Monday, July 30, 2007

Mars Rover Tracks

Very cool shot:
http://www.space.com/imageoftheday/image_of_day_070711.html

Mars Rover Project Movie

http://www.space.com/php/video/player.php?video_id=060707Rovers_end

It ain't over 'till its over!

Mars weather

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070710_st_mars_storms.html

No Dawn until September

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/070708_dawn_update.html

Phoenix Lander Update

Guy Webster/Veronica McGregor 818-354-6278/9452
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown/Grey Hautaluoma 202-358-1726/0668
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-076 July 9, 2007

NASA Readies Mars Lander for August Launch to Icy Site

PASADENA – NASA's next Mars mission will look beneath a frigid arctic landscape for conditions favorable to past or present life.

Instead of roving to hills or craters, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander will claw down into the icy soil of the Red Planet's northern plains. The robot will investigate whether frozen water near the Martian surface might periodically melt enough to sustain a livable environment for microbes. To accomplish that and other key goals, Phoenix will carry a set of advanced research tools never before used on Mars.

First, however, it must launch from Florida during a three-week period beginning Aug. 3, then survive a risky descent and landing on Mars next spring.

"Our 'follow the water' strategy for exploring Mars has yielded a string of dramatic discoveries in recent years about the history of water on a planet where similarities with Earth were much greater in the past than they are today," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Phoenix will complement our strategic exploration of Mars by being our first attempt to actually touch and analyze Martian water -- water in the form of buried ice."

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter found evidence in 2002 to support theories that large areas of Mars, including the arctic plains, have water ice within an arm's reach of the surface.

"Phoenix has been designed to examine the history of the ice by measuring how liquid water has modified the chemistry and mineralogy of the soil," said Peter Smith, the Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"In addition, our instruments can assess whether this polar environment is a habitable zone for primitive microbes. To complete the scientific characterization of the site, Phoenix will monitor polar weather and the interaction of the atmosphere with the surface."
With its flanking solar panels unfurled, the lander is about 5.5 meters (18 feet) wide and 1.5 meters (5 feet) long. A robotic arm 2.3 meters (7.7 feet) long will dig to the icy layer, which is expected to lie within a few inches of the surface. A camera and conductivity probe on the arm will examine soil and any ice there. The arm will lift samples to two instruments on the lander's deck. One will use heating to check for volatile substances, such as water and carbon-based chemicals that are essential building blocks for life. The other will analyze the chemistry of the soil.

A meteorology station, with a laser for assessing water and dust in the atmosphere, will monitor weather throughout the planned three-month mission during Martian spring and summer. The robot's toolkit also includes a mast-mounted stereo camera to survey the landing site, a descent camera to see the site in broader context and two microscopes.

For the final stage of landing, Phoenix is equipped with a pulsed thruster method of deceleration. The system uses an ultra-lightweight landing system that allows the spacecraft to carry a heavier scientific payload. Like past Mars missions, Phoenix uses a heat shield to slow its high-speed entry, followed by a supersonic parachute that further reduces its speed to about 217 kilometers per hour (135 miles per hour). The lander then separates from the parachute and fires pulsed descent rocket engines to slow to about 9 kilometers per hour (5.5 miles per hour) before landing on its three legs.

"Landing safely on Mars is difficult no matter what method you use," said Barry Goldstein, the project manager for Phoenix at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Our team has been testing the system relentlessly since 2003 to identify and address whatever vulnerabilities may exist."

Researchers evaluating possible landing sites have used observations from Mars orbiters to find the safest places where the mission's goals can be met. The leading candidate site is a broad valley with few boulders at a latitude equivalent to northern Alaska.

Smith leads the Phoenix mission, with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the development partnership located at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the Max Planck Institute, Germany, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Additional information on the Phoenix mission is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .

Additional information on NASA's Mars program is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mars .

Pathfinder anniversary

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/news/8309962.html

Make sure you watch the NASA video:
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/video/movies/Pathfinder320.mov

Sponge Moon

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070704_sponge_moon.html

NASA saves money!

http://www.space.com/news/070704_recycled_missions.html

Sounds like a great idea to me.

SOFIA update

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/070705_seti_sofia.html

Hydrocarbons on Hyperion

Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Ruth Dasso Marlaire 650-604-4709
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-071 July 4, 2007

NASA Finds Hydrocarbons on Saturn's Moon Hyperion

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed for the first time surface details of Saturn's moon Hyperion, including cup-like craters filled with hydrocarbons that may indicate more widespread presence in our solar system of basic chemicals necessary for life.

Hyperion yielded some of its secrets to the battery of instruments aboard Cassini as the spacecraft flew close by in September 2005. Water and carbon dioxide ices were found, as well as dark material that fits the spectral profile of hydrocarbons.

A paper appearing in the July 5 issue of Nature reports details of Hyperion's surface craters and composition observed during this flyby, including keys to understanding the moon's origin and evolution over 4.5 billion years. This is the first time scientists were able to map the surface material on Hyperion.

"Of special interest is the presence on Hyperion of hydrocarbons--combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms that are found in comets, meteorites, and the dust in our galaxy," said Dale Cruikshank, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the paper's lead author. "These molecules, when embedded in ice and exposed to ultraviolet light, form new molecules of biological significance. This doesn't mean that we have found life, but it is a further indication that the basic chemistry needed for life is widespread in the universe."

Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer captured compositional variations in Hyperion's surface. These instruments, capable of mapping mineral and chemical features of the moon, sent back data confirming the presence of frozen water found by earlier ground-based observations, but also discovered solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) mixed in unexpected ways with the ordinary ice.
Images of the brightest regions of Hyperion's surface show frozen water that is crystalline in form, like that found on Earth.

"Most of Hyperion's surface ice is a mix of frozen water and organic dust, but carbon dioxide ice is also prominent. The carbon dioxide is not pure, but is somehow chemically attached to other molecules," explained Cruikshank.

Prior spacecraft data from other moons of Saturn, as well as Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Callisto, suggest that the carbon dioxide molecule is "complexed," or attached with other surface material in multiple ways. "We think that ordinary carbon dioxide will evaporate from Saturn's moons over long periods of time," said Cruikshank, "but it appears to be much more stable when it is attached to other molecules."

"The Hyperion flyby was a fine example of Cassini's multi-wavelength capabilities. In this first-ever ultraviolet observation of Hyperion, the detection of water ice tells us about compositional differences of this bizarre body," said Amanda Hendrix, Cassini scientist on the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Hyperion, Saturn's eighth largest moon, has a chaotic spin and orbits Saturn every 21 days. The July 5 issue of Nature also includes new findings from the imaging team about Hyperion's strange, spongy-looking appearance. Details are online at: http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=3303 .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

More information on the Cassini mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini .

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit is examining volcanic rocks; Opportunity is waiting for a massive dust storm to end before trying to enter Victoria Crater):

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

No new pictures

Thursday, July 05, 2007