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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover now picking rock targets for Laser by itself

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is now selecting rock targets for its laser spectrometer — the first time autonomous target selection is available for an instrument of this kind on any robotic planetary mission.

Using software developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, Curiosity is now frequently choosing multiple targets per week for a laser and a telescopic camera that are parts of the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Most ChemCam targets are still selected by scientists discussing rocks or soil seen in images the rover has sent to Earth, but the autonomous targeting adds a new capability.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover autonomously selects some targets for the laser and telescopic camera of its ChemCam instrument. For example, on-board software analyzed the Navcam image at left, chose the target indicated with a yellow dot, and pointed ChemCam for laser shots and the image at right. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS)

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover autonomously selects some targets for the laser and telescopic camera of its ChemCam instrument. For example, on-board software analyzed the Navcam image at left, chose the target indicated with a yellow dot, and pointed ChemCam for laser shots and the image at right. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS)

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NASA’s Mars Exploration Program picks Five Orbiter Concepts for Study

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA has selected five U.S. aerospace companies to conduct concept studies for a potential future Mars orbiter mission. Such a mission would continue key capabilities including telecommunications and global high-resolution imaging in support of the agency’s Journey to Mars.

The companies contracted for these four-month studies are: The Boeing Company in Huntington Beach, California; Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver; Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California; Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia; and Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program includes two active rovers and three active orbiters. Concept studies have begun for a potential future Mars orbiter mission. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program includes two active rovers and three active orbiters. Concept studies have begun for a potential future Mars orbiter mission. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

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NASA to begin final design and construction of Mars 2020 rover

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – After an extensive review process and passing a major development milestone, NASA is ready to proceed with final design and construction of its next Mars rover, currently targeted to launch in summer of 2020 and arrive on the Red Planet in February 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life. Throughout its investigation, it will collect samples of soil and rock, and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission.

This 2016 image comes from computer-assisted-design work on NASA's 2020 Mars rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This 2016 image comes from computer-assisted-design work on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observes Carbon Dioxide Frost Agitate the Soil on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Some dusty parts of Mars get as cold at night year-round as the planet’s poles do in winter, even regions near the equator in summer, according to new NASA findings based on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observations.

The surface in these regions becomes so frigid overnight that an extremely thin layer of carbon dioxide frost appears to form. The frost then vaporizes in the morning. Enough dust covers these regions that their heat-holding capacity is low and so the daily temperature swing is large. Daily volatilization of frost crystals that form among the dust grains may help keep the dust fluffy and so sustain this deep overnight chill.

This map shows the frequency of carbon dioxide frost's presence at sunrise on Mars, as a percentage of days year-round. Carbon dioxide ice more often covers the ground at night in some mid-latitude regions than in polar regions, where it is generally absent for much of summer and fall. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This map shows the frequency of carbon dioxide frost’s presence at sunrise on Mars, as a percentage of days year-round. Carbon dioxide ice more often covers the ground at night in some mid-latitude regions than in polar regions, where it is generally absent for much of summer and fall. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA studies Mars Canyons for signs of liquid water

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Puzzles persist about possible water at seasonally dark streaks on Martian slopes, according to a new study of thousands of such features in the Red Planet’s largest canyon system.

The study published today investigated thousands of these warm-season features in the Valles Marineris region near Mars’ equator. Some of the sites displaying the seasonal flows are canyon ridges and isolated peaks, ground shapes that make it hard to explain the streaks as resulting from underground water directly reaching the surface.

Blue dots on this map indicate sites of recurring slope lineae (RSL) in part of the Valles Marineris canyon network on Mars. RSL are seasonal dark streaks that may be indicators of liquid water. The area mapped here has the highest density of known RSL on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Blue dots on this map indicate sites of recurring slope lineae (RSL) in part of the Valles Marineris canyon network on Mars. RSL are seasonal dark streaks that may be indicators of liquid water. The area mapped here has the highest density of known RSL on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover put itself into Safe Mode over Fourth of July weekend

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The team operating NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is taking steps to return the rover to full activity following a precautionary stand-down over the Fourth of July weekend.

Curiosity is now communicating with ground controllers and is stable. The rover put itself into safe mode on July 2nd, ceasing most activities other than keeping itself healthy and following a prescribed sequence for resuming communications.

This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Okoruso" drilling site on lower Mount Sharp's "Naukluft Plateau." The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the “Okoruso” drilling site on lower Mount Sharp’s “Naukluft Plateau.” The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover finds differences between Earth and Mars’ Sand Dunes

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Some of the wind-sculpted sand ripples on Mars are a type not seen on Earth, and their relationship to the thin Martian atmosphere today provides new clues about the atmosphere’s history.

The determination that these mid-size ripples are a distinct type resulted from observations by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Six months ago, Curiosity made the first up-close study of active sand dunes anywhere other than Earth, at the “Bagnold Dunes” on the northwestern flank of Mars’ Mount Sharp.

Two sizes of ripples are evident in this December 13th, 2015, view of a top of a Martian sand dune, from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Sand dunes and the smaller type of ripples also exist on Earth.

Two sizes of ripples are evident in this December 13th, 2015, view of a top of a Martian sand dune, from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Sand dunes and the smaller type of ripples also exist on Earth.

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover may be used to search for Water on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Ever since it was announced that there may be evidence of liquid water on present-day Mars, NASA scientists have wondered how best to further investigate these long, seasonally changing dark streaks in the hope of finding evidence of life — past or present — on the Red Planet.

“It’s not as simple as driving a rover to a potential site and taking a scoop of soil,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “Not only are these on steep slopes, we need to ensure that planetary protection concerns are met. In other words, how can we search for evidence of life without contaminating the sites with bugs from Earth?”

This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Okoruso" drilling site on lower Mount Sharp's "Naukluft Plateau." The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the “Okoruso” drilling site on lower Mount Sharp’s “Naukluft Plateau.” The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover finds Volcanic Mineral on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists have discovered an unexpected mineral in a rock sample at Gale Crater on Mars, a finding that may alter our understanding of how the planet evolved.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has been exploring sedimentary rocks within Gale Crater since landing in August 2012. In July 2015, on Sol 1060 (the number of Martian days since landing), the rover collected powder drilled from rock at a location named “Buckskin.” Analyzing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin." Bright powder from that July 30, 2015, drilling is visible in the foreground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin.” Bright powder from that July 30, 2015, drilling is visible in the foreground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity finishes work at Marathon Valley on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – “Marathon Valley,” slicing through a large crater’s rim on Mars, has provided fruitful research targets for NASA’s Opportunity rover since July 2015, but the rover may soon move on.

Opportunity recently collected a sweeping panorama from near the western end of this east-west valley. The vista shows an area where the mission investigated evidence about how water altered the ancient rocks and, beyond that, the wide floor of Endeavour Crater and the crater’s eastern rim about 14 miles (22 kilometers) away.

"Marathon Valley" on Mars opens to a view across Endeavour Crater in this scene from the Pancam of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity. The scene merges many exposures taken during April and May 2016. The view spans from north (left) to west-southwest. Its foreground shows the valley's fractured texture. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

“Marathon Valley” on Mars opens to a view across Endeavour Crater in this scene from the Pancam of NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity. The scene merges many exposures taken during April and May 2016. The view spans from north (left) to west-southwest. Its foreground shows the valley’s fractured texture. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

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