astroengine writes "After nine years of hard Mars roving, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity has broken a 40-year-old extraterrestrial distance record. On Thursday, the tenacious six-wheeled robot drove 80 meters (263 feet), nudging the total distance traveled since landing on the red planet in 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). NASA's previous distance record was held by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt when, in December 1972, they drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the lunar surface. Although it's broken the NASA distance record, it hasn't surpassed the international record, yet. The Soviet Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled moon rover roved 37 kilometers (23 miles) across the lunar surface and, so far, remains the undisputed champion of distance driving on an extraterrestrial surface."
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astroengine writes "Dust devils are a well-known atmospheric phenomena on Mars, and as these new HiRISE observations show, the devilish vorticies can carve beautiful patterns in the Martian dust. What's more — in side-by-side comparisons of observations of the same Mars region years apart — it appears that the active Mars atmosphere acts like an Etch A Sketch, rubbing out the dust devils' tracks, only for the dust devils to make brand new tracks years later."
A while ago you had the chance to ask mathematician and theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson about his work in quantum electrodynamics, nuclear propulsion, and his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
An anonymous reader writes "Mars One reports that 78,000 people have volunteered for a one-way ticket to Mars. A quick calculation shows that this means people lined up coast-to-coast in a line with only 40cm per person! (As Robert Zubrin already predicted). If you want, you can still go and sign up (or sign up your worst enemy). Or you can just look at some videos of the would-be travelers."
astroengine writes "The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera carried by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted a strange geological feature that, for now, defies an obvious explanation. Found at the southern edge of Acidalia Planitia, small pits with raised edges appear to hug a long ridge. So far, mission scientists have ruled out impact craters and wind as formation processes, but have pegged the most likely cause to be glacial in nature."
astroengine writes "About 1,200 light-years from Earth, five planets are circling around sun-like star Kepler-62, two of which are fortuitously positioned for water, if any exists, to remain liquid on their surfaces — a condition believed to be necessary for life. The discovery, made by scientists using NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, is the strongest evidence yet for more than one Earth-sized planet existing in a star's so-called 'habitable' zone. 'We're particularly delighted to find that there are two planets in the habitable zone,' lead Kepler scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. 'It sort of doubles our chances of finding that Earth we'd all like to find. When you think about Earth and Mars, if Mars had been a bit larger, if Jupiter hadn't been so close, we'd again have two planets in the habitable zone and maybe we'd have a place to go,' he said." There's also a third planet believed to be a good candidate for hosting water.
A story at Slashgear says that the remains of a Soviet mission to Mars may have been spotted — on Mars — by enthusiasts poring over old photos taken by a NASA orbiter. The article points out that the find must be confirmed by further imaging, but matches the seekers' expectations. From the article: "The community at VK.com/Curiosity_Live crowdsourced a mission to find the Soviet Union’s long-lost Mars 3 spacecraft, with the site’s leader, Vitali Egorov of St. Petersburg, Russia, creating models of what hardware from the spacecraft should look like. With this reference, the community combed through a large image taken five years ago by NASA’s MRO, identifying what is believed to be the craft’s parachute, lander, terminal retrorocket, and heat shield."
gbrumfiel writes "A strange green meteorite found in Morocco caused a stir in the press earlier this month, when scientists reported that it might be the first chunk of Mercury ever found here on earth. But scientists who've been puzzling over the stone since then say the accumulating evidence may point in a different direction. The 4.56-billion-year-old rock might have come from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. If true, then it would provide clues about the origin of the solar system as a whole instead of the origin of the innermost planet."
astroengine writes "Almost every month we see news dispatches from the Mars where the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals in rocks and other circumstantial clues that the Red Planet could have once supported life. But in terms of finding direct evidence of past or present Martians, the rover barely scratches the surface, says geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California. Using Earth life as an example, some species of microbes live miles below the surface, without sunlight or oxygen, metabolizing chemicals that are the result of radioactive decay. Most intriguing of all is the microbe Desulforudis Audaxviator that dwells nearly two miles down, a life form that would feel right at home inside Mars' crust. 'This organism has had to figure out everything on its own,' says Amend, 'it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen for metabolism.' Amend hopes to drop probes deep underground in some of the world's most inhospitable locations over the next few years, creating a possible analog for future Mars subsurface studies."
New submitter imikem writes "University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks. 'Using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,' said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. 'We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.' 'The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab. Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket – a small grain of sand of this material has the same energy content as 1 gallon of rocket fuel.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with news that a meteorite found in Morocco might be from Mercury. "The green rock found in Morocco last year may be the first known visitor from the solar system's innermost planet, according to meteorite scientist Anthony Irving, who unveiled the new findings this month at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. The study suggests that a space rock called NWA 7325 came from Mercury, and not an asteroid or Mars."
