Tag Archives: Mars

Opportunity, NASA’s Mars Rover, Has Died

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that NASA was running out of options in their efforts to reboot the Mars rover known as Opportunity after a dust storm blocked off the rover’s solar panels. Sadly, on Wednesday, Opportunity died after 14 years of hard work and the mission was declared complete.

The rover, which traveled over 28 miles during its mission, was unable to wake up after being frozen due to the harsh Mars weather. The rover’s last words in June were: “My battery is getting low and it’s getting dark.”

The rover was expected to recover as it has done previously but unfortunately, the rover didn’t wake up. The final resting place of the rover is called Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity’s many accomplishments include outlasting its twin, Spirit, by 8 years, remembering over 800 different commands from scientists, and finding a possible area where water had been on Mars.

Now, Curiosity is the only NASA rover left on the Red Planet until the launch of another rover in 2020 and the future launch of Britain and Russia’s first rover.

It was an opportunity for NASA to learn more when Opportunity was sent to the red planet and oh boy, Oppy did everything imaginable.

RIP to one of the best missions in NASA’s history.

NASA is Losing Hope to Revive Opportunity Rover

The clock is ticking for the 15-year-old Mars rover, Opportunity. After six months of attempts, scientists from NASA have failed to revive the rover.

In June of 2018, the rover was unable to avoid a planet-wide wind storm on Mars, which blocked out the sun for several months. Opportunity is powered by solar energy and without any new energy, the rover’s batteries are drained.

In those months since Opportunity went off online, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California has sent over 600 commands to the rover in hopes of reviving it. However, the warmer temperatures and wind knocking off the dust on the rover have not helped.

John Callas, the mission project manager for JPL said to reporters, “We’ve got another week, we are running out of time.”

The Martian winter has ended a rover’s mission before; it ended Spirit’s mission in 2011. But winter on Mars is still months away. However, the temperatures are dropping in the southern hemisphere where Opportunity is located right now.

The efforts to revive Opportunity have lasted just as long as Spirit’s attempts, but JPL has tried multiple long shot attempts. JPL had plans to head to NASA’s headquarters to talk about the next options for Opportunity, but that was postponed due to the government shutdown, which just ended on Friday.

Opportunity has lived up to its name. It has brought a ton of opportunity to everyone wanting to learn more about Mars, but it has done the impossible as well. Opportunity’s mission was supposed to last only 90 days when it landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, but it has lasted over 5,480 days and the rover has traveled about 28 miles in that time span.

It would, of course, be sad to see the end of NASA’s most successful mission but in the end, the many opportunities that Opportunity has brought to us are not to be forgotten.

Notable News in Science From This Summer

While everyone was enjoying their vacation, including the staff here at Whim, science didn’t take a break for anybody. Here are some of the biggest stories in science that happened during the summer.

A wildfire that occured in 2016 in California; photo from nbclosangeles.com
A wildfire that occurred in 2016 in California; photo from nbclosangeles.com

 

Does Mars have water? Scientists say yes: One of the most important findings in the pursuit of life on other planets, scientists working on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission announced back in July that they had found a 12 mile-wide underground liquid pool, not just the normal damp spots that have been seen in the past. The water was detected in Mars’s south pole using radar.  As of now, there’s plenty of more plans to research the area for possible life and if it’s ever possible, to drill at the area. But that won’t happen until Earth gets humans on the Red Planet.

Another bad year for wildfires: While science does tell you that it is good for the ecosystem to have some wildfires, it does get to a point where too much is way too much. Wildfires have spread across the western United States, from California to Montana. Because of the wildfires, the northwestern part of the country has experienced the worst air pollution in 30 years according to a July 16 report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is even worse when considering that when we have wildfires, the fires release chemicals like sulfate and black carbon which do not hurt the environment in the long run but are harmful in the current time period.

Spiders do have a “spider-sense”: Research done by Erica Morley and Daniel Robert of the University of Bristol in Britain found that electrical charges in the air give spiders a cue on when to fly. This signal will most likely explain why the timing of a spider’s takeoff is so unpredictable. In order to fly, spiders use their web and they have to wait for gentle wind conditions in order to take off.  For more about this, Morley and Robert’s research appeared in July’s issue of Current Biology.

