astroengine writes "If you were in any doubt as to Curiosity's photography prowess, this panorama of Gale Crater should allay your concerns. In this billion-pixel photo from Mars, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory snapped nearly 900 separate images that were then stitched together to create a wonderful high-definition view from the robot's mast-mounted cameras. 'It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras' capabilities,' said Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who assembled the scene. 'You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details.'"
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MarkWhittington writes "Politico reports in a June 18, 2013 story that House Republicans have added a Mars base to its demands for a lunar base in the draft 2013 NASA Authorization bill. Both the Bush-era Constellation program and President Obama space plan envisioned eventual human expeditions to Mars. But if Politico is correct, the new bill will be the first time an official piece of legislation will call for permanent habitation of the Red Planet. The actual legislative language states, 'The [NASA] Administrator shall establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon and the surface of Mars.'"
illiteratehack writes "NASA has selected a 39-year-old chief technology officer to become a trainee astronaut. Josh Cassada is the current chief technology officer and co-founder of Quantum Opus, a firm that specialises in photonics. Cassada is one of eight individuals selected by NASA from 6,100 applicants for astronaut training, though what their future mission may be has yet to be revealed." Of the astronaut trainees selected, four of them are women — a new record.
Thorfinn.au sends this quote from Space.com: "The pervading carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may boost the chances that microbial life exists on the Red Planet — but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world. Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008. It is likely both of NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 measured signatures of perchlorates, in the form of chlorinated hydrocarbons. Other U.S. Mars robots — the Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity — detected elemental chlorine. Moreover, orbital measurements taken by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft show that chlorine is globally distributed. [Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith] said microbes on Earth use perchlorate for an energy source. They actually live off highly oxidized chlorine, and in reducing the chlorine down to chloride, they use the energy in that transaction to power themselves. In fact, when there's too much perchlorate in drinking water, microbes are used to clean it up, he said. Furthermore, seasonal flow features seen on Mars may be caused by high concentrations of the brines of perchlorate, which has a strong attraction to water and can drastically lower its freezing point, Smith told SPACE.com. The high levels of perchlorate found on Mars would be toxic to humans, Smith said."
nedko.m writes "NASA's Mars rover 'Opportunity' found clay minerals in an ancient rock on the rim of the Endeavour Crater on Mars. The discovery suggests that neutral-pH water — slightly salty, and neither too acidic nor too alkaline for life — once flowed through the area, probably during the first billion years of Martian history. Opportunity's latest discovery fits well with one made recently on the other side of the planet by the rover's bigger, younger cousin Curiosity, which found strong evidence that its landing site could have supported microbial life in the ancient past. Such observations could help scientists map out Mars' transition from a relatively warm and wet world long ago to the cold and dry planet we know today"
An anonymous reader writes "A new study based on observations last September by the Curiosity rover on Mars has confirmed that pebble-containing slabs of rock found on the Martian surface were part of an ancient streambed. The work provides some of the most definitive evidence yet that water once flowed on Mars. '[The pebbles'] smooth appearance is identical to gravels found in rivers on Earth. Rock fragments that bounce along the bottom of a stream of water will have their edges knocked off, and when these pebbles finally come to rest they will often align in a characteristic overlapping fashion. ...It is confirmation that water has played its part in sculpting not only this huge equatorial bowl but by implication many of the other landforms seen on the planet.' According to NASA, 'The stream carried the gravels at least a few miles, or kilometers, the researchers estimated. The atmosphere of modern Mars is too thin to make a sustained stream flow of water possible, though the planet holds large quantities of water ice. Several types of evidence have indicated that ancient Mars had diverse environments with liquid water. However, none but these rocks found by Curiosity could provide the type of stream flow information published this week. Curiosity's images of conglomerate rocks indicate that atmospheric conditions at Gale Crater once enabled the flow of liquid water on the Martian surface.'"
astroengine writes "A radiation sensor inside NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows that even under the best-case scenario and behind shielding currently being designed for NASA's new deep-space capsule, future travelers will face a huge amount of radiation. The results, based on Curiosity's 253-day, 348-million-mile cruise to Mars, indicate an astronaut most likely would exceed the current U.S. lifetime radiation exposure limit during one round trip mission. "Even for the shortest of missions we are perilously close to the radiation career and health limits that we've established for our astronauts," NASA's chief medical officer Richard Williams told a National Academy of Sciences' medical committee on Thursday."
astroengine writes "In a recent batch of images beamed back to Earth from Mars rover Curiosity's MAHLI camera, obvious signs of wear and tear could be seen in the 'skin' of the robot's wheels. Considering Curiosity is only 281 sols (Mars days) into its mission and roved less than a kilometer after landing, surely this doesn't bode well? Fortunately, there's good news. 'The wear in the wheels is expected,' Matt Heverly, lead rover driver for the MSL mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News. 'We will continue to characterize the wheels both on Mars and in the Marsyard, but we don't expect the wear to impact our ability to get to Mt. Sharp.'"
astroengine writes "After nine years of hard Mars roving, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity has broken a 40-year-old extraterrestrial distance record. On Thursday, the tenacious six-wheeled robot drove 80 meters (263 feet), nudging the total distance traveled since landing on the red planet in 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). NASA's previous distance record was held by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt when, in December 1972, they drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the lunar surface. Although it's broken the NASA distance record, it hasn't surpassed the international record, yet. The Soviet Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled moon rover roved 37 kilometers (23 miles) across the lunar surface and, so far, remains the undisputed champion of distance driving on an extraterrestrial surface."
astroengine writes "Dust devils are a well-known atmospheric phenomena on Mars, and as these new HiRISE observations show, the devilish vorticies can carve beautiful patterns in the Martian dust. What's more — in side-by-side comparisons of observations of the same Mars region years apart — it appears that the active Mars atmosphere acts like an Etch A Sketch, rubbing out the dust devils' tracks, only for the dust devils to make brand new tracks years later."