Tired of seeing ads for cars and soda before the films you watch at the theater? Well, a successful crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo will see a trimmed down version of NASA's 'We Are Explorers' video aired before showings of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness in theaters all over the country. "Most people recognize space as a key expression of our character. They know our space programs as a globally recognized brand of ingenuity. The recently landed Mars Curiosity Rover was the latest reminder that space systems are the crown jewels of our scientific and technical prowess. Less known is the indispensable value space systems bring to our everyday lives. Space provides irreplaceable capabilities for defense, public health, finance, medicine, energy, agriculture, transportation, development and countless other fields. Investments in space programs are precisely about improving and protecting life on Earth. ... By funding this campaign, we can remind students and the general public that our nation's space agency is working hard on the next era of exploration." The campaign's funding goal was reached in just six days — their stretch goal will increase the number of theaters for the clip from 59 screens to 750. The movie comes out on May 17th.
SternisheFan points out that there is a great new panorama made from shots from the Curiosity Rover. "Sweep your gaze around Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover is currently exploring, with this 4-billion-pixel panorama stitched together from 295 images. ...The entire image stretches 90,000 by 45,000 pixels and uses pictures taken by the rover's two MastCams. The best way to enjoy it is to go into fullscreen mode and slowly soak up the scenery — from the distant high edges of the crater to the enormous and looming Mount Sharp, the rover's eventual destination."
sighted writes "NASA is announcing that analysis of a rock sample collected by the Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater last month. The announcement quotes Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program: 'A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes.'"
thAMESresearcher writes with news about the progress of Mars One. From the article: "Mars One has taken a bold step toward their goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars in 2023 by contracting with its first aerospace supplier, Paragon Space Development Corporation. ... The contract will enable the initial conceptual design of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and Mars Surface Exploration Spacesuit System. During this study, Paragon will identify major suppliers, concepts, and technologies that exist today and can be used as the baseline architecture for further development. The ECLSS will provide and maintain a safe, reliable environment for the inhabitants, providing them with clean air and water. The Mars suits will enable the settlers to work outside of the habitat and explore the surface of Mars."
coondoggie writes "What kind of network can support future commercial and government space trips around Earth and support bigger distances to the moon and Mars? NASA is in the process of exploring exactly what technology will be needed beyond 2022 in particular to support future space communication and navigation. The agency recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) to begin planning for such a new architecture."
astroengine writes "Relatively recently, water blasted out from an underground aquifer on Mars, carving out deep flood channels in the surface that were later buried by lava flows, radar images complied from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe shows. The channels are at least twice as deep as previous estimates for Marte Vallis, an expanse of plains just north of the Martian equator that is the youngest volcanic region on the planet. "We see similar channels elsewhere on Mars and they are not filled with lava so it's important to be able to compare different channel systems, and also similar systems on Earth, to give us clues about how they formed," lead researcher Gareth Morgan, with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, told Discovery News."
tcd004 writes "An article at PBS begins, 'Imagine this crazy scenario: A space vehicle we've sent to a distant planet to search for life touches down in an icy area. The heat from the spacecraft's internal power system warms the ice, and water forms below the landing gear of the craft. And on the landing gear is something found on every surface on planet Earth... bacteria. Lots of them. If those spore-forming bacteria found themselves in a moist environment with a temperature range they could tolerate, they might just make themselves at home and thrive and then, well... the extraterrestrial life that we'd been searching for might just turn out to be Earth life we introduced.' The article goes on to talk about NASA's efforts to prevent situations like this. It's a job for the Office of Planetary Protection. They give some examples, including the procedure for sterilizing the Curiosity Rover: 'Pieces of equipment that could tolerate high heat were subjected to temperatures of 230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 144 hours. And surfaces were wiped down with alcohol and tested regularly.'"
astroengine writes "The idea of slingshotting a manned spacecraft around Mars isn't a new one. In the 1960's, NASA carried out a feasibility study into an 800-day flyby mission to the Red Planet. And it would have been awesome. AT&T/Bellcomm mathematician A. A. VanderVeen was working for NASA in 1967 and came up with 5 possible launch opportunities between 1978 and 1986 — two windows in 1979 and 1983 provided the shortest transit time between the planets. But launch mass and fuel requirements were a constant issue. So VanderVeen turned to physics to find an elegant, and scientifically exciting, solution: add a Venus flyby to the Mars trip. Mars, Earth, and Venus align with the sun five times every 32 years, but Venus and Mars alignments happen more frequently making double (Earth-Venus-Mars-Earth) or even triple (Earth-Venus-Mars-Venus-Earth) flybys a viable mission. Unfortunately, the flyby never happened."
alancronin writes "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been temporarily put into 'safe mode,' as scientists monitoring from Earth try to fix a computer glitch, the US space agency said. Scientists switched to a backup computer Thursday so that they could troubleshoot the problem, said to be linked to a glitch in the original computer's flash memory. 'We switched computers to get to a standard state from which to begin restoring routine operations,' said Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates Curiosity."