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February 17, 2015

Towering Plume Spotted on Mars Remains a Mystery Time
It’s not often astronomers are completely stumped—especially when it comes to Mars. The planet that once held nothing but mysteries has been yielding up more and more of its secrets, thanks to the storm of probes we’ve sent its way over the decades, including the seven that are now orbiting it or trundling about on its surface. But something’s up with Mars at the moment—or at least something was up not long ago—and nobody seems able to explain it. That’s the beats-me conclusion a team of investigators reached in a new paper in Nature, when they attempted to explain a freakish plume that appeared in the Martian atmosphere in March and April of 2012, and might have occurred in 1997 as well.

February 13, 2015

Elon Musk is getting $3.5 million to write a book about Earth and Mars Business Insider
Elon Musk, the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, is taking on a new project. He is writing a book for Penguin. We're told it's a book about Earth and Mars. It will be half about the issues facing us on Earth — sustainability issues in particular. The second half will be about the idea of a multiplanetary existence — about what's possible, about the adventure of experience. Musk's literary agent is Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, who runs an agency called the Worldwide Literary Department.

February 2, 2015

The two faces of Mars ETH Zurich
The two hemispheres of Mars are more different from any other planet in our solar system. Non-volcanic, flat lowlands characterise the northern hemisphere, while highlands punctuated by countless volcanoes extend across the southern hemisphere. Although theories and assumptions about the origin of this so-called and often-discussed Mars dichotomy abound, there are very few definitive answers. ETH Zurich geophysicists with Giovanni Leone are now providing a new explanation. Leone is the lead author of a paper recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Using a computer model, the scientists have concluded that a large celestial object must have smashed into the Martian south pole in the early history of the Solar System. Their simulation shows that this impact generated so much energy that it created a magma ocean, which would have extended across what is today’s southern hemisphere. The celestial body that struck Mars must have been at least one-tenth the mass of Mars to be able to unleash enough energy to create this magma ocean. The molten rock eventually solidified into the mountainous highlands that today comprise the southern hemisphere of Mars.

January 25, 2015

28 Months on Mars The New York Times
NASA’s Curiosity rover has explored Gale Crater for 833 Martian days, or Sols. And it has found evidence, written in red rocks and sand, of lakes and streams on a warmer, wetter, habitable Mars.

January 15, 2015

How North America would measure up to Mars Astronomy Central
Earth’s sister planet Mars boasts some huge structures such as Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris, but the planet isn’t actually that big. In the image above see how big the United States and Canada would be if it was on the red planet. So if you could take a plane from one side of Mars to the other, it would take probably around 8 hours or so. This rusty desert world orbiting between Earth and Jupiter is only 53% the size of our planet, measuring 4,220 miles (6,792 km) at its equator, band from pole to pole it is 25 miles (40 km) smaller. This is why when viewed in a telescope Mars is always pretty small compared to planets like Jupiter and Saturn for example, although that doesn’t mean you can’t see features on this mysterious world. Through a decent sizes telescope you can see the ice caps and dark and lighter land features. Earth’s rusty neighbour in the solar system is the second smallest of the planets, Mercury being smallest. The actual dry land mass of Mars is around the same as Earth’s, because although Mars is much smaller it doesn’t of course have any seas, you’ll have to go back a few billion years to see cool blue water slopping about on Mars.

December 8, 2014

Looking to Mars to Help Understand Changing Climates The New York Times
We haven’t found life on Mars, but decades of robotic exploration have indeed strengthened astronomers’ convictions that rivers and perhaps even oceans once flowed on the red planet. “I think the short story is the atmosphere went away and the oceans froze but are still there, locked up in subsurface ice,” said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist and Mars expert at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In September a new spacecraft known as MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, swung into orbit around the planet. Its job is to get a longer answer to one part of the mysterious Martian climate change, namely where the planet’s atmosphere went.

November 17, 2014

Lockheed Martin Begins Final Assembly of NASA InSight Lander Business
Lockheed Martin has started the assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase for NASA's InSight Mars lander spacecraft. The InSight mission will record the first-ever measurements of the interior of the red planet, giving scientists unprecedented detail into the evolution of Mars and other terrestrial planets. InSight is scheduled to launch in March 2016. "The InSight mission is a mix of tried-and-true and new-and-exciting. The spacecraft has a lot of heritage from Phoenix and even back to the Viking landers, but the science has never been done before at Mars," said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "Physically, InSight looks very much like the Phoenix lander we built, but most of the electronic components are similar to what is currently flying on the MAVEN spacecraft."

