Charted: Extraterrestrial Driving Records
NASA has just released this cute chart depicting the various distances traveled by wheeled machines on other worlds (click to enlarge).
The comparison was put out in honor of the agency’s Opportunity rover, which has been on Mars since 2004, beating NASA’s previous distance record-holder, the Apollo 17 moon buggy. During its nine years of operations, Opportunity has roved 35.760 kilometers, edging out the Apollo astronaut’s 35.744-kilometer drive.
The champion for driving on another surface still goes to the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover, which traveled 37 kilometers across the moon in 1973. Of course, Opportunity still has the *ahem* opportunity to overtake the international record holder since it’s continuing to rove around the rim of Endeavour crater on Mars. The little robot has been exploring that area since 2011 and has uncovered some of the most unambiguous evidence for water on ancient Mars. Though NASA’s celebrated Curiosity rover has only gone less than one kilometer since landing in August, it has nuclear batteries that could last 14 years at minimum — ample time to beat all competitors.
As a matter of fact I do! I’ll share various images with you below, as well as throw out some basic information concerning Mars’ lovely moons for those who aren’t familiar.
“On Mars, Phobos would be easily visible to the naked eye at night, but would be only about one-third as large as the full Moon appears from Earth. Astronauts staring at Phobos from the surface of Mars would notice its oblong, potato-like shape and that it moves quickly against the background stars. Phobos takes only 7 hours, 39 minutes to complete one orbit of Mars. That is so fast, relative to the 24-hour-and-39-minute sol on Mars (the length of time it takes for Mars to complete one rotation), that Phobos rises in the west and sets in the east. Earth’s moon, by comparison, rises in the east and sets in the west. The smaller martian moon, Deimos, takes 30 hours, 12 minutes to complete one orbit of Mars. That orbital period is longer than a martian sol, and so Deimos rises, like most solar system moons, in the east and sets in the west.” via NASA Mars rover gallery.
The first image below, taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, shows both Deimos and Phobos, labeled for your convenience, and is titled Two Moons Passing in the Night, which was taken on the night of sol 585 (Aug. 26, 2005). [Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M - view full sized images here.]
The second image, also taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, titled Two Moons and the Pleiades from Mars, clearly shows a labeled and unlabeled version displaying both Phobos and Deimos, again, along with the PLeiades and Aldebaran. This image was taken on the evening of martian day, or sol, 590 (Aug. 30, 2005). [Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M - view full sized images here.]
Next we have Phobos Viewed from Mars. “Spirit acquired the first two images with the panoramic camera on the night of sol 585 (Aug. 26, 2005). The far right image of Phobos, for comparison, was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express, a European Space Agency orbiter. The third image in this sequence was derived from the far right image by making it blurrier for comparison with the panoramic camera images to the left.”[Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M - view full sized images here.]
Below are two images, very similar, taken by Spirit. The first, The Night Sky on Mars, which is a time-lapse composite, and was captured the evening of Spirit’s martian sol 590 (Aug. 30, 2005). The second below is named The Two Moons of Mars As Seen from Husband Hill. “Spirit took this succession of images at 150-second intervals from a perch atop “Husband Hill” in Gusev Crater on martian day, or sol, 594 (Sept. 4, 2005).” [Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M - view full sized images here.]
Next we have some wonderful images [via the Daily Mail] of Deimos and Phobos traveling in front of the sun to create a partial solar eclipse, viewed from Mars, taken by Curiosity. The first shows Deimos and it’s small stature in comparison with our star. The second shows Phobos beginning to eclipse the Sun, as it makes it’s path across the Martian sky.
I’ll leave you with a sped-up GIF of another eclipse, caused by Phobos, observed by Opportunity on the afternoon of the rover’s 3,078th Martian day, or sol (Sept. 20, 2012). [via NASA]
You can view a video of Phobos eclipsing the sun on November 9, 2010 here, as captured by Opportunity. You can view more rover-captured images of both moons here, and here. I hope this answered your question sufficiently, and gives you a good place to start when looking for images of these moons taken from the Martian surface. Enjoy!
“The team operating NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has selected a second target rock for drilling and sampling. The rover will set course to the drilling location in coming days.
This second drilling target, called “Cumberland,” lies about nine feet (2.75 meters) west of the rock where Curiosity’s drill first touched Martian stone in February. Curiosity took the first rock sample ever collected on Mars from that rock, called “John Klein.” The rover found evidence of an ancient environment favorable for microbial life. Both rocks are flat, with pale veins and a bumpy surface. They are embedded in a layer of rock on the floor of a shallow depression called “Yellowknife Bay.”
This second drilling is intended to confirm results from the first drilling, which indicated the chemistry of the first powdered sample from John Klein was much less oxidizing than that of a soil sample the rover scooped up before it began drilling.
“We know there is some cross-contamination from the previous sample each time,” said Dawn Sumner, a long-term planner for Curiosity’s science team at the University of California at Davis. “For the Cumberland sample, we expect to have most of that cross-contamination come from a similar rock, rather than from very different soil.”
