Martian Dust Devils and Storms: Storm Electric Fields and Electron Dissociative Attachment."

Atreya's team then calculated that the amounts of hydrogen peroxide produced during these reactions would be large enough to result in its condensation—essentially hydrogen peroxide would snow from the sky and contaminate the planet when it fell.

Atreya's paper suggests that the hydrogen peroxide would scavenge organic material from Mars, and it could also accelerate the loss of methane on Mars, requiring a larger source to explain the recent detection of this gas on Mars. "Methane is a metabolic byproduct of life as we know it, but presence of methane does not by itself imply existence of life on a planet", said Atreya.

Scientists regard Mars as Earth's closest relative. "Of all the planets in the solar system, Mars resembles the Earth most. And outside of the Earth, it has the best chance of being habitable now or in the past when the planet may have been warmer and wetter," Atreya said. Presence of life below the surface of Mars now or in the past is not ruled out by this research.

The research also helps explain contradictory results in a series of experiments in 1970s that suggested microscopic life might have been present in Martian soil. Called the Viking Project, the primary objective was to determine if there was life—dead or alive—on Mars. Biological experiments conducted by the two landers, Viking 1 and 2, yielded conflicting results.

In addition to lead authors Atreya and Delory, co authors of both papers are Farrell, and Nilton Renno and Ah-San Wong, (University of Michigan), Steven Cummer (Duke University, Durham, N.C.), Davis Sentman (University of Alaska), John Marshall (SETI Inst., Mountain View, Calif.), Scot Rafkin (Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas) and David Catling (University of Washington). The research was funded by NASA's Mars Fundamental Research Program and NASA Goddard internal institutional funds.

For more information on Atreya, visit:
http://www-personal.engin.umich.edu/~atreya/index.html

To see the abstracts at the journal Astrobiology, visit:
http://www.liebertonline.com/toc/ast/6/3


The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. Michigan Engineering boasts one of the largest engineering research budgets of any public university, at more than $130 million. Michigan Engineering has 11 departments and two NSF Engineering Research Centers. Within those departments and centers, there is a special emphasis on research in three emerging areas: nanotechnology and integrated microsystems; cellular and molecular biotechnology; and information technology. Michigan Engineering is seeking to raise $110 million for capital building projects and program support in these areas to further research discovery. Michigan Engineering's goal is to advance academic scholarship and market cutting - edge research to improve public health and well-being. For more information, see the Michigan Engineering home page: http://www.engin.umich.edu


Source: University of Michigan press release

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NASA Findings Suggest Jets Bursting From Martian Ice Cap


August 16, 2006

Every spring brings violent eruptions to the south polar ice cap of Mars, according to researchers interpreting new observations by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

user posted image
Artist concept showing sand-laden jets shoot into the Martian polar sky. Image credit: Arizona State University/Ron Miller

Full image and caption


Jets of carbon dioxide gas erupting from the ice cap as it warms in the spring carry dark sand and dust high aloft. The dark material falls back to the surface, creating dark patches on the ice cap which have long puzzled scientists. Deducing the eruptions of carbon dioxide gas from under the warming ice cap solves the riddle of the spots. It also reveals that this part of Mars is much more dynamically active than had been expected for any part of the planet.

"If you were there, you'd be standing on a slab of carbon-dioxide ice," said Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe, principal investigator for Odyssey's camera. "All around you, roaring jets of carbon dioxide gas are throwing sand and dust a couple hundred feet into the air."

You'd also feel vibration through your spacesuit boots, he said. "The ice slab you're standing on is levitated above the ground by the pressure of gas at the base of the ice."

The team began its research in an attempt to explain mysterious dark spots, fan-like markings, and spider-shaped features seen in images that cameras on Odyssey and on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor have observed on the ice cap at the Martian south pole.

The dark spots, typically 15 to 46 meters (50 to 150 feet) wide and spaced several hundred feet apart, appear every southern spring as the sun rises over the ice cap. They last for several months and then vanish -- only to reappear the next year, after winter's cold has deposited a fresh layer of ice on the cap. Most spots even seem to recur at the same locations.

user posted image
Dark spots (left) and 'fans' appear to scribble dusty hieroglyphics on top of the Martian south polar cap. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Full image and caption



An earlier theory proposed that the spots were patches of warm, bare ground exposed as the ice disappeared. However, the camera on Odyssey, which sees in both infrared and visible-light wavelengths, discovered that the spots are nearly as cold as the carbon dioxide ice, suggesting they were just a thin layer of dark material lying on top of the ice and kept chilled by it. To understand how that layer is produced, Christensen's team used the camera -- the Thermal Emission Imaging System -- to collect more than 200 images of one area of the ice cap from the end of winter through midsummer.

Some places remained spot-free for more than 100 days, then developed many spots in a week. Fan-shaped dark markings didn't form until days or weeks after the spots appeared, yet some fans grew to half a mile in length. Even more puzzling was the origin of the "spiders," grooves eroded into the surface under the ice. The grooves converge at points directly beneath a spot.