November 7, 2014

Mind-blowing Meteor Shower on Mars During Comet Flyby, Say NASA Scientists Universe Today
Simulated view from the surface of Mars during the meteor storm from Comet Siding Spring. NASA scientists announced today that the planet experienced an exceptional meteor shower the likes of which are rarely seen on Earth. Source: Stellarium “Thousands of meteors per hour would have been visible — truly astounding to the human eye.” That’s Nick Schneider’s description of what you and I would have seen standing on Mars during Comet Siding Spring’s close flyby last month. “It would have been really mind-blowing,” he added. Schneider is instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS). He and a group of scientists who work as lead investigators for instruments on the MAVEN and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft shared the latest results from the comet flyby during a media teleconference earlier today. There were many surprises. Would we expect anything less from a comet?

October 19, 2014

Comet Siding Spring whizzes past Mars Yahoo!
A comet the size of a small mountain whizzed past Mars on Sunday, dazzling space enthusiasts with the once-in-a-million-years encounter. The comet, known as Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), made its closest encounter with Mars on Sunday at 2:27 pm (1827 GMT), racing past the Red Planet at a breakneck 126,000 miles (203,000 kilometers) per hour. At its closest, Siding Spring was 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from Mars -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon.

October 14, 2014

Hydrogen cloud blows off Mars Nature
The first images from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft show a planet in the process of losing parts of itself. Streams of hydrogen atoms drift away from the red planet, into the depths of space. The pictures are the first clear look at how crucial elements erode away from the Martian atmosphere, says Bruce Jakosky, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the mission’s principal investigator. MAVEN’s goal is to measure how the solar wind and other factors nibble away at Mars’s atmosphere, so that scientists can better extrapolate how the once-thick atmosphere has thinned over billions of years. That process transformed Mars from a relatively warm, wet planet into a mostly dry, mostly frozen wasteland.

October 6, 2014

NASA Holds Briefing to Discuss Comet Flyby of Mars Observations
Artist's concept of comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) heading toward Mars. NASA will host a briefing at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday, Oct. 9, to outline the space and Earth-based assets that will have extraordinary opportunities to image and study a comet from relatively close range to Mars on Sunday, Oct. 19. The briefing will be held at NASA Headquarters' and broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will miss Mars by only about 88,000 miles (139,500 kilometers). That is less than half the distance between Earth and its moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth. The comet's nucleus will come closest to Mars at about 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second), relative to Mars.

October 3, 2014

Undergrad helps develop method to detect water on Mars Washington State University
A Washington State University undergraduate has helped develop a new method for detecting water on Mars. Her findings appear in Nature Communications, one of the most influential general science journals. Kellie Wall, 21, of Port Orchard, Wash., looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon. She then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars’ Gale Crater. “This is really cool because it could potentially be useful for not only the study of rocks on Earth but on Mars and other planets,” said Wall.

August 12, 2014

Colliding Atmospheres: Mars vs Comet Siding Spring
On October 19, 2014, Comet Siding Spring will pass by Mars only 132,000 km away--which would be like a comet passing about 1/3 of the distance between Earth and the Moon. The nucleus of the comet won't hit Mars, but there could be a different kind of collision. "We hope to witness two atmospheres colliding," explains David Brain of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). "This is a once in a lifetime event!" Everyone knows that planets have atmospheres. Lesser known is that comets do, too. The atmosphere of a comet, called its "coma," is made of gas and dust that spew out of the sun-warmed nucleus. The atmosphere of a typical comet is wider than Jupiter. "It is possible," says Brain, "that the atmosphere of the comet will interact with the atmosphere of Mars. This could lead to some remarkable effects—including Martian auroras."

July 17, 2014

Glorious new Mars map is the most detailed yet CNET
he US Geological Survey isn't limited to just mapping the US, or even Earth, for that matter. The agency has ventured off-planet with a gorgeously detailed new geologic map of Mars. The map draws on all the data our space explorations have returned, resulting in the most detailed geologic map of the Red Planet ever created. "This global geologic map of Mars, which records the distribution of geologic units and landforms on the planet's surface through time, is based on unprecedented variety, quality, and quantity of remotely sensed data acquired since the Viking Orbiters," reads the map's description.

June 10, 2014

No wind chill on Mars Science News
Even though daytime temperatures in the tropics of Mars can be about –20°C, a summer afternoon there might feel about the same as an average winter day in southern England or Minneapolis. That’s because there’s virtually no wind chill on the Red Planet, according to a new study—the first to give an accurate sense of what it might feel like to spend a day walking about on our celestial neighbor. “I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I’m not surprised,” says Maurice Bluestein, a biomedical engineer and wind chill expert recently retired from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. The new findings, he says, “will be useful, as people planning to colonize Mars need to know what they’re getting themselves into.”

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