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Topic: Red Planet

NASA’s SOFIA flying observatory sees Atomic Oxygen in Atmosphere of Mars

 

Written by Kassandra Bell, SOFIA Science Center
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – An instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago. These atoms were found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere.

Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere.

SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected. (SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected. (SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovers evidence of Ancient Volcanoes on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Volcanoes erupted beneath an ice sheet on Mars billions of years ago, far from any ice sheet on the Red Planet today, new evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests.

The research about these volcanoes helps show there was extensive ice on ancient Mars. It also adds information about an environment combining heat and moisture, which could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life.

Sheridan Ackiss of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and collaborators used the orbiter’s mineral-mapping spectrometer to investigate surface composition in an oddly textured region of southern Mars called “Sisyphi Montes.”

This graphic illustrates where Mars mineral-mapping from orbit has detected minerals that can indicate where a volcano erupted beneath an ice sheet. The site is far from any ice sheet on modern Mars, in an area where unusual shapes have been interpreted as a possible result of volcanism under ice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/ASU)

This graphic illustrates where Mars mineral-mapping from orbit has detected minerals that can indicate where a volcano erupted beneath an ice sheet. The site is far from any ice sheet on modern Mars, in an area where unusual shapes have been interpreted as a possible result of volcanism under ice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/ASU)

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NASA begins planning new Mars Orbiter with advanced communications and imaging technology

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA is soliciting ideas from U.S. industry for designs of a Mars orbiter for potential launch in the 2020s. The satellite would provide advanced communications and imaging, as well as robotic science exploration, in support of NASA’s Journey to Mars.

The orbiter would substantially increase bandwidth communications and maintain high-resolution imaging capability. It also may use experimental cutting-edge technologies, such as high-power solar electric propulsion or an optical communications package, which could greatly improve transmission speed and capacity over radio frequency systems.

About 1000 Viking Orbiter red- and violet-filter images have been processed to provide global color coverage of Mars at a scale of 1 km/pixel. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

About 1000 Viking Orbiter red- and violet-filter images have been processed to provide global color coverage of Mars at a scale of 1 km/pixel. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

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NASA Spacecrafts orbiting Mars make revealing Gravity Map of the Red Planet

 

Written by William Steigerwald / Nancy Neal Jones

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – A new map of Mars’ gravity made with three NASA spacecraft is the most detailed to date, providing a revealing glimpse into the hidden interior of the Red Planet.

“Gravity maps allow us to see inside a planet, just as a doctor uses an X-ray to see inside a patient,” said Antonio Genova of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge. “The new gravity map will be helpful for future Mars exploration, because better knowledge of the planet’s gravity anomalies helps mission controllers insert spacecraft more precisely into orbit about Mars”

This Mars map shows variations in thickness of the planet's crust, the relatively thin surface layer overlying the mantle of the planet. It shows unprecedented detail derived from new mapping of variations in Mars' gravitational pull on orbiters. (NASA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio)

This Mars map shows variations in thickness of the planet’s crust, the relatively thin surface layer overlying the mantle of the planet. It shows unprecedented detail derived from new mapping of variations in Mars’ gravitational pull on orbiters. (NASA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio)

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NASA’s MAVEN orbiter observes Comet Siding Spring create havoc with Mars’ Magnetic Field during flyby

 

Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Just weeks before the historic encounter of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) with Mars in October 2014, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft entered orbit around the Red Planet.

To protect sensitive equipment aboard MAVEN from possible harm, some instruments were turned off during the flyby; the same was done for other Mars orbiters. But a few instruments, including MAVEN’s magnetometer, remained on, conducting observations from a front-row seat during the comet’s remarkably close flyby.

A close encounter between a comet and Mars in 2014 flooded Mars with an invisible tide of charged particles. The comet's strong magnetic field temporarily merged with, and overwhelmed, the planet's weak magnetic field, as shown in this artist's depiction. NASA's MAVEN mission monitored the effects. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

A close encounter between a comet and Mars in 2014 flooded Mars with an invisible tide of charged particles. The comet’s strong magnetic field temporarily merged with, and overwhelmed, the planet’s weak magnetic field, as shown in this artist’s depiction. NASA’s MAVEN mission monitored the effects. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

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NASA researchers explore growing Food Crops during long Deep Space Missions

 

Written by Linda Herridge
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationKennedy Space Center, FL – NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler, Ph.D., and fictional astronaut Mark Watney from the movie “The Martian” have something in common — they are both botanists. But that’s where the similarities end. While Watney is a movie character who gets stranded on Mars, Wheeler is the lead for Advanced Life Support Research activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Program at Kennedy Space Center, working on real plant research.

“The Martian movie and book conveyed a lot of issues regarding growing food and surviving on a planet far from the Earth,” Wheeler said. “It’s brought plants back into the equation.”

An artist concept depicts a greenhouse on the surface of Mars. Plants are growing with the help of red, blue and green LED light bars and a hydroponic cultivation approach. (SAIC)

An artist concept depicts a greenhouse on the surface of Mars. Plants are growing with the help of red, blue and green LED light bars and a hydroponic cultivation approach. (SAIC)

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover keeps busy during Martian Winter

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s senior Mars rover, Opportunity, worked through the lowest-solar-energy days of the mission’s seventh Martian winter, while using a diamond-toothed rock grinder and other tools in recent weeks to investigate clues about the Red Planet’s environmental history.

The modern Mars environment lent a hand, providing wind that removed some dust from Opportunity’s solar panels in the weeks before and after the Mars southern hemisphere’s winter solstice on January 2nd.

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm in this image from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is "Private John Potts." (NASA)

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm in this image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is “Private John Potts.” (NASA)

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U.S. Department of Energy produces fuel to power NASA’s Deep Space Missions

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – The first U.S. production in nearly 30 years of a specialized fuel to power future deep space missions has been completed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.

The production of 50 grams of plutonium-238 -roughly the mass of a golf ball – marks the first demonstration in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production in the late 1980s.

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover. (NASA)

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover. (NASA)

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NASA scubs InSight Spacecraft launch planned for March 2016

 

Written by Dwayne Brown and Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – After thorough examination, NASA managers have decided to suspend the planned March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload.

“Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window. A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars.”

This artist's concept from August 2015 depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept from August 2015 depicts NASA’s InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA prepares Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket for first test flight

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA is hard at work building the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems needed to send astronauts into deep space. The agency is developing the core capabilities needed to enable the journey to Mars.

Orion’s first flight atop the SLS will not have humans aboard, but it paves the way for future missions with astronauts. Ultimately, it will help NASA prepare for missions to the Red Planet. During this flight, currently designated Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will travel thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.

NASA¹s Space Launch System rocket will launch with Orion atop it from Launch Complex 39B at NASA¹s modernized spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA)

NASA¹s Space Launch System rocket will launch with Orion atop it from Launch Complex 39B at NASA¹s modernized spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA)

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