USGS Astrogeology Science Center Astrogeology News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sols 1940-1942: Studying a bedrock transition]]> Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700

The Sol 1939 drive went well, placing MSL next to the bright/dark transition seen at the right side of this image.  In order to better understand the textural and chemical changes across this transition, the tactical team planned ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of targets "Mallaig" and "Criffel" on either side of it.  Mastcam will also acquire multispectral mosaics of the transition and of the material toward the south that shows evidence for clays in orbital data, smaller mosaics of nearby bedrock target "Fetlar" and the more distant "Hallival" target, and images of the Sun and the crater rim to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.  But that's just the beginning!  Later on Sol 1940 the arm will be deployed to acquire full suites of MAHLI images of "Knoydart," a block on the darker side of the transition, and of Mallaig.  The APXS will be placed on Mallaig for a short integration, then on Knoydart for a longer, overnight integration. 

The Sol 1941 plan is dominated by a SAM instrument cleaning/maintenance activity, which requires significant power.  Early in planning we expected that power would constrain the number of activities that we could plan, but in the end all of the requested scientific observations made it into the plan.  This made for a very satisfying day for me as SOWG Chair.

On Sol 1942, the vehicle will drive toward the southeast and acquire the usual post-drive imaging needed for Monday planning.  Then Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds and MARDI will snap another image of the ground near the left front wheel during evening twilight.  Finally, early on Sol 1943, Navcam will again search for clouds and Mastcam will measure dust opacity in the atmosphere.  It's looking like another busy weekend for the MSL rover!

by Ken Herkenhoff

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1938-1939: It’s all about the details]]> Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1937 ChemCam RMI

Today’s two-sol plan will wrap up activities at Vera Rubin Ridge location “e.”  When we assessed the downlink data this morning, we were excited to see that ChemCam did a great job with some very precise pointing in the previous plan.  At location “e” we have been focused on understanding small-scale features, like the tiny crystals and veins seen in the above ChemCam RMI image.  Today’s plan will complete the detailed work on this outcrop, and then we’ll bump to a new location to assess a transition from gray to red bedrock.

I was the SOWG Chair today, and we had a fairly straightforward planning day.  On the first sol, Curiosity will acquire 4 more carefully pointed ChemCam observations to assess compositional variations in bedrock, a vein, and dark nodules, along with supporting Mastcam documentation.  Then we’ll acquire MAHLI images of the target “Funzie,” and one more MAHLI image on “Rona” to assess small textural differences in the bedrock and veins that are present here.  Just for “Funzie,” we’ll do an overnight APXS analysis.  On the second sol, we’ll acquire a Mastcam multispectral mosaic of the area that we’re bumping towards in order to better understand the color differences and the transition from gray to red bedrock in this area.  Then Curiosity will drive ~5 m to the south to set up for contact science in the weekend plan.  The plan also includes a number of environmental monitoring observations to look for clouds and variations in dust in the atmosphere.  One of the Mastcam atmospheric observations is coordinated with a THEMIS observation, which is pretty cool to think about multiple spacecraft studying Mars from the ground and orbit.

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[New Press Release: Massive Ice Sheets Identified on Mars!]]> Wed, 10 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700 USGS Scientist Colin Dundas’ research is mentioned in yet another national USGS press release. Three months ago he startled the scientific world with evidence that seasonal dark streaks on warm Martian slopes, called recurring slope lineae (RSL), are something other than salty water. Now Dr. Dundas is back with more new significant findings: He reports, “There is ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface . . .”

Martian ice can expose the fingerprints of Mars' past climate and is possibly a resource when humankind journeys to the Red Planet. Find out how Dr. Dundas made such a discovery and get the in depth details in the Science journal today.

Icy scarp on Mars in the context of a broader area. Image Credit:NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS

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<![CDATA[Greetings From Astrogeology Science Center]]> Sun, 31 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700 ]]> <![CDATA[Sizzling New Evidence on Martian Streaks]]> Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700 In this exciting press release, USGS scientist, Colin Dundas, provides evidence that seasonal dark streaks on warm Martian slopes, called recurring slope lineae (RSL), are something other than salty water, as scientists originally thought and hoped for. Colin is also the lead author in the Nature GeoScience publication which contain the gritty details of these magnificent findings. I can hardly wait until you discover what Colin had to say.

Recurring Slope Lineae in Tivat crater on Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS

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<![CDATA[Sols 1909-1910: Driving “home” for the holidays]]> Mon, 18 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1905 Navcam

Sol 1903 Mastcam Arran

Today’s planning session kicked off with an important decision about where to drive and how that will set us up for exciting science over the holidays.  After much discussion, the team decided to return to some familiar yet intriguing rocks that we explored last week, visible in the above Navcam image.  These rocks show a lot of color variations and alteration features (as seen in the above