Curiosity: Update 4 – Pyramid Rock

Pyramid rock: “Jake Matijevic”

On September 19, 2012, NASA scientists assigned Mars rover Curiosity a monumental task — determine the properties of a football-sized pyramid-shaped rock that looks like the Great Pyramid of Giza. Strange thing is… the rock is in the middle of nowhere! Where did it originate? Could it have been built by an intelligent race that lived or still lives on Mars? Curiosity discovered this rock at the end of its 43rd Martian day. Using the 10 cm tall and 16 cm wide rock as a practice target, Curiosity will test its contact instruments: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer for reading a target’s elemental composition and  Mars Hand Lens Imager for close-up imaging. While weird rocks shaped by wind erosion are not uncommon on Mars’ surface, this minature pyramid is probably just a rock. Spurring the imaginations of Earthlings imagining life beyond, the odd rock remains the center of speculation, especially since Curiosity’s objective is to find evidence of Mars’ capability to harbor life. Named after NASA engineer Jake Matijevic who passed away on August 20, 2012, the pyramid-shaped rock may be a impact fragment ejected into the Gale Crater. Jake Matijevic was the leading engineer in the Sojounrer, Opportunity, and Spirit missions, while surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity mission.

Curiosity’s robotic arm

On September 22, 2012, Curiosity finished its inspection of the rock target. Its ChemCam lasers zapped the rock to analyze its chemical components and calibrate the instruments, marking the first use of Curiosity’s robotic arm.

References

Dicker, Ron. “Mars Rock: Curiosity Rover To Examine Pyramid-Shaped Boulder, NASA Says.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 23 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

Greicius , Tony, ed. “Curiosity Finishes Close Inspection of Rock Target.” NASA. NASA, 24 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

Greicius , Tony, ed. “NASA Mars Rover Targets Unusual Rock on Its Journey.” NASA. NASA, 19 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

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Curiosity: Update 2 – Images and Voices

Mount Sharp, Gale Crater, Mars

On August 27, 2012, the Mars Rover Curiosity beamed back images of Gale Crater’s 3-mile high Mount Sharp, whose layered terrain may reveal further details of Mars’ geological history. Curiosity will eventually travel to Mount Sharp to analyze its rocks by collecting samples. Curiosity also broadcasted a voice recording of NASA administrator Charles Bodin congratulating the Mars Rover team on the successful August 5 landing. In the recording, Bodin said: “This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy. Others have tried; only America has fully succeeded.” Mars’ Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM), which passed tests, is in working order and will digest and analyze rocks. In addition, Curiosity will drive to depressions on Mars’ surface where the spacecraft’s landing engines left their mark. These holes will allow Curiosity to image Mars’ interior without drilling. In the next few days, Curiosity will head over 1,300 feet to its first drilling target, Glenelg.

Will.i.am

On August 28, 2012, Curiosity transmitted to Earth (JPL in La Cañada Flintridge) artist will.i.am’s new song titled “Reach for the Stars.” The first music to be broadcasted from another planet, will.i.am’s song traveled 700 million miles to Earth. Will.i.am is an advocator of science and math education. NASA had broadcasted the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” on the group’s 40th anniversary in 2008.

Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity sure is gaining ground in Mars research. What will it discover? What mysteries will Curiosity uncover? Was Mars once habitable for microorganisms? Perhaps only time will tell.

References

” Curiosity rover beams new will.i.am song from Mars.” FOX News. Fox News, 28 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

Khan, Amina. “Curiosity rover broadcasts message from Mars.” LA Times. LA Times, 27 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

A Curiosity Companion?!

Mars, the Red Planet: Home of Curiosity and soon-to-be InSight?

InSight

10 days after Curiosity’s successful landing, the U.S. space embassy ordered another Mars mission in 2016 to examine below Mars’ surface. Researchers want to examine Mars’ seismic activities— to see if Mars has fault lines like Earth and what of “marsquakes” are there. The InSight Mission (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will launch in March 2016. The budget for the mission is $425 million, not including the cost of the launch vehicle. JPL and the team of engineers and scientists who built Curiosity will build InSight, set to be Curiosity’s companion. InSight will harbor a French built seismometer and solar panels. One of InSight’s four instruments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3), will crack through the surface using a 14-inch “hollowed-out electromechanically- festooned stake” called the Tractor Mole. The Mole will descend 16 feet below the planet’s surface. Its thermal senors will also measure the temperature of Mars’ interior to learn about the planet’s thermal temperature. The mission of InSight will be to analyze Mars’ core to learn about the early formation of rocky bodies like Earth. InSight will determine the core’s size and composition and whether it’s solid or liquid. It will take InSight 6 months to reach Mars (will land in September 2016) and a full Martian year (680 Earth days) to gather data.

