Curiosity, NASA's SUV-sized roaming laboratory working on Mars, has been at the center of a number of Martian mysteries during its seven-year stint on the red planet. In June, its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument detected a surprising spike in methane gas that puzzled NASA scientists. The mystery of Mars methane has been partly resolved, but now Curiosity has uncovered another baffling Martian puzzle: Oxygen is acting strangely and scientists don't really understand why.New research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets on Tuesday, details an almost six-year-long air-sampling project conducted in Gale Crater, where Curiosity has been spending most of its time. Using the SAM instrument, the portable lab that detected the methane spike, NASA scientists found "significant seasonal and year-to-year variability" in the oxygen content. This is weird.The SAM instrument is able to analyze what molecules make up the Martian atmosphere. The atmosphere on the red planet is … [Read more...] about NASA’s Curiosity rover makes a baffling oxygen discovery on Mars
The 50th anniversary of NASA’s historic landing on the Moon—this Saturday, July 20th—provokes a decidedly bittersweet feeling. Certainly, this marks an appropriate time to pause and celebrate a singular moment in our shared history, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins really did push back the frontier for all of humanity And yet, for all that this technological and geopolitical tour de force achieved, there has been a decided lack of follow through by the US spaceflight enterprise since Apollo 11. On such an anniversary, this raises uncomfortable questions. Why have we not gone back? Was the Apollo Program really America’s high water mark in space? And will we actually return in the next half century? Why we went Beginning with Sputnik in 1957 and continuing through the flights of Yuri Gagarin and other cosmonauts, the Soviet Union ticked off an impressive succession of “firsts” in … [Read more...] about Half a century after Apollo, why haven’t we been back to the Moon?
NASA will leave no Martian rock unturned as it prepares the next Mars robot for the chaos of space travel and landing on the red planet.Over the last two months, the Mars 2020 spacecraft has been subjected to a number of extreme tests designed to ensure it can withstand an intense rocket launch and the extremes of space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put the futuristic craft through "acoustic and thermal vacuum" testing -- and it has passed with flying colors.The test involve blasting the spacecraft with sound levels as high as 150 decibels -- the type of levels you'd hear standing next to a jet at take-off -- to replicate the environment of a launch, according to Andy Rose, manager of JPL's environmental test facilities.After the sound blast tests were performed six times, NASA put the Mars 2020 rover through a brutal test that replicates the vacuum of space. That required the spacecraft to be transported to the Space Simulator Facility and suspended in midair, as seen in the … [Read more...] about Mars 2020 spacecraft subjected to brutal tests as it prepares for launch
Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover, has had a busy weekend. After detecting the highest levels of methane yet seen on Mars last weekend, NASA put a pause on the rover's other science activities to follow up on the discovery. On Monday, data from Curiosity's subsequent experiment filtered back to NASA and the spike in methane levels had disappeared, dropping to background levels."A plume came and a plume went," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator overseeing Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, during a NASA town hall event at the Astrobiology Science Conference on Monday. "We're very confident of the measurement."As the news of Curiosity's startling finding broke over the weekend, many suggested the high methane could hint at the possibility of life on Mars. Methane is an important molecule on Earth and many living organisms excrete it, including microbes.Mahaffy explained that Curiosity had detected an unusually high level of methane last Wednesday during a routine … [Read more...] about NASA confirms Curiosity rover’s surprising Mars methane discovery
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has detected the largest amount of methane yet measured during its seven years on the Red Planet. It's a particularly riveting discovery because the methane levels discovered by the rover are about three times higher than previous detections, leading to some speculation the gas may be biological in origin. A report by The New York Times on Saturday first revealed the curious finding after obtaining an internal email from Ashwin Vasavada, a project scientist on the mission. On Sunday, NASA released a statement confirming the discovery, explaining how Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments had detected methane at 21 parts per billion units by volume -- much higher than ever before. Methane is an important molecule for microbes on Earth, and its detection on another planet has led to speculation that tiny microbes are (or were) puffing gas out at such a rate that NASA's intrepid rover can spot them. Now playing: Watch this: Another … [Read more...] about NASA’s Curiosity rover makes surprising methane discovery on Mars