Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Today's picture from Mars

The NASA rover Curiosity continues to send back breathtaking panoramas of the Martian surface -- this latest one from just a day ago. You'd think, if you didn't know better, that the spacecraft was in the Arizona desert, or maybe the Nevada desert near Las Vegas.

Yeah . . . Las Vegas for sure.

I don't know why; it just looks that way to me.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I love it when a plan comes together

How it was supposed to work -- and the NASA scientists themselves admit it's sheer craziness -- is exactly how it did work.

And the Mars rover Curiosity just phoned home this morning. It even texted a picture of itself on the Martian surface.
Kids today.

Meantime, CBS News and The Associated Press fill in the details:

Dutifully executing its complex flight control software, the Mars Science Laboratory silently raced toward its target Sunday, picking up speed as it closed in for a 13,200-mph plunge into the Red Planet's atmosphere and an action-packed seven-minute descent required a rocket-powered "sky crane" to lower the one-ton nuclear-powered rover to the surface. It seems to have gone off without a hitch.

"We are wheels down on Mars," came the news from JPL as engineers saw the first grainy image beamed directly back from the rover - showing one of its wheels on the Martian surface.

CBS News space consultant William Harwood reports from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California that the rover's target was Gale Crater and the goal was a pinpoint landing near the base of a three-mile-high mound of layered rock that represents hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of years of Martian history, a frozen record of the planet's changing environment and evolution.

Exploring the crater floor and climbing Mount Sharp over the next two years, the Curiosity rover will look for signs of past or present habitability and search for carbon compounds, the building blocks of life as it is known on Earth.

But first, the rover had to get there and its entry, descent, and landing represented the most challenging robotic descent to the surface of another world ever attempted, a tightly choreographed sequence of autonomously executed events with little margin for error.

"We're about to land a rover that is 10 times heavier than (earlier rovers) with 15 times the payload," Doug McCuistion, director of Mars exploration at NASA Headquarters, told reporters. "Tonight's the Super Bowl of planetary exploration, one yard line, one play left. We score and win, or we don't score and we don't win.
TOUCHDOWN! In every sense of the word.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Somebody thought they'd never find him there

Uh . . . rocks aren't the only thing the surviving Mars rover found at the edge of that big crater after a three-year drive.

Don't NASA and The Associated Press even bother to look at the pictures the little feller's taking?

NASA's surviving Mars rover Opportunity has reached the rim of a 14-mile-wide crater where the robot geologist will examine rocks older than any it has seen in its seven years on the surface of the red planet, scientists said Wednesday.

The solar-powered, six-wheel rover arrived at Endeavour crater after driving 13 miles from a smaller crater named Victoria.

The drive, which took nearly three years, culminated Tuesday, when Opportunity signaled it had arrived at the location dubbed Spirit Point in honor of the rover's twin, which fell silent last year.

"We're there," said project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Opportunity and Spirit landed on opposite sides of Mars in 2004 and used their instruments to discover geologic evidence that the cold and dusty planet was once wet.

Craters can provide windows into the planet's past because layers of material from long-ago eras are exposed. Endeavour crater is more than 25 times wider than Victoria.

MAYBE WE should just turn over the space program to the Mafia.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Calling Marvin the Martian. . . .

It's useful to remember that we don't know what we don't know.

And that some of the things we think we know --
or that we try to do, because we want to find out what we don't know -- just might look pretty darned silly in 70 years or so.

In 1924, for example, when Mars was at one of its closest approaches to Earth, some radio engineers thought they heard something . . . unearthly, let's say. According to a 1939 article in
Radex magazine, some thought the signals originated on Mars.

(Note that the 1938
War of the Worlds scare didn't come out of nowhere.)