References

Dunn, Marcia. “NASA plans to sent next rover to Mars in 2016.” Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay Times, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.

Kolawoe, Emi. “New Mars mission InSight scheduled for 2016, will explore planet’s interior.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.

Meteors, Meteorites, and Meteoroids

Meteors

Meteors, Meteorites, and Meteoroids

Meteoroids are debris in space from comets or asteroids; meteors are shooting stars or fire balls in air; meteorites are meteoroids that invade Earth’s atmosphere and impact the ground; micrometeorites are perfect shiny spheres microscopic in size and the major cause of small-scale erosion on the moon. The three major types of meteoroids are stony, stony iron, and iron.

  • Several meteors can be seen per hour on any given night; when this number increases dramatically, these events are called “meteor showers” that occur annually or at regular intervals as the Earth passes through the trail of dusty debris left by a comet
  • The Perseids peak around August 12 every year; each Perseid meteor part of the comet Swift-Tuttle that swings around the Sun every 135 years
  • Other meteor showers and their associated comets: Leonids (Tempe-Tuttle), the Aquarids and Orionids (Halley), and the Taurids (Encke)
  • Comet dust in meteor showers burns up in the atmosphere before reaching the ground
  • Most meteorites no bigger than an average Earth rock
  • Large meteorites can cause extensive destruction: Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona (1,000 meters, 50,000 years old), asteroid impact which created the 300 km Chicxulub crater on Yucatan Peninsula (65 million years ago)
  • Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama was severely bruised by a 3.6 kilogram stony meteorite that crashed through her roof in November, 1954
  • Meteorites have a “burned” exterior, formed as the meteorite is melted by friction as it passes through the atmosphere
  • Three types of meteorites: “irons,” “stones,” “stony-irons”
  • More than 30,000 meteorites found on Earth, 99.8% came from asteroids
  • Evidence for an asteroid origin includes: orbits calculated from photographic observations of meteorite falls project back to the asteroid belt, spectra of several classes of meteorites match those of some asteroid classes
  • All but rare lunar and Martian meteorites are very old, 4.5-4.6 million years
  • Only one group of meteorites can be traced to a specific asteroid; eucrite, diogenite, and howardite igneous meteorites traced to third largest asteroid Vesta
  • Meteorites and asteroids that fall on Earth are of the original diverse materials from which planets formed; tells the conditions and processes during the formation and earliest history of the solar system
  • Remaining 0.2% of meteorites split equally between meteorites from the Moon and Mars
  • 35 known Martian meteorites blasted off Mars by meteoroid impacts; all igneous rocks crystallized by magma
  • Controversy of whether structures in meteorite ALH84001 might be evidence of fossil Martian bacteria
  • 36 lunar meteorites similar in mineralogy and composition to Apollo Moon rocks, but come from other parts of the Moon

TIMELINE

4.55 billion years ago: Formation age of most meteorites, age of the solar system

65 million years ago: Chicxulub impact leads to the extinction of dinosaurs and 75 percent of animals on Earth

50,000 years ago: Age of Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona

1478 BC: First recorded observation of meteors

1794 AD: Ernst Friedrick Chladni publishes first book on meteorites

1908 (Tunguska), 1947 (Sikote Alin), 1969 (Allende and Muchison), 1976 (Jilin): Important 20th century meteor falls

1969: Discovery of meteorites in a small area of Antarctica leads to annual expeditions by US and Japanese teams

1982-1983: Meteorites from the Moon and Mars are identified in Antarctic collections

1996: A team of NASA scientists suggests that Martian meteorite ALH 84001 may contain evidence of microfossils from Mars

2005: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity finds an iron meteorite on Mars

References: NASA <www.nasa.gov>

Touchdown on Mars!

