Thursday, November 29, 2018
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
NASA Will Attempt Its Eighth Mars Landing in One Week
Touching down on the surface of the Red Planet is one of the most difficult engineering challenges ever attempted, and InSight is about to give it a go
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Preferred landing site for ExoMars 2020 rover mission revealed
When the ExoMars 2020 mission touches down on the Red Planet, it will most likely be at Oxia Planum. The ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group has announced that this flat area near the Martian equator was recommended for the ESA-Roscosmos rover and surface science platform because it provides the best chances for finding signs of life, balanced against the need for a safe landing zone.
Oxia Planum is the lead contender of two primary landing sites under consideration by the Working Group. The other area is Mawrth Vallis, and both are located only a few hundred kilometers apart in the same region located north of the equator and have an elevation of about 3,000 m (1.8 mi) below the Martian equivalent of "sea level."
According to ESA, the site dates back to the time when liquid water could exist on the surface of the Mars – about four billion years ago. It boasts one of the richest known clay deposits on the planet and there are numerous channels running from the southern highlands to the northern lowlands, exposing older and interesting geological deposits.
This is particularly important because the primary goals of the unmanned ExoMars mission is to make the first search for direct signs of life on Mars since the NASA Viking lander missions of the 1970s. This means that during its recent two-day meeting at the National Space Centre in Leicester, England, the Working Group had to find the sweet spot between scientific, engineering, and technical requirements, and is the latest in five years of detailed examination of up to eight candidates.
"With ExoMars we are on a quest to find biosignatures," says ESA's ExoMars 2020 project scientist Jorge Vago. "While both sites offer valuable scientific opportunities to explore ancient water-rich environments that could have been colonized by microorganisms, Oxia Planum received the majority of votes. An impressive amount of work has gone into characterizing the proposed sites, demonstrating that they meet the scientific requirements for the goals of the ExoMars mission. Mawrth Vallis is a scientifically unique site, but Oxia Planum offers an additional safety margin for entry, descent and landing, and for traversing the terrain to reach the scientifically interesting sites that have been identified from orbit."
ExoMars 2020 is slated to launch between July 25 and 13 August 2020 atop a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan for a landing on Mars on March 19, 2021. In the meantime, the latest landing site selection will undergo internal review by ESA and Roscosmos and an official confirmation in mid-2019.
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Once Upon an Ocean
Mars probably won’t be habitable anytime soon, but scientists still remain hopeful about the planet’s life-carrying potential.
Recently, a study in Nature Geoscience suggested that pockets of salty water with enough dissolved oxygen to support life may rest under Mars’ surface, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
Researchers used computer models to determine the possible existence of these brine puddles and their ability to support microorganisms.
In the best-case scenario, the models suggested the puddles could have enough oxygen to support complex organisms like sponges. Even in the worst-case scenario, bacteria could thrive.
“There are so many abiotic ways of creating small but sufficient amounts of oxygen which then, at the colder temperatures, can be absorbed effectively and could actually maybe trigger evolution in a different way than we got on the Earth,” lead author Vlada Stamenković told Space.com
Judging by landscape features and manganese oxide that must have formed on the surface in wet, oxygen-rich conditions, scientists hypothesize that oceans covered Earth’s neighbor billions of years ago.
The team cannot yet prove the existence of the briny puddles, or if they hold any life, but the researchers plan to further test their results.
For now, it’s just a theory.
Monday, November 5, 2018
The Mars InSight Landing Site Is Just Plain Perfect: If the InSight landing zone were ice cream, it would be vanilla.