"The key to figuring out the spiders and the spots was thinking through a physical model for what was happening," said Christensen. The process begins in the sunless polar winter when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere freezes into a layer about three feet thick on top of a permanent ice cap of water ice, with a thin layer of dark sand and dust in between. In spring, sunlight passing through the slab of carbon dioxide ice reaches the dark material and warms it enough that the ice touching the ground sublimates -- turns into gas.

Before long, the swelling reservoir of trapped gas lifts the slab and eventually breaks through at weak spots that become vents. High-pressure gas roars through at speeds of 161 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour) or more. Under the slab, the gas erodes ground as it rushes toward the vents, snatching up loose particles of sand and carving the spidery network of grooves.

Christensen, Hugh Kieffer (U.S. Geological Survey, retired) and Timothy Titus (USGS) report the new interpretation in the Aug. 17, 2006, issue of the journal "Nature."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor missions for the NASA Science Mission Directorate. Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System is operated by Arizona State University.

For additional information about Odyssey and the new findings, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://themis.asu.edu.


###

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Robert Burnham 480-458-8207
Arizona State University, Tempe
NEWS RELEASE: 2006-100

Source: NASA/JPL - Mars Exploration Program

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exploring mars will only lead to the theory if we can live there or not. it is true that eventualy the sun will consume everything in the solar system because it will implode and that we can delay maybe a couple of decades till the sun becomes to large and engulfs mars.

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Posted (edited)

exploring mars will only lead to the theory if we can live there or not. it is true that eventualy the sun will consume everything in the solar system because it will implode and that we can delay maybe a couple of decades till the sun becomes to large and engulfs mars.

If I understand what you are trying to say correctly then I doubt that mankind will be restricted to this solar system by the time the sun becomes a red giant as we have 3-4 billion years before that happens.

Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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If I understand what you are trying to say correctly then I doubt that mankind will be restricted to this solar system by the time the sun becomes a red gian as we have 3-4 billion years before that happens.

But thats only if humans can escape the greenhouse effect that is slowly dooming this planet. :hmm:

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Conspiracy theorists must face the truth of Mars hill

New images of the "face" on Mars have been obtained by Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. They reinforce what scientists thought from the beginning – that the face is just a naturally sculpted hill.

The "face" appeared in a photo of Mars's Cydonia region taken in 1976 by NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft. NASA scientists believed from the beginning that the feature was simply a hill that happened to look like a face because of the way the Sun cast shadows across it at the time the photo was taken.

However, the image sparked speculation that the face was built by aliens and that NASA was trying to cover it up.

The agency used the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft to take new images of the region in 1998 and 2001. The new, much more detailed images showed a hill with no particular resemblance to a face (see Martian conspiracy theorists lose face).

Email campaign

But since the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft arrived at Mars in 2003, many unconvinced members of the general public have been asking mission scientists to take more images of the feature.

"So many people wrote me emails – hundreds – saying, 'Why don't you image Cydonia, tell us the truth, we don't believe NASA,'" says Gerhard Neukum of the Free University of Berlin, Germany, chief scientist for Mars Express's High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC).

Mission controllers have been trying to get images of the region since 2004 but had been thwarted until recently by dust and haze in the atmosphere. Finally, on 22 July 2006, the team obtained clear images of the region with the HRSC.

By making observations of the area from slightly different angles as the spacecraft moved through its orbit, mission scientists have been able to build a 3D map of the "face" and the surrounding area.

Sculpted by erosion

The hill that sparked so much speculation is clearly seen in the new images to be a natural feature shaped by erosion, says Agustin Chicarro, ESA's chief scientist for Mars Express.

"My grandfather used to collect pieces of wood that look like birds or dogs or things like that," he told New Scientist. "This is the same thing – people get excited and see what they want to see. What has modelled these reliefs is simply erosion."

Neukum agrees. "It’s a mountainous structure and there's no artificial thing. These are mounds that have survived a general erosional process," he told New Scientist.

The whole area was once as high as the tops of the hills in the region, he says, but most of it has eroded down, with a few more resistant areas surviving as hills. The erosion is probably the result of ancient glaciers or perhaps liquid water carving into the rock, he says.

http://www.newscientistspace.com/article/d...-mars-hill.html

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NASA Mars Spacecraft Gear Up for Extra Work

September 25, 2006

NASA's Mars robotic missions are performing so well, they are being prepared for additional overtime work.

The team operating the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, since January 2004, won approval for an additional year of exploration. NASA funded the extensions on recommendations from an outside panel of scientists. NASA also is adding two more years of operations for Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting Mars since 1997, and the Mars Odyssey orbiter, at the red planet since 2001.

user posted image
Old and new come together in this image of
the floor of an unnamed impact crater. The
light-toned, layered mounds scattered across
the image are old. The dark-toned sand dunes
and intermediate-toned ripples are new.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
+ Full image and caption
+ Browse image


These mission extensions will begin Oct. 1, 2006. The spacecraft beginning extended missions have already completed a successful prime mission plus years of additional service. The extensions occur when NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, named the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is about to begin its main science phase.