Curiosity

Curiosity/ Mars Science Laboratory has successfully landed on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 at 10:31 PM (Pacific Time). JPL engineers gave the landing a “perfect 10”! The Mars rover escaped the 7 minutes of terror and will continue its 2-year mission. This revolutionary success marks the first time since the 1970s (Viking probes) that NASA sent a mission for astrobiology. Curiosity will analyze samples on Mars to determine if Mars has ever been habitable for life forms. The $2.5 billion project offset the recent loss of the 30-year space shuttle program. The rover sent its first three images of Mars, sending JPL into an uproar.

For more information on Curiosity (its specifications, mission objectives, and technology) as well as two videos (animation of Curiosity on Mars and JPL’s animation of the “7 minutes of terror”), please visit this post.

References

Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, August 2012. Web. 6 Aug 2012.

Mars. By Curiosity.

JPL: Curiosity’s successful landing

Curiosity to Land on the Red Planet

Curiosity: A model at the Discovery Science Center

The Mars Rover Curiosity will land on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 (Pacific Time).

A collaboration between JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and NASA, Mars Rover Curiosity (SUV), otherwise known as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), has technology that succeeds its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity (golf carts) and Sojourner (microwave). NASA launched Curiosity on November 26, 2011 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Curiosity is expected to land on August 5, 2012 on the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale crater. Curiosity‘s four objectives are: 1) determine whether Mars is suitable for life; 2) study Mars’ climate; 3) study Mars’ climate; 4) plan future human mission to Mars.

THE BASICS

  • Weight: 2,000 lbs.
  • Length: >9.8 ft.
  • Distance Covered (per day): ~600 ft
  • Lifetime: >687 Earth days (1 Martian year)

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Power: Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) – uses the decay of plutonium-238 to generate 2.5 kilowatt hours per day
  • Heat Rejection System: To keep Curiosity at optimal temperatures since temperatures on Mars vary dramatically (30°C  to -127°C)
  • Computers: “Rover Compute Element” – tolerates extreme radiation from space; Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) – rover navigation
  • Communications: X band transmitter – communicate directly with Earth; UHF Electra-Lite software defined radio – communicate with Mars orbiters
  • Mobility: 6 wheels in rocker-bogie suspension – serve as landing gear

COOL GADGETS

  • Cameras: 1. MastCam – multiple spectra and true color imaging; 2. Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) – microscopic images of rock and soil; 3. MSL Descent Imager (MARDI) – color images to map the  surrounding terrain and landing location
  • ChemCam: laser to vaporize samples up to 7 meters away for analysis, with the laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and micro-imager (RMI)
  • Alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS): map the spectra of X-rays to elemental composition of samples
  • Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin): identify and quantify abundance of minerals on Mars
  • Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM): analyze organics and gases from atmospheric and solid samples
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN): measure hydrogen, ice, and water at and near Martian surface
  • Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS): measure atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind currents and direction, air and ground temperature, UV levels
  • MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrumentation (MEDLI): measure aerothermal environments, sub-surface heat shield response, vehicle orientation, atmospheric density; detect heat shield separation
  • Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams): use light to capture 3-D image to protect the rover from crashing
  • Navigation Cameras (Navcams): use visible light to capture 3-D images for navigation

LANDING

Landing Sequence

  • EDL (Entry, Descent, Landing): also called the “7 minutes of Terror,” because any malfunction or any misstep means failure of the mission
  • Landing Sequence: “6 vehicles, 76 pyrotechnic devices, 500,000 lines of code, zero margin of error”; from 13,000 miles an hour to 0 miles and hour; 1,600 degrees upon entry
  • Mar’s atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s so it is harder for MSL to slow down
  1. Guided Entry: control the craft to approximate landing site region
  2. Parachute Descent: supersonic parachute (can withstand 65,000 lbs of force but only weighs 100 lbs.) deploys at 10 km altitude
  3. Powered Descent: cut parachute off and rocket thrusters (Mars Lander Engine, MLE) extend out and slow the descent
  4. Sky Crane: lower the rover with a 21-foot tether wheels down onto the Martian crater to prevent the rockets from making dust clouds; the bridle is cut and the rock thrusters fly away to a safe distance

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Each wheel on Curiosity has a specific traction pattern that is Morse code for “JPL”
  • It takes 13 minutes and 46 seconds to relay signals from Earth to Curiosity

References

Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, July 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.