November 1, 2014

26.05.11: Farewell, Spirit…

Spirit: A self-portrait. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

This week, amid news of distant gamma ray bursts, daring spacewalks, and spacecraft redesigns, a small story came our way of the end of an era; earlier this week, NASA announced that it would no longer attempt to hail the Spirit Lander on the surface of Mars. [Read more...]

04.01.11:A Martian Eclipse.

Phobos in transit. (Credit: NASA/Cornell/JPL/Texas A&M)

I never get tired of catching a glimpse of the sky from other vantage points in the solar system… today, as residents of the Old World enjoy a partial solar eclipse on Earth, we thought we would direct your gaze to an eclipse from Mars. [Read more...]

20.10.09: Free Spirit!

Save our rover! (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Save our rover! (Credit: NASA/JPL).

The Mars spirit rover is in dire need of a tow truck. Like a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, the tiny rover has found itself stuck since earlier this year,  about two miles southeast of its original Home-plate landing site. (Was Wollowitz to blame?) Bouncing to rest in January 2004, the twin rovers of Spirit and Opportunity has been defying all expectations and have become the rovers that simply refuse to die. While ensconced in martian soil, Spirit has taken the opportunity (catch the bad pun?) to examine its new home, dubbed Troy. The area appears to contain basaltic & sulfate rich sand layered in various hydration states. Scientists at JPL can console themselves that Spirit’s sand trap home is at least scientifically interesting. In addition, Spirit has been plagued by a gimp front wheel, which has forced engineers to drive it backward, dragging the faulty wheel instead of plowing it forward. Scientists have been simulating extraction in a sandbox here on Earth, and real movement on Mars is expected to begin sometime in early November. Dust storms have cleared the solar panels of dust, so with any luck the batteries will operate at their peak. Now is a good time to start following the rovers via Twitter…Free Spirit!

06.10.09: A Martian Meteorite: The Sequel?

Meteor Hunting on Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Meteor Hunting on Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Less than two months after its first record breaking find, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has discovered what appears to be a second true rarity; another meteorite on Mars. Far surpassing their original 3 month primary missions, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity have exceeded all expectations and are now in their fifth year of operations on the Red Planet. They have been hobbled by software problems, dust storms, and gimp wheels, but these spunky robots refuse to die. Opportunity was rolling across Meridiani Planum en route to Endeavor Crater about seven miles distant when it first spotted and analyzed the 2-foot long rock now dubbed Block Island, the first extraterrestrial rock positively identified on another world. Now, on October 1st researchers have spotted another rock that looks decidedly out of place on the martian landscape; dubbed Shelter Island, this pitted stone is about 18” inches long and also exhibits a smooth polished surface. Of course, the presence of two meteor falls this close together raises the question; are the two stones related? Or are “Martian meteorites” more common than we might presume? Stay tuned!

March 2009 News & Notes.

 

Students.

Herschel, LeVerrier, Tombaugh, and…ReMeFra? (Credit: Leiden University).

Student exoplanet confirmed! Three students of Leiden University of the Netherlands are now the proud parents of a recently discovered exoplanet. And what a weird world it is; OGLE-Tr-L9b (OK, I know…we need better names!) orbits its fast spinning parent star in 2.5 Earth days at only 0.03 AU. [Read more...]

February 2009: News & Notes.



Martian Methane: The Movie.

Martian Methane: Of course, the hot topic everyone’s talking about in the past month was the detection of methane on Mars. First detected in 2003 by ground based observers, scientists at the Goddard Space Center have reanalyzed this tantalizing data and located possible source regions; areas that are also thought to have been once saturated with water. [Read more...]

A Martian Bigfoot? The Affinity for Illusions

Bigfoot?

Who is that amid the rocks? (All photos except noted credited to NASA/JPL).

Something strange is happening on the surface of Mars. The above image has circulated around the Internet the past few weeks. Taken from the Spirit rover, the panorama shows a vast, Martian landscape. The close up inset above appears to show a vague figure. What gives? Are there, perhaps, a tiny civilization of Bigfoots (Or is it Bigmen?) mocking our rovers? [Read more...]