Happy 2000th Day on Mars, Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity Rover on Mars has reached another milestone… 2,000 days on Mars, well technically it’s 2,055 days since the days are longer on Mars. But this is about being on Mars.

This is a very big milestone for Curiosity and the scientists running the rover as this week they plan on drilling into the clay-rich rocks of Mount Sharp.

Ever since its landing on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has traveled 11.6 miles on the red planet.

Some of the achievements that Curiosity has accomplished include unique HD pictures of the “Red Planet,” the playing of a song on another planet (Happy Birthday to You, in celebration of Curiosity’s one year anniversary on Mars), and the investigation of water on the planet.

Curiosity is not the first rover to be on Mars, of course. The honor of the first rover on Mars goes to Sojourner. However, Sojourner only lasted 85 days on Mars (83 sols) due to the lack of technology at the time (1997).

Curiosity is also not the only rover on Mars currently. Opportunity, which has spent over 5,000 days on the “Red Planet,” is still in operation today.

Each of the Mars rovers over the years have gotten better and better, and come 2020 we will see the best rover in NASA’s history. Designs for that rover are coming from the designs of the very durable Curiosity.

 

Cover Photo from  jpl.nasa.gov

How NASA inconvenienced the plot of The Martian with their new discovery

For a long time, Mars was thought to be a big, red, dusty wasteland floating through outer space. Our previous explorations of the planet have revealed pictures that depicted it as just that, a wasteland. Mars has only been known to have two poles, much like ours, which are covered in ice. However, there seemed to be no sign of liquid water– until now.

NASA announced  in a press conference on Monday that they have discovered what appears to be flowing, liquid water on the planet. It’s been thought that mars could have had oceans and lakes ions ago, but scientists thought that the planet may be too cold to have liquid water on it now.

An Illustrated History of Water on Mars. Graphic from Wikipedia
Proof of water on Mars throws a wrench in the plot of “The Martian”. Graphic from Wikipedia

Five years ago, NASA scientists noticed some dark streaks that appeared during the warmer months, and disappeared in colder months. Scientists have been observing these streaks since, but assumed the streaks could be dust or small landslides. Studying the different kinds of minerals and elements on the planet, scientists realized something had to have been moistening these minerals in order for them to flow the way they have been.

“The amount of water could be huge: the scientists estimated that one dark line contains, at a minimum, enough water to fill 40 of the enormous swimming pools used for international competitions,” according to USA Today.

The issue with this liquid is that the dust on mars absorbs it so quickly, it’s more of a sludgy landslide than a flowing river as many people are misunderstanding. The water is also thought to be many times more salty than our own oceans water.

Scientists remain optimistic about the discovery, however.  “Water is the elixir of life,”  Mars expert Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis told USA Today. In other words, this discovery is a huge step towards discovering some kind of life on Mars. This also means that there’s a great possibility that humans could populate Mars, in the very distant future. Although it may be decades or even centuries before we colonize Mars, the possibility is much greater than it was before this discovery.

This discovery comes at an inconvenient time, as Hollywood is preparing to premiere a Mars-based movie featuring Matt Damon.

The Martian, which is based on a book by Andy Weir, is about an astronaut, Watney, who finds himself stranded on Mars. Watney is left to his own devices to find a way to grow his own food until he can be rescued. NASA’s discovery of water on Mars sort of spoils the plot of the movie, because Mars is supposed to be a dry, arid wasteland.

Weir seemed pretty optimistic about the discovery, telling Wired Magazine that the setting of Watney’s base camp is nowhere near where water has been detected on Mars. Jim Green, NASA’s head of planetary science also told Wired that despite the new discovery, he suggests that his scientific friends, “check the science at the door. Go on in and enjoy the movie.”

Japan’s solar plans for the moon

With all the talk about Mars and U.S. interests in colonization, we shouldn’t forget about our other celestial bodies. The moon, in fact, has been the subject of many plans since the 1950s when the U.S. proposed declaring it (along with the rest of outer space) a global commons.

One plan in particular was introduced after the March 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan. After the tsunami-induced nuclear meltdown occurred, energy costs in Japan skyrocketed and officials were motivated to seek more sustainable, safer, and cheaper forms of energy for their nation. Thus, the concept of ringing the moon with solar panels was born.