A while ago you had the chance to ask mathematician and theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson about his work in quantum electrodynamics, nuclear propulsion, and his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
An anonymous reader writes "Mars One reports that 78,000 people have volunteered for a one-way ticket to Mars. A quick calculation shows that this means people lined up coast-to-coast in a line with only 40cm per person! (As Robert Zubrin already predicted). If you want, you can still go and sign up (or sign up your worst enemy). Or you can just look at some videos of the would-be travelers."
astroengine writes "The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera carried by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted a strange geological feature that, for now, defies an obvious explanation. Found at the southern edge of Acidalia Planitia, small pits with raised edges appear to hug a long ridge. So far, mission scientists have ruled out impact craters and wind as formation processes, but have pegged the most likely cause to be glacial in nature."
astroengine writes "About 1,200 light-years from Earth, five planets are circling around sun-like star Kepler-62, two of which are fortuitously positioned for water, if any exists, to remain liquid on their surfaces — a condition believed to be necessary for life. The discovery, made by scientists using NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, is the strongest evidence yet for more than one Earth-sized planet existing in a star's so-called 'habitable' zone. 'We're particularly delighted to find that there are two planets in the habitable zone,' lead Kepler scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. 'It sort of doubles our chances of finding that Earth we'd all like to find. When you think about Earth and Mars, if Mars had been a bit larger, if Jupiter hadn't been so close, we'd again have two planets in the habitable zone and maybe we'd have a place to go,' he said." There's also a third planet believed to be a good candidate for hosting water.
A story at Slashgear says that the remains of a Soviet mission to Mars may have been spotted — on Mars — by enthusiasts poring over old photos taken by a NASA orbiter. The article points out that the find must be confirmed by further imaging, but matches the seekers' expectations. From the article: "The community at VK.com/Curiosity_Live crowdsourced a mission to find the Soviet Union’s long-lost Mars 3 spacecraft, with the site’s leader, Vitali Egorov of St. Petersburg, Russia, creating models of what hardware from the spacecraft should look like. With this reference, the community combed through a large image taken five years ago by NASA’s MRO, identifying what is believed to be the craft’s parachute, lander, terminal retrorocket, and heat shield."
gbrumfiel writes "A strange green meteorite found in Morocco caused a stir in the press earlier this month, when scientists reported that it might be the first chunk of Mercury ever found here on earth. But scientists who've been puzzling over the stone since then say the accumulating evidence may point in a different direction. The 4.56-billion-year-old rock might have come from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. If true, then it would provide clues about the origin of the solar system as a whole instead of the origin of the innermost planet."
astroengine writes "Almost every month we see news dispatches from the Mars where the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals in rocks and other circumstantial clues that the Red Planet could have once supported life. But in terms of finding direct evidence of past or present Martians, the rover barely scratches the surface, says geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California. Using Earth life as an example, some species of microbes live miles below the surface, without sunlight or oxygen, metabolizing chemicals that are the result of radioactive decay. Most intriguing of all is the microbe Desulforudis Audaxviator that dwells nearly two miles down, a life form that would feel right at home inside Mars' crust. 'This organism has had to figure out everything on its own,' says Amend, 'it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen for metabolism.' Amend hopes to drop probes deep underground in some of the world's most inhospitable locations over the next few years, creating a possible analog for future Mars subsurface studies."
New submitter imikem writes "University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks. 'Using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,' said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. 'We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.' 'The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab. Only a small amount of fusion is needed to power a rocket – a small grain of sand of this material has the same energy content as 1 gallon of rocket fuel.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with news that a meteorite found in Morocco might be from Mercury. "The green rock found in Morocco last year may be the first known visitor from the solar system's innermost planet, according to meteorite scientist Anthony Irving, who unveiled the new findings this month at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. The study suggests that a space rock called NWA 7325 came from Mercury, and not an asteroid or Mars."
Tired of seeing ads for cars and soda before the films you watch at the theater? Well, a successful crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo will see a trimmed down version of NASA's 'We Are Explorers' video aired before showings of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness in theaters all over the country. "Most people recognize space as a key expression of our character. They know our space programs as a globally recognized brand of ingenuity. The recently landed Mars Curiosity Rover was the latest reminder that space systems are the crown jewels of our scientific and technical prowess. Less known is the indispensable value space systems bring to our everyday lives. Space provides irreplaceable capabilities for defense, public health, finance, medicine, energy, agriculture, transportation, development and countless other fields. Investments in space programs are precisely about improving and protecting life on Earth. ... By funding this campaign, we can remind students and the general public that our nation's space agency is working hard on the next era of exploration." The campaign's funding goal was reached in just six days — their stretch goal will increase the number of theaters for the clip from 59 screens to 750. The movie comes out on May 17th.