So, in 1939, astronomers and engineers thought they might try to communicate with the red planet -- or at least see whether they could bounce a radio signal off of it. As the writer for
Radex, a radio enthusiast periodical, put it:
It appears that most scientists believe now that life is hardly possible on Mars, but some, particularly the late Dr. Lowell, have believed that life exists there. If true, the Martians are living on a dying world, where most of the oxygen has entered the rocks, oxidizing the iron present and rusting it, giving Mars its typical reddish color. Martians would be seeking a new world on which to live, and July 27 would be the obvious time for them to make an attempt at communications.
OF COURSE, the little green men coming to Earth would be most impractical. Orson Welles' interplanetary invaders of the previous year were ultimately done in by something as simple as . . . Earth germs.

They'd all have to be little green versions of the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. If germ-free plastic bubbles had been invented yet.

The attempt to "reach out" to Marvin the Martian also got notice from Time magazine, albeit in a bit more nuanced form:

Nobody knows whether or not there is animal life on the planet Mars; nobody knows whether or not it is possible to reach Mars with a radio signal. In 1924 a group of radio engineers trying to tune in Mars heard signals which they claimed they could not identify with an Earthly source. Last week, with Mars closer to the Earth than at any time since 1924, another group of radio engineers tried a more daring experiment: sending a signal Marsward in the hope that it would be reflected back, picked up again on Earth. They thought they might succeed if: 1) the signal could penetrate the ionosphere, the ionized layer in the Earth's atmosphere whose influence on radio waves is not thoroughly understood; 2) it was not dissipated or destroyed on the way; 3) it hit Mars; 4) it was reflected toward Earth, and strong enough to be detected.

At the headquarters of Press Wireless, surrounded by the barren salt marshes off Baldwin, Long Island, gathered engineers of Newark's publicity-wise Station WOR, good-natured Curator Clyde Fisher of Manhattan's Hayden Planetarium, newshawks, photographers, announcers standing by to tell all. Before sending their signal, the engineers spent forty-five minutes twirling the knobs of 40 short-wave receivers, trying to catch a signal from Mars, where the highest form of life is generally believed to be some low form of vegetation, possibly resembling moss. Result: a potpourri of short-wave noises, most of them promptly identified.

BUMMER. That crafty Marvin probably was maintaining radio silence as he plotted his sneak attack on Earth.

Oh, wait. That was the Japanese. Target in two years: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Then again, we didn't know what we didn't know.
And more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Everything farts

NASA is so grateful there has been -- thus far -- no extraterrestrial distributor of Beano.

AFTER ALL, if whatever's on Mars had taken Beano before, there'd be no gas for researchers to find on the red (bean?) planet. The Associated Press has the straight poop:

A surprising and mysterious belch of methane gas on Mars hints at possible microbial life underground, but also could come from changes in rocks, a new NASA study found. The presence of methane on Mars could be significant because by far most of the gas on Earth is a byproduct of life — from animal digestion and decaying plants and animals.

Past studies indicated no regular methane on Mars. But new research using three ground-based telescopes confirmed that nearly 21,000 tons of methane were released during a few months of the late summer of 2003, according to a study published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.

"This raises the probability substantially that life was there or still survives at the present," study author Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center told The Associated Press.

But Mumma also said claims of life need far more evidence and this isn't nearly enough. By 2006, most of the methane had disappeared from the Martian atmosphere, adding to the mystery of the gas, he said.

The Mars belch is similar to what comes out of the waters near Santa Barbara, Calif., which comes from decaying life in the sea floor. Microbes in the Arctic and other extreme Earth environments that don't use oxygen still release methane and they have been examples of the type of life astronomers look for on other planets.

Mumma and other scientists said NASA is likely to tinker with its long-held method of looking for life on Mars by seeking water and concentrating on signs of long-gone life. Instead NASA should think about methane hotspots as a "bull's-eye" for future missions and search for present-day life below the surface, said Indiana University geologist Lisa Pratt, who spoke during a NASA press conference. She was not involved in the research.

That's because methane is not only a waste product of life, it can be a food for other life, which makes these temporary methane hotspots good places to explore, Pratt said. She said it was "slightly more plausible" that the methane came from some form of life than geological changes.
ON THE OTHER HAND, wouldn't it be a bummer if we sent a future Mars probe to the source of the methane emissions . . . only to find Joan Rivers?