The Curiosity rover has found water in the soil of Mars. Which is, on the one hand, big news: Water! Right in the soil of the seemingly barren planet! On the other hand, though, it’s news that isn’t terribly surprising: Scientists have long speculated that Mars was once Earth-like in its capacity to host water. And the planet, of course, is already known to host both ice and snow at its poles.
Still, though, the water detected in the soil (in this case, of the Gale Crater, the area the rover is exploring) is a big deal — a confirmation of yet another way that Mars and Earth are more similar than it may appear to the naked eye. The news came via a series of five papers published in the journal Science — the first set, The Guardian's Alok Jha notes, “of formal, peer-reviewed results from the Curiosity mission.” The papers offer details of the scientific experiments Curiosity carried out during the first four months it spent tooling around on the Martian surface. And investigations into the planet’s water content were among them.
How much water, actually, is present in the soil of Mars? A decent amount, it seems.
Read more. [Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Rome/Southwest Research Institute]
Sorry, David Bowie.
Curiosity watched as one moon eclipsed the other.
On the northern slope of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, on a barren lava field at 8,000 feat above sea level, six researchers have spent the last four months living in a dome. And, when venturing beyond the dome, wearing space suits. And, beyond that, sleeping. And eating. And cooking.
Their task? To simulate what life on Mars might be like for humans — barren terrain, clothing requirements, and all. Their specific task in all this was to focus on the food: to think about what culinary concoctions might be appropriate for the Mars colonists of the future.
To do this, the researchers — selected by both the University of Hawaii and Cornell University and funded by NASA — prepared meals from a pre-determined list of foods: foods that are dehydrated, preserved, un-perishable, and, for all that, generally unpalatable. It was essentially Iron Chef, with the mystery ingredient being Mars.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
The most memorable thing was the tears. They were the result, for the most part, of the tensions of the “Seven Minutes of Terror.” And of hope. And of anticipation. And of the knowledge that so many people had invested a significant portion of their lives in this one moment — and the knowledge, as well, of how easily it could all go wrong.
Nothing went wrong. At approximately 1:30 am East Coast time on August 5, 2012, the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, erupted with cheers, high fives, hugs, relief, and, yes, tears. The Curiosity rover, which had taken several years to be built and another year to travel away from Earth, had landed safely on the surface of Mars.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
[Images: Kevin Gill]
On Thursday, Mars’s Gale Crater was treated to a fantastic sight: a partial solar eclipse. An eclipse very similar to the kind we’re used to seeing from here on Earth, but with the sun blocked, in this case, by a different moon: Phobos, one of the two moons that orbit Mars.
Fortunately for us, Curiosity was there to take a picture of Phobos’s transit.
See more. [Image: NASA/JPL]
Robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn — and one new rover recently landed on Mars. Several others are on their way to smaller bodies, and a few are heading out of the solar system entirely. Although the Space Shuttle no longer flies, astronauts are still at work aboard the International Space Station, performing experiments and sending back amazing photos. With all these eyes in the sky, I’d like to take another opportunity to put together a recent photo album of our solar system — a set of family portraits, of sorts — as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have some great shots from the new Mars rover Curiosity, a parting shot of the asteroid Vesta, some glimpses of Saturn and its moons, and lovely images of our home, planet Earth
Read more. [Images: Reuters, NASA]
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