Tag Archives: JPL

A Trip to Titan

titanNASA is advertising its upcoming space tourism trip to Saturn’s largest moon Titan with this gorgeous retro poster.

Just imagine rowing across Titan’s lakes and oceans, and watching Saturn set below the horizon. So, dump that planned cruise down the Danube and hike to your local travel agent before all the seats are gone. But, before you purchase a return ticket keep in mind the following:

Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan’s perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon.
Image: Titan poster. Courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Curiosity’s 10K Hike

Scientists and engineers at JPL have Mount Sharp in their sites. It’s no ordinary mountain — it’s situated on Mars. The 5,000 meter high mountain is home to exposed layers of some promising sedimentary rocks, which hold clues to Mars’ geologic, and perhaps biological, history. Unfortunately, Mount Sharp is 10K away from the current home of the Curiosity rover. So, at a top speed of around 100 meters per day it will take Curiosity until the fall of 2013 to reach its destination.

[div class=attrib]From the New Scientist:[end-div]

NASA’S Curiosity rover is about to have its cake and eat it too. Around September, the rover should get its first taste of layered sediments at Aeolis Mons, a mountain over 5 kilometres tall that may hold preserved signs of life on Mars.

Previous rovers uncovered ample evidence of ancient water, a key ingredient for life as we know it. With its sophisticated on-board chemistry lab, Curiosity is hunting for more robust signs of habitability, including organic compounds – the carbon-based building blocks of life as we know it.

Observations from orbit show that the layers in Aeolis Mons – also called Mount Sharp – contain minerals thought to have formed in the presence of water. That fits with theories that the rover’s landing site, Gale crater, was once a large lake. Even better, the layers were probably laid down quickly enough that the rocks could have held on to traces of microorganisms, if they existed there.

If the search for organics turns up empty, Aeolis Mons may hold other clues to habitability, says project scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The layers will reveal which minerals and chemical processes were present in Mars’s past. “We’re going to find all kinds of good stuff down there, I’m sure,” he says.

Curiosity will explore a region called Glenelg until early February, and then hit the gas. The base of the mountain is 10 kilometres away, and the rover can drive at about 100 metres a day at full speed. The journey should take between six and nine months, but will include stops to check out any interesting landmarks. After all, some of the most exciting discoveries from Mars rovers were a result of serendipity.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article following the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Base of Mount Sharp, Mars. Courtesy of Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.[end-div]

Curiosity in Flight

NASA pulled off another tremendous and daring feat of engineering when it successfully landed the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to the surface of Mars on August 5, 2012, 10:32 PM Pacific Time.

The MSL is housed aboard the Curiosity rover, a 2,000-pound, car-size robot. Not only did NASA land Curiosity a mere 1 second behind schedule following a journey of over 576 million kilometers (358 million miles) lasting around 8 months, it went one better. NASA had one of its Mars orbiters — Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — snap an image of MSL from around 300 miles away as it descended through the Martian atmosphere, with its supersonic parachute unfurled.

Another historic day for science, engineering and exploration.

[div class=attrib]From NASA / JPL:[end-div]

NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp.” From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of NASA’s Phoenix lander descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

This view is one product from an observation made by HiRISE targeted to the expected location of Curiosity about one minute prior to landing. It was captured in HiRISE CCD RED1, near the eastern edge of the swath width (there is a RED0 at the very edge). This means that the rover was a bit further east or downrange than predicted.

[div class=attrib]Follow the mission after the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.[end-div]

Curiosity: August 5, 2012, 10:31 PM Pacific Time

This is the time when NASA’s latest foray into space reaches its zenith — the upcoming landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. At this time NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission plans to deliver the nearly 2,000-pound, car-size robot rover to the surface of Mars. Curiosity will then embark on two years of exploration on the Red Planet.

For mission scientists and science buffs alike Curiosity’s descent and landing will be a major event. And, for the first time NASA will have a visual feed beamed back direct from the spacecraft (but only available after the event). The highly complex and fully automated landing has been dubbed “the Seven Minutes of Terror” by NASA engineers. Named for the time lag of signals from Curiosity to reach Earth due to the immense distance, mission scientists (and the rest of us) will not know whether Curiosity successfully descended and landed until a full 7 minutes after the fact.

For more on Curiosity and this special event visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion MSL site, here.

[div class=attrib]Image: This artist’s concept features NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.[end-div]

Flowing Water on Mars?

NASA’s latest spacecraft to visit Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has made some stunning observations that show the possibility of flowing water on the red planet. Intriguingly,  repeated observations of the same regions over several Martian seasons show visible changes attributable to some kind of dynamic flow.

[div class=attrib]From NASA / JPL:[end-div]

Observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.

“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.”

Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.

“The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth’s oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]