Two years ago, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in an area called the Gale Crater. They choose this location because it was deemed to be the best area to have once been able to support microbial life. In a teleconference this afternoon, NASA has announced that new scientific evidence supports the long-standing hypothesis that Gale Crater once held a large body of water, and quite possibly for millions of years.
An exception from the federal government shutdown has been granted to NASA’s MAVEN mission “in order to protect U.S. property”. The property or properties we are talking about are on the planet Mars; the rovers Curiosity and Opportunity. If MAVEN’s launch window, which is only from November 18th through December 19th or 20th, is missed the next opportunity won’t come along until 2016. This delay would cause major problems since MAVEN’s communication equipment will take over the jobs that Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey have been doing and will allow us to continue to communicate with both rovers. Both MRO and Odyssey have passed their planned lifetimes. Preparation for the launch of NASA’s MAVEN mission has resumed and will continue on an emergency basis.
Besides being equipped to communicate, MAVEN will also probe the Martin upper atmosphere for clues to how the atmosphere has thinned and where its water has gone. MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.
Since its one year anniversary on August 6th., Curiosity has traveled 1,079.52m (3,541′) or about the length of 12 football fields. That’s an average of 22m per day which is short of NASA’s goal of at least 110m per day. But during this period, Curiosity did have its longest drive of the mission when on 9/5 it advanced 138.62m. On that day the drive was extended well beyond what the Curiosity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena could see by enabling the rover’s on-board hazard avoidance system or Autonav.
Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. They are very different than our moon in more ways than one. Our Moon orbits Earth at an angle, while Mars’ moons orbit about the planet’s equator. Our Moon is 3474 km across, making it nearly a quarter of Earth’s size. Phobos is about 25 km across, and Deimos is about 10 km across; comparable in size to down town Baton Rouge. Our Moon takes 27 Earth days to orbit one time, Mars’ moons orbit much faster. Phobos, the larger and closer of the two, orbits quickly, circling Mars once every eight hours. Deimos, the smaller and farther of the two, orbits slower, circling once every 30 hours. From the point of view of a person or robot on the surface of Mars, Phobos eclipses Deimos frequently. This is because the two moons orbit in nearly the same plane.
Last week this was photographed for the first time by Curiosity. The spacecraft took a series of images, a sort of timelapse, that scientists here on Earth made into a short movie. Phobos looks vastly larger than Deimos, this is merely because it is closer.
- NASA Rover Gets Movie as a Mars Moon Passes Another (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA’s Curiosity Rover catches images of Mars’ Moons Phobos, Deimos (clarksvilleonline.com)