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Tuesday, March 2, 2004


Opportunity Landing Zone "Drenched in Water"

A lake in Pennsylvania.
A lake in Pennsylvania.
Credit: Auntsusies.com
NASA scientists announced today that Meridiani Planum, the area that the Opportunity rover landed in, was once "drenched in water," with strong indications that conditions were very favorable towards life. The area may have been a pool, lake, or sea, but more will not be known until more data is obtained. Similar to the Dead Sea in the Middle East, the water was also salty, part of the reason we are able to know of its existence.

This discovery settles once and for all the theory that Mars once was a warmer, wetter place and raises the possibility that it harbored or harbors life significantly. Both a robotic sample return mission and a human exploration of Mars are now imperative to learn more, according to both non-NASA observers and the scientists working on the Mars exploration program at NASA. This also makes it much more likely that terraforming efforts will be successful due to the many unknowns finally resolved by this discovery.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 16:21 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, March 4, 2004


Rovers Hard at Work

The rock,
The rock, "Humphrey." The "paw print" is the remains of 3 rock abrasion tool uses.
Credit: NASA/JPL
Spirit:
Date: 03-03-2004
Sol: 59
Wake up tune: "One More Time" by The Real McCoy

Using its RAT to gain access tot he inside of "Humphrey,” Spirit used its Mössbauer spectrometer to take measurements. The MI and X-ray spectrometer were used to take measurements from a grinding yestersol. The software bug that caused the RAT to stop grinding prematurely on Sol 58 will be fixed in a software update at the end of this month. Spirit will take a 360-degree panoramic image.


Opportunity:
Date: 03-04-2004
Sol: 39
Wake up tune: "Bad Moon Rising" by CCR

The wake up tune was in honor of a solar eclipse by Deimos. The panoramic camera was used to capture this. Opportunity was sent some 490 commands to execute the most complex task on Mars yet. These were necessary to take multiple pictures of the same site with the MI. The multiple pictures were needed because the MI does not have an auto-focus and has to be used at different heights to get an image in focus (and the scientist would like an image in focus). Another reason is that to create a 3D computer topography simulation, images are needed at different angles. The Mössbauer spectrometer was used on "Makar" at a location named "Last Chance."

(More info: NASA/JPL)

- posted by Jim @ 16:23 EST

(permanent link)


Friday, March 5, 2004


Glenn speaks out Against Presidents Plan

John Glenn.
John Glenn.
Credit: The-RocketMan.com
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, has criticized the President's plan for space exploration. This happened at a presidential commission , assigned the task of drawing plans for a permanent Moon base before going to Mars, meeting at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Glenn's home state of Ohio. "We have projects that are planned or in the queue now, projects that people -- academics and laboratories and companies -- have spent millions of dollars to get ready," Glenn said. "That pulls the rug out from under our scientists who placed their faith in NASA, and our scientists within NASA who devoted years and years to their work." Glenn does not feel that going to the moon is wrong, just that it should not be used as a stepping-stone to Mars. Glenn said, "It just seems to me the direct-to-Mars (route) is the way to go." Glenn hopes that NASA does not "use up all our money on the moon and never get to Mars." Glenn also feels that cutting research aboard the ISS would harm the program more than the "few dollars" it would save would justify. Astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, Neil de Grasse Tyson, a commission member, called the testimony "refreshing in its candor.”

(More info: Reuters)


- posted by Jim @ 15:25 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, March 6, 2004


Spirit Finds Water

Earthly volcano.
Earthly volcano.
Credit: georoc.mpch-mainz.gwdg.de
NASA announced yesterday that Spirit has discovered signs of water on its side of the planet. While inspecting a rock known as "Humphrey," the rover found evidence that water had been present in the rock during formation or soon afterwards. The rock is volcanic, as expected. Says Ray Arvidson, deputy lead scientist, "The best bet is that water was in the magma."

While this small amount of water may seem insignificant, it does mean that when rocks are made on Mars, water is involved. It has long been thought that water has played a part in forming the Martian landscape, using mostly evidence from satellite photos, but now we have evidence that even in a mostly dry area, water plays an important role in creating the layout of the land.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 12:31 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, March 8, 2004


Beagle Found?