Yeah, you read that right. Solar panels. On the moon.

Solar power has become increasingly popular in Japan since Fukushima and one construction firm, the Shimizu Corporation, has created a plan to ring the entire moon with enormous solar panels and beam the energy down to earth in order to power not only Japan, but the entire world.

Japan's Master Plan! Graphic from Quartz
Japan’s Master Plan! Graphic from Quartz

The company’s site touts their idea — the Luna Ring — as “virtually inexhaustible” and states that “non-polluting solar energy is the ultimate source of green energy that brings prosperity to nature as well as our lives.”

Their website shows a brief synopsis of the technology and how it works. In fact, the moon would vaguely resemble a Pokeball and the terms involved all sound like they belong in an episode of “Sailor Moon.”

But the Shimizu Corporation doesn’t stop with their Luna Ring — they have concepts for plenty of other energy sources. These include the Ocean Spiral, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a large spiral connecting the sea floor with the earth’s service and providing energy from the earth’s core, according to the website. Try 2004 is the company’s idea for a futuristic “city in the air,” meant to work more harmoniously with the surrounding environment. In keeping with their lunar theme, the corporation has concepts for a space hotel along with lunar bases for the moment space travel becomes a legitimate vacation option.

It’s easy to make fun of such endeavors now, as this still only possible in science fiction. But the truth is that the more technology advances, the more likely that the Shimizu Corporation may simply prove ahead of their time. It’s entirely possible that we may be chastising our grandchildren about their wish to go vacation on the moon with their families — we are planning to send our first colony to Mars in the not-too-distant future!

Mars One Mission is narrowing down

After the Mars One Project announced that they were accepting applications in 2013, interest was evident. This not-for-profit foundation, now responsible for creating the first mission that will see humans living on another planet, had 202,586 original applicants. Now only 100 hopefuls remain: 50 men and 50 women. They’ll be narrowed down farther, to about 16, before 2024, when the first team of human Martians is scheduled to depart for their  new home.

In upcoming selection rounds, candidates will be set against every imaginable hardship of a permanent Martian settlement. They’ll be trained as if they were really going (as a few will) and eliminated or passed on their teamwork abilities. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player, so I look forward to seeing how the candidates progress and work together in the upcoming challenges.” said chief medical officer Dr. Norbert Kraft M.D.

Graphic from Mars One
“They’ll build up the settlement in order to ready the planet for further teams.” Graphic from Mars One.

Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies, and Mars One’s mission plan includes technologies that are well-tested and easily available from major companies. However, according to the missions website, “redundancy is extremely important because, unlike the crew aboard the International Space Station, the Mars One crew can’t abandon their mission in case of an emergency.” This redundancy will help to eliminate problems faced by either equipment or supplies failures.

Despite careful planning and minimal risk, there’s still the possibility of danger for the selected Martians. Why are we sending people, then, to do what robots like Spirit and Opportunity already are? Simply put, humans are just better. Unfortunately, rovers are still very limited to the distance they can cover in a day and the obstacles such as rocks and gullies they must overcome. Something that a human could step over remains insurmountable to the rovers.

Besides, each of the selected candidates will have a one-way ticket to Mars. During one of the last great adventures for humanity, they’ll build up the settlement in order to ready the planet for further teams. Eventually Mars One will work towards possible widespread human population. This real-life science fiction story will be an amazing opportunity and experience not only for the individuals participating, but for all of mankind.

The ride to the planet alone should take at least a year. Once the original team has made themselves at home, the next  will be on their way and ready to begin helping with expansion, so if this excites you, why not apply?

India to Mars or bust

Last week, India joined a select few nations in entering the Red Planet’s orbit. After the nail biting year since the launch, India is now forever to be known as the first Asian nation to reach Mars and the first of all nations to successfully reach Mars on their first try. India’s Mars’ orbiter (or, Mangalyaan) has joined the US, Europe, and Soviet’s orbiters as well as the US’s two ground rovers.

The huge success for the Asian nation has been applauded by their fellows in space travel as well as other nations who’re still in the process of attempting to make this great advancement in the scientific community, such as Japan and China.

