Puzzling Little Martian Spheres That Don't Taste Like 'Blueberries'
Small spherical objects fill the field in this mosaic combining four images from the Microscopic Imager on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The view covers an area about 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) across, at an outcrop called "Kirkwood" in the Cape York segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The individual spherules are up to about one-eighth inch (3 millimeters) in diameter.
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"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read these books." Mark Twain
NASA just announced that it’s given the Curiosity rover the power to fire its laser at targets of its choice. You fools, you’ve killed us all.
The purpose of the laser is to zap rocks to analyze their chemical composition, and definitely not for the rover to slowly gain sentience and marshal a standing army of laser-bearing robots with which to reverse-colonize Earth. Why would you even think that?
Previously, the process for these chemical analyses involved NASA scientists hand-selecting every site that Curiosity would analyze with its laser and triggering the command themselves. That will still be the way many of Curiosity’s laser targets are chosen.
Following a software update the rover has new powers. When scientists and the rover are out of touch, Curiosity’s camera will continue to sweep the landscape for good analysis candidates. This means the rover can fire off a quick beam on its own if it comes across an unusual rock, a strange patch of soil, or the meddling scientists who trapped its metal body on a cold, dry Martian hellscape.
Earth is most fortunate to have vast webs of magnetic fields surrounding it. Without them, much of our atmosphere would have been gradually torn away by powerful solar winds long ago, making it unlikely that anything like us would be here.
Scientists know that Mars once supported prominent magnetic fields as well, most likely in the early period of its history when the planet was consequently warmer and much wetter. Very little of them is left, and the planet is frigid and desiccated.
This knowledge leads to an interesting question: if Mars had a functioning magnetosphere to protect it from those solar winds, could it once again develop a thicker atmosphere, warmer climate and liquid surface water?
James Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, thinks it could. And perhaps with our help, such changes could occur within a human, rather than an astronomical, time frame.
In a talk at the NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop at the agency’s headquarters, Green presented simulations, models, and early thinking about how a Martian magnetic field might be re-constituted and the how the climate on Mars could then become more friendly for human exploration and perhaps communities.
It consisted of creating a “magnetic shield” to protect the planet from those high-energy solar particles. The shield structure would consist of a large dipole—a closed electric circuit powerful enough to generate an artificial magnetic field.
Simulations showed that a shield of this sort would leave Mars in the relatively protected magnetotail of the magnetic field created by the object. A potential result: an end to largescale stripping of the Martian atmosphere by the solar wind, and a significant change in climate.
“The solar sytstem is ours, let’s take it,” Green told the workshop. “And that, of course, includes Mars. But for humans to be able to explore Mars, together with us doing science, we need a better environment.”
Is this “terraforming,” the process by which humans make Mars more suitable for human habitation? That’s an intriguing but controversial idea that has been around for decades, and Green was wary of embracing it fully.
“My understanding of terraforming is the deliberate addition, by humans, of directly adding gases to the atmosphere on a planetary scale,” he wrote in an email.
“I may be splitting hairs here, but nothing is introduced to the atmosphere in my simulations that Mars doesn’t create itself. In effect, this concept simply accelerates a natural process that would most likely occur over a much longer period of time.”
What he is referring to here is that many experts believe Mars will be a lot warmer in the future, and will have a much thicker atmosphere, whatever humans do. On its own, however, the process will take a very long time.
You may have heard - there's a massive dust storm enveloping Mars at the moment.
The Curiosity rover, powered by an RTG, is doing fine.
Opportunity, though... she's gone to sleep to save energy, but unless the storm clears very soon and her panels are clean enough to produce power, well... this could be the end of a spectacular mission for the little rover.
China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft captured a stunning view of the Earth and moon before making its first trajectory correction maneuver on the long journey to Mars.
The mission consists of an orbiter, entry vehicle and rover. The spacecraft will begin orbiting the Red Planet in February 2021, and then prepare for the rover's landing attempt, which is expected in April or May.
Tianwen-1 launched on July 23 on a Long March 5 rocket and completed the final burn to send it on a trajectory to Mars 36 minutes later. On July 27, while the spacecraft was about 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) away from Earth, an optical navigation sensor imaged the crescent-shaped Earth and the smaller, more distant moon.