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Friday, December 2, 2005


MARSIS' Strange and Encouraging Results

An overlay of MOLA and MARSIS data.
An overlay of MOLA and MARSIS data.
Credit: ASI/NASA/ESA/Univ. of Rome/JPL/MOLA
MARSIS - the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding - returned data last summer which was only recently used. The data provide direct evidence at what is under the surface of Mars. Other than confirming the existence of buried aquifers, MARSIS has also given us some new mysteries and data to puzzle about. The data revealed what would normally be considered an impact crater, but the surface topography gives no hint at the crater. This crater is ~250km in diameter and buried in the Chryse Planitia region. From the data, scientists have not ruled out the possibility that the crater is partially covered in ice. "The detection of a large buried impact basin suggests that MARSIS data can be used to unveil a population of hidden impact craters in the northern lowlands and elsewhere on the planet," says Jeffrey Plaut, Co-Principal Investigator on MARSIS. "This may force us to reconsider our chronology of the formation and evolution of the surface."

MARSIS was also used to probe the area between 10º and 40º East longitude. The composition of this area had not been known previously. However, MARSIS was able to get two strong and distinct echoes from the area. The echoes suggest that there is a 1km think layer of ice on basaltic regolith. There is no conclusive evidence of liquid water in the subsurface, however.

"MARSIS is already demonstrating the capability to detect structures and layers in the subsurface of Mars which are not detectable by other sensors, past or present," says Giovanni Picardi, MARSIS Principal Investigator. He concluded that "MARSIS holds exciting promise to address, and possibly solve, a number of open questions of major geological significance."

Many thanks to Espen for bringing this article to our attention.

(More info: ESA)


- posted by Jim @ 14:10 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, December 8, 2005


ESA Not Backing Kliper?

Kliper mock-up on display at the Le Bourget Airshow.
Kliper mock-up on display at the Le Bourget Airshow.
Credit: ESA/CNES
In July, we reported that the ESA and Japan were favorably considering supporting Russia's next generation spacecraft, the Kliper. Unfortunately, this has since shifted to being much less likely, as ESA officials believe that they would not have enough control over the project to make it worth-while. Japan is considered by most observers to be less likely to support the project if Europe does not go along with it. This may mean the death-knell for the spacecraft, as Russia badly needs money to continue development. However, all hope is not lost, as the ESA director-general has been quoted as saying, "We still need two transportation systems in the world."

The Kliper was supposed to have been a low-cost alternative to NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle, with the ability to go around the moon with six passengers and 700 kg cargo, and with talk of missions to Mars using it.

(More info: Space.com)


- posted by Brian @ 22:48 EST

(permanent link)

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Martian Auroras Confirmed

An aurora borealis on Earth.
An aurora borealis on Earth.
Credit: Gary Boyles, RASC Ottawa Centre
Researchers at UC Berkeley have confirmed that aurora borealii, known as Northern or Southern Lights on Earth, also occur on Mars. Caused by high-energy particles being trapped by Earth's magnetic field, they have been found on other planets such as Jupiter but were thought to be impossible due to the lack of a global magnetic field on Mars. However, hundreds of events were seen occurring in the southern hemisphere near large formations of magnetically charged rocks. Emanating in the ultraviolet range, they would not be visible to humans, but other animals might be able to observe them.

This finding helps confirm data collected by orbiting satellites concerning the strength of Mars' magnetic field, and is interesting in its own right.

(More info: San Francisco Chronicle)


- posted by Brian @ 0:26 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Mars Coming Out of an Ice Age?

A poor creature trying to survive during the last ice age.
A poor creature trying to survive during the last ice age.
Credit: Dooffy.com
Mars has been warming for some time now. It has been thought that this was akin to global warming on Earth. New data now suggests that Mars is coming out of an ice age. Having burried ice around the equator is what got scientists thinking that this trend of warming was not what we first thought. "One explanation could be that Mars is just coming out of an ice age," William Feldman or LANL said. "In some low-latitude areas, the ice has already dissipated. In others, that process is slower and hasn't reached an equilibrium yet. Those areas are like the patches of snow you sometimes see persisting in protected spots long after the last snowfall of the winter." He also said that dust may be covering and insulating ice, which makes up 10% of the regolith, up to 3 feet deep. "A model that fits the data has three layers near the surface," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, team leader for the gamma-ray spectrometer instrument on Odyssey. "The very top layer would be dry, with no ice. The next layer would contain ice in the pore spaces between grains of soil. Beneath that would be a very ice-rich layer, 60 to nearly 100 percent water ice."

Thanks to snelson5871 for submitting this news.

(More info: Space.com


- posted by Jim @ 10:30 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Meridiani Not an Ocean?

Olympia Outcrop on Erebus Crater, viewed by Opportunity.
Olympia Outcrop on Erebus Crater, viewed by Opportunity.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Two new scientific papers based on the Meridiani Planum data returned by Opportunity have cast doubt on the ocean theory for the formation of the rock structures observed there. One, written by researchers at the University of Colorado, postulates a massive volcanic eruption, and the other, written by researchers at Arizona State University, states that a meteorite impact could explain the evidence available.

The ocean theory, put forth by Dr. Steven Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers, is intriguing because it opened the possibility of life once existing on the planum, and Squyres is standing by his theory. "There's no question there were standing bodies of water at the surface," he maintains. He believes that data from Endurance Crater, which was published only recently, has more evidence to support his theory. Still, the new theories demonstrate just how difficult it is to do science through remote control, millions of miles away, and how difficult it is to determine events billions of years ago.

(More info: CNN.com, Nature.com)


- posted by Brian @ 11:19 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, December 30, 2005


Popular Mechanics, Buzz Aldrin, Mars

An artist's concept of the Cycler.
An artist's concept of the Cycler.
Credit: Popular Mechanics (Jeremy Cook)
The December 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics has an article from Buzz Aldrin with David Noland explaining their concept of how to make missions to the Red Planet regular. Their proposal uses a spacecraft permanently orbiting between Mars and Earth. The goal is to use as little propellant as necessary to launch the crews and then use the momentum of the orbiting craft to carry the crew the rest of the way. Aldrin and his team at Purdue, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas wrote in a report to JPL: “We believe these regular planetary flybys would create an entirely new economic and philosophic approach to space exploration. Reliable, reusable, and dependable cycler transportation can be the key to carry humanity into the next great age of exploration, expansion, settlement and multi-planetary commerce.” The concept has been around for a while, but Aldrin and his team are showing its feasibility, and giving a plan for regular travel to Mars a push in the scientific circles as well as the popular press.

The Popular Mechanics article can be found here. A release from Purdue in February is here, as well as an article on Aldrin's site here


- posted by Jim @ 17:13 EST

(permanent link)

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