And while they aren’t the first nation to orbit Mars, 51 similar missions have been attempted yet only 21 have succeeded. That India has managed to do it on their first attempt and with a fraction of any others’ budget is an incredible achievement.

The ISRO (or, India Space Research Organization) succeeded in this mission on a budget of a mere $74 million, compared to the $671 million that NASA used to launch their own MAVEN only a few days earlier.

So how were they able to cut costs without compromising the quality of their spacecraft?

India’s space program chose to concentrate their technology into a smaller craft focused on certain hot-topics, such as an ability to measure methane gas in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, and therefore search for life. This ability will offer assistance to the other orbiters currently measuring these levels in order for all the nations to obtain more reliable data.

Some, particularly within the impoverished nation, have criticized India’s spending on such an enormous mission. However, with this successful mission in advanced technology, India has now created opportunity to greatly enhance their political and economic position. They hope that this achievement will attract more attention from wealthy industrial countries and join as a major player.

Regardless, India and their ISRO have launched themselves into the history books and our headlines.

Coming soon to a planet near you

Space has always been something of a mystery to people. Planets have, until recently, only been able to be seen through an earthbound lens. Developments in science over the last several decades, however, have landed man on the Moon and a rover on Mars. In keeping with this trend, we hope the time isn’t too far from now when people will have first-hand experience with these planets we have only seen through a lens. Continue reading Coming soon to a planet near you

To infinity … and beyond … for life

A trip to Mars may be in the future for four — and eventually more — citizens of Earth in the next decade.

The Mars One Project plans to establish a human settlement on the Red Planet between now and 2023, sending unmanned shipments of cargo and material ahead of the first team.

Continue reading To infinity … and beyond … for life

Mother Mars

When we envision Martians visiting Earth, the image is usually one of little green men stepping out of a flying saucer and greeting the astonished humans. We don’t usually imagine bacteria from Mars arriving on Earth via meteorite and then over millions of years evolving into humans. But according to Time, that may be exactly what happened all those years ago. Continue reading Mother Mars

A once-liquid Mars

The search for water on Mars has gone on for almost as long as humanity has been traveling beyond our own planet. While tantalizing hints have been uncovered at various stages in this search, NASA’s latest baby, the Curiosity rover, has finally unearthed conclusive evidence that flowing water once existed on the red planet. Continue reading A once-liquid Mars

Mars 500, a test in isolation

A Russian experiment that started just under a year and a half ago has come to an end. The test was to determine the affects of isolation on a crew during their trip to the red planet.

Photo from Creative Commons.

The experiment took place in a facility just outside Moscow. The crew of the Mars 500 was made up of a Frenchman, an Italian, a Chinese and three Russians. They spent 520 days locked in isolation. The trip to the simulated Mars took 250 days with 30 following days spent orbiting or working on a simulated planet surface. Then, the six-man crew took a return trip for 240 days. All of this took place inside of a locked 19,500-cubic-foot facility.

During their simulated trip, the crew underwent conditions similar to those experienced by a real crew flying to Mars. Their food and water was rationed, and the crew started with all the supplies they would have for the mission. They underwent days of monotonous tasks, which is where the real experiment lies.

Researchers wanted to examine the impact of isolation and monotony for extended periods of time. They examined the crew’s mental and physical state throughout the mission using a series of tests to watch for degrading conditions on any of the test parameters.

While communication with the outside world was limited, it was not entirely cut off. The crew was allowed to check their email, though it was delayed up to 40 minutes to simulate a real-life delay that would occur from the space craft traveling millions of miles away from its home planet.

This successful mission was the longest time any human being had been in isolation under a controlled environment. The previous record holder was Valeri Polyakov of the Mir space station who spent an impressive 437 days alone. This marked a milestone in the history of space explorations. Now research has shown humans are capable of sustaining long periods of time in isolation in limited amounts of space.

While the future of space exploration in the United States is up for debate, it’s clear that other nations are not just waiting idly for the next great space innovation to be made by the private sector. Increasingly we are seeing evidence that human beings are capable of great things when the time and money is there to allow them to do so. It may only be a matter of time before space is just one more conquered frontier.