"Each of these missions increases the value of the others and of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington. "By extending these missions, we gain very cost-effective additional benefits from the investments in developing them and getting them to Mars."

Each orbiter has a different set of instruments, and the spacecraft complement each other in helping scientists understand Mars. Also, observations by the rovers on the ground validate interpretation of information from the orbiters. Observations by the orbiters allow extrapolation from what the rovers find in small areas. The orbiters support current and future surface missions with landing-site assessments and communication relays.

Both rovers are still healthy, more than 31 months into what was originally planned as a three-month exploration of their landing areas. Provided they remain operable, their fourth mission extension will take them into Martian spring and summer, increasing their solar-energy supply and daily capabilities. Spirit has been studying its surroundings from a stationary, sun-facing tilt for several months. "As we get into the Martian spring, Spirit will resume exploring the inner basin of the 'Columbia Hills,'" said Dr. Bruce Banerdt, rover project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Opportunity will spend the extension at "Victoria Crater."

Each Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years. The longevity of Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey has allowed researchers to watch how Mars changes not just from season to season, but from year to year. Mars Global Surveyor has observed shrinking of the south polar carbon-dioxide ice cap from one summer to the next. "This extension will take us through our fifth annual cycle of Martian summers and winters," said Thomas Thorpe of JPL, project manager for Mars Global Surveyor.

"With the additional years of observations, we are able to monitor the Martian climate, not just the weather. There is a hypothesis that Mars' climate is changing, perhaps rapidly. The combination of instruments from different orbiters strengthens our ability to study that possibility. With Odyssey, for example, we can monitor the mass of carbon-dioxide frost in winter to help understand the changes that Global Surveyor is seeing in the summers," said JPL's Dr. Jeffrey Plaut, project scientist for Mars Odyssey.

The Odyssey flight team at JPL and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, plans to teach the spacecraft some new tricks during the mission extension. New software will enable the spacecraft to make choices about which images are high priority. Also, the team will begin pointing Odyssey slightly off the straight-down view it has flown so far. This will enable imaging of polar areas it never flies directly over. Odyssey also will continue serving as the primary communications relay for the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

NASA also has extended the U.S. participation in the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission. That orbiter reached Mars in 2003 and is in an extended mission.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Exploration Rover projects for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the Global Surveyor and Odyssey projects and built those spacecraft.

For additional information about NASA Mars missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main .


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


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

Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown 202-358-1237/1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Source: NASA/JPL News Release

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This all looks interesting... only a matter of years!!!!!!1

About the Mars Homestead Project

Utilizing concepts and designs from the past several decades, the Mars Homestead Project seeks to develop a unified plan for building the first habitat on Mars utilizing local materials. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a growing, permanent settlement beyond the Earth, thus allowing civilization to spread beyond the limits of our small planet. The Project's website is located at www.MarsHome.org.

http://www.marshome.org/about/

The 6th European Mars Societyh Convention (EMC6),organized by Association Planète Mars is scheduled for Friday, October 20, 2006. The conference opens at 6:00 PM and will close down on Sunday, October 22, 2006 at 5:00 PM.

http://www.marssociety.org/

Edit: post moved from "Vision For Space Exploration" thread as it seemed more suited to this one - Waspie_Dwarf

Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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On February 25, in an interview with Buzz Aldrin video

taped by Space.com, Arthur C. Clarke said:

" I'm fairly convinced that we have discovered life on Mars. There are some incredible photographs from [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory], which to me are pretty convincing proof of the existence of large forms of life on Mars! Have a look at them. I don't see any other interpretation."

http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/m07_m12/im...8/M0804688.html

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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."

user posted image
Image above: An image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
shows the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity near the rim of "Victoria
Crater."
Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA
+ Full image and caption


"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."

user posted image
Image above: This view of "Victoria crater" from Opportunity is
looking southeast from "Duck Bay" towards the dramatic promontory
called "Cabo Frio."
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
+ Full image and caption


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.

JPL manages the rovers and orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For images and information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

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

http://www.nasa.gov/mro.


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

Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp 202-358-1726/1237
NASA Headquarters, Washington

2006-121


Source: NASA - Missions - MRO

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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

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Mars May Be Cozy Place for Hardy Microbes

user posted image


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

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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

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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
corrected link

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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.

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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

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New Gully Deposit in a Crater in Terra Sirenum


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

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

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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

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Before-and-After Look at Impact Craters


IPB Image
+ 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

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Fresh Crater in Arabia Terra With Light-Toned Ejecta


IPB Image
+ Figure A - High resolution

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

IPB Image
+ 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

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New Craters


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

IPB Image
+ Figure B - High resolution

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

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