Beagle 2 lander.
Beagle 2 lander.
Credit: ESA
Images of the intended landing site of the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander have revealed four bright spots that could be the remains of the lander. While these are inconclusive evidence and could even be errors in the image, there was a 99% chance of the Beagle landing in an ellipse on the surface containing this area. Project scientists remain doubtful, however, and this does not mean anything for hopes of reviving the probe.

Future studies of the probe from orbit could provide clues as to what went wrong and help prevent future mishaps.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 17:50 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, March 13, 2004


New Article: Mars, One-Way

A sunset on Mars.
A sunset on Mars.
Credit: Kees Veenenbos
Gerhard von Müehle has written a new article, entitled Mars, One-Way. Sharing his views on why we can and must go to Mars, he makes some pretty bold statements. He calls Sean O'Keefe a "bean counter" and makes a point for saving the Hubble. Here's a snippet:

Our current tentative man-in-space steps seem gutless, timid and uninspiring. Has America lost its nerve? Are we a nation of spineless wimps? I’ll go to Mars on a one-way trip. Who wants to join me? I’ll bet millions of bright, thoughtful people would give their lives to join the adventure. To have finally come to the point where we begin to understand our place in this grand realm but fail to embrace what it offers with wholehearted enthusiasm, risks and all, is a coward’s choice. Where are the voices of hope, of courage?

A great opinion piece that deserves a read.


- posted by Alex @ 12:34 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, March 22, 2004


Opportunity Gets Out of the Crater

After a failed attempt, Opportunity finally managed to get out of the crater surrounding its landing spot. Once out it rolled 16.5ft. Opportunity will work on a rock named "Scoop" and a bright patch of land. Spirit is exploring the brim of its crater before going off to explore some distance hills.

"One Step Closer" by the Doobie Brothers was the wake up tune for Spirit, because it is "once step closer" to the rock "Mazatzal." Opportunity woke to "Fly Like an Eagle," by the Steve Miller Band.

(More info: News8Austin, NASA/JPL)

- posted by Jim @ 19:58 EST

(permanent link)


Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Salty Water and Life

An ancient sea shore.
An ancient sea shore.
Credit: NASA/JPL
"We think Opportunity is parked on what was once the shoreline of a salty sea on Mars," said Steve Squyres. He added that "we have an environment that's suitable for life." The rocks they found were most likely formed in salt water, but the extent or age of the sea are unknown. Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science, said the result "gives us impetus to expand our ambitious program of exploring Mars to learn whether microbes have ever lived there and, ultimately, whether we can." NASA added that the results were checked by multiple 3rd party experts before it announced the finding. "Bedding patterns in some finely layered rocks indicate the sand-sized grains of sediment that eventually bonded together were shaped into ripples by water at least five centimeters (two inches) deep, possibly much deeper, and flowing at a speed of 10 to 50 centimeters (4-20 inches) per second," said John Grotzinger of MIT. "Someday we must collect these rocks and bring them back to terrestrial laboratories to read their records for clues to the biological potential of Mars," Jame Garvin, a leading scientist for Mars and lunar exploration, said.

(More info: Yahoo)


- posted by Jim @ 19:07 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Methane Discovered on Mars

A computer drawing of a methane molecule.
A computer drawing of a methane molecule.
Credit: New York University
In a stunning announcement, the Mars Express orbiter and ground-based telescopes have discovered signs of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Methane has been one of the holy grails of Martian exploration, second to water, due to its likely link to current life. On Earth methane is primarily produced through life, with some outgassed by volcanoes. On Mars, volcanic activity is extremely limited or dead due to the cooling of the planet's core.

Methane is unstable and decays in around 300 years. This means that in the last 300 years, enough life or volcanic outgassing has been present to fill the atmosphere with 10.5 parts per billion methane. Another possibility, although not as likely, is that the methane is a result of cometary and meteorite impacts.

With the recent discovery of past liquid water, the confirmation of vast amounts of frozen water today, and now the discovery of methane, coinciding with greater understanding of how life works on Earth, the odds are becoming greater and greater that life existed on Mars in the past and exists even today. Although all of these things could exist without life necessarily being present, it is now considered likely by many scientists that life exists or existed. All that remains is to dig in the soil and look in a microscope -- perhaps a job that only a human exploration of Mars can accomplish.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 21:34 EST

(permanent link)

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