Although Cumberland and John Klein are very similar, Cumberland appears to have more of the erosion-resistant granules that cause the surface bumps. The bumps are concretions, or clumps of minerals, which formed when water soaked the rock long ago. Analysis of a sample containing more material from these concretions could provide information about the variability within the rock layer that includes both John Klein and Cumberland.
Mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., recently finished upgrading Curiosity’s operating software following a four-week break. The rover continued monitoring the Martian atmosphere during the break, but the team did not send any new commands because Mars and the sun were positioned in such a way the sun could have blocked or corrupted commands sent from Earth.
Curiosity is about nine months into a two-year prime mission since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012. After the second rock drilling in Yellowknife Bay and a few other investigations nearby, the rover will drive toward the base of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometers) layered mountain inside the crater. ”
A beautiful rant about misguided public science education and how the fear of punishment kills curiosity, especially for minorities because they tend to receive harsher punishments, and for the poor because punishments end up being harsher on them when something like bail ends up putting their families even farther in debt.
NASA’s Mars Spacecraft Go Solo Next Month
An unfavorable planetary alignment will force NASA’s fleet of robotic Mars explorers to be a lot more self-sufficient next month.
Mission controllers won’t send any commands to the agency’s various Mars spacecraft for much of April, because the sun will lie between Earth and the Red Planet during that time. Our star can disrupt and degrade interplanetary communications in such an alignment, which is known as a Mars solar conjunction, so spacecraft handlers won’t take any chances.
“Receiving a partial command could confuse the spacecraft, putting them in grave danger,” NASA officials explain in a video posted Tuesday (March 19) by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
Transmissions from Earth to the Mars rover Curiosity are slated to be suspended from April 4 to May 1, officials said. No commands will be sent to Curiosity’s older rover cousin Opportunity or NASA’s Mars-orbiting craft — Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) — from April 9 to April 26.
Both rovers will continue to do stationary science work throughout the conjunction period, relying on commands sent up to them beforehand.
“We are doing extra science planning work this month to develop almost three weeks of activity sequences for Opportunity to execute throughout conjunction,” Opportunity mission manager Alfonso Herrera of JPL said in a statement.
MRO and Mars Odyssey will continue science observations as well, though on a more limited basis. The orbiters will also continue their role as rover communication links, receiving data from Opportunity and Curiosity.
Odyssey will send information — its own observations and the rovers’ data — Earthward throughout the conjunction period, though the mission team anticipates some dropouts, so Odyssey will send the data again later as needed.
MRO will take a different tack, storing everything from April 4 until after conjunction. The spacecraft’s operators estimate it will have about 52 gigabits of data onboard when it’s cleared to transmit to Earth again on May 1.
Mars solar conjunctions occur every 26 months, so all of the spacecraft have dealt with them except Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet last August. Opportunity has been through five conjunctions since arriving on Mars in January 2004, but Odyssey is even more experienced.
“This is our sixth conjunction for Odyssey,” Chris Potts of JPL said in a statement. Potts is mission manager for Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001. “We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different.”
“NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has seen evidence of water-bearing minerals in rocks near where it had already found clay minerals inside a drilled rock.
Last week, the rover’s science team announced that analysis of powder from a drilled mudstone rock on Mars indicates past environmental conditions that were favorable for microbial life. Additional findings presented today (March 18) at a news briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, suggest those conditions extended beyond the site of the drilling.
Using infrared-imaging capability of a camera on the rover and an instrument that shoots neutrons into the ground to probe for hydrogen, researchers have found more hydration of minerals near the clay-bearing rock than at locations Curiosity visited earlier.
The rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) can also serve as a mineral-detecting and hydration-detecting tool, reported Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe. “Some iron-bearing rocks and minerals can be detected and mapped using the Mastcam’s near-infrared filters.”
Ratios of brightness in different Mastcam near-infrared wavelengths can indicate the presence of some hydrated minerals. The technique was used to check rocks in the “Yellowknife Bay” area where Curiosity’s drill last month collected the first powder from the interior of a rock on Mars. Some rocks in Yellowknife Bay are crisscrossed with bright veins. ”
“This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in a white-balanced color adjustment that makes the sky look overly blue but shows the terrain as if under Earth-like lighting.
Rising above the present location of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, higher than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States, Mount Sharp is featured in new imagery from the rover.
A pair of mosaics assembled from dozens of telephoto images shows Mount Sharp in dramatic detail. The component images were taken by the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera mounted on the right side of Curiosity’s remote sensing mast, during the 45th Martian day of the rover’s mission on Mars (Sept. 20, 2012).
This layered mound, also called Aeolis Mons, in the center of Gale Crater rises more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor location of Curiosity. Lower slopes of Mount Sharp remain a destination for the mission, though the rover will first spend many more weeks around a location called “Yellowknife Bay,” where it has found evidence of a past environment favorable for microbial life.
A version of the mosaic that has been white-balanced to show the terrain as if under Earthlike lighting, which makes the sky look overly blue, is at here. White-balanced versions help scientists recognize rock materials based on their terrestrial experience. The Martian sky would look like more of a butterscotch color to the human eye. A version of the mosaic with raw color, as a typical smart-phone camera would show the scene, is here.
In both versions, the sky has been filled out by extrapolating color and brightness information from the portions of the sky that were captured in images of the terrain. ”
It’d be fantastically interesting to witness a huge experiment where thousands of people, on the same day at the same exact time, jump up and down and record the related seismic activity. Imagine how big it could get through the number of participants.
For example, I’m sure everyone’s heard of the Foo Fighters concert in New Zealand:
“Scientists said the 50,000 fans dancing at the Foo Fighters gig on Tuesday most likely caused the seismic activity in Western Springs, New Zealand.
The scientists wrote: ‘The cause of the shaking is most likely the weight of the 50,000 fans dancing, as 50,000 fans is equal to around 5,000 tonnes of mass moving on the ground.
‘This set up a nice harmonic vibration in the ground which was recorded in our nearby borehole seismometers.’” [x]
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’d be cool to look into, especially on a much larger scale than a concert. What’s your idea for an interesting, and possibly crazy, science experiment?
[Imaged below: From a position in the shallow “Yellowknife Bay” depression, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity used its right Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the telephoto images combined into this panorama of geological diversity.]
“ NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images that confirm it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet. No rover has ever drilled into a rock beyond Earth and collected a sample from its interior.
Transfer of the powdered-rock sample into an open scoop was visible for the first time in images received Wednesday at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity. “Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying. For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown.”
The drill on Curiosity’s robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 2.5-inch (6.4-centimeter) hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock on Feb. 8. The rover team plans to have Curiosity sieve the sample and deliver portions of it to analytical instruments inside the rover.
The scoop now holding the precious sample is part of Curiosity’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. During the next steps of processing, the powder will be enclosed inside CHIMRA and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) across.
Small portions of the sieved sample later will be delivered through inlet ports on top of the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. ”
[Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]
“NASA will host a media teleconference at noon PST (3 p.m. EST) today, Feb. 20, to provide an update on the Mars rover Curiosity mission. Earlier today, Curiosity engineers confirmed the rover had collected the first-ever sample from inside a rock on Mars.
The Mars Science Laboratory project and its Curiosity rover are investigating whether conditions on Mars have ever been favorable for microbial life.”
Audio and visuals of the event will be streamed live online at here and here.
Visuals will be available at the start of the teleconference here.
For information about NASA’s Curiosity mission, visit here and here.
“On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is a shiny-looking rock seen in a recent image from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.
Some casual observers might see a resemblance to a car door handle, hood ornament or some other type of metallic object. To Ronald Sletten of the University of Washington, Seattle, a collaborator on Curiosity’s science team, the object is an interesting study in how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks.
Find out what likely caused the shiny appearance of the Martian rock, and see some examples of similar phenomena found on Earth above in the images, via this pdf from JPL/NASA.”
- Curiosity’s Hole on Mars here.
- Artificial Bone here.
- Largest Prime Number here.
- Dinosaurs’ Extinction Date here.
- Earth-Like Planets here.
- Bacterial Gold here.
- Needle-Free Vaccine here.
- Mammal Tree of Life here.
“The drill on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity used both percussion and rotation to bore about 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) into a rock on Mars and generate cuttings for evaluation in advance of the rover’s first sample-collection drilling.
Completion of this “mini drill” test in preparation for full drilling was confirmed in data from Mars received late Wednesday at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. If the drill cuttings on the ground around the fresh hole pass visual evaluation as suitable for processing by the rover’s sample handling mechanisms, the rover team plans to proceed with commanding the first full drilling in coming days.
The test was performed on a patch of flat, vein-bearing rock called “John Klein.” The locations of earlier percussion-only testing and planned sample-collection drilling are also on John Klein. Pre-drilling observations of this rock yielded indications of one or more episodes of wet environmental conditions. The team plans to use Curiosity’s laboratory instruments to analyze sample powder from inside the rock to learn more about the site’s environmental history.
The planned full drilling will be the first rock drilling on Mars to collect a sample of material for analysis.
During a two-year prime mission, researchers are using Curiosity’s 10 science instruments to assess whether the study area in Gale Crater on Mars ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. ”
“What if you saw your shadow on Mars and it wasn’t human? Then you might be the robotic Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars. Curiosity landed in Gale Crater last August and has been busy looking for signs of ancient running water and clues that Mars could once have harbored life. Pictured above, Curiosity has taken a wide panorama that includes its own shadow in the direction opposite the Sun. The image was taken in November from a location dubbed Point Lake, although no water presently exists there. Curiosity has already discovered several indications ofdried streambeds on Mars, and is scheduled to continue it”s exploration by climbing nearby Mt. Sharp over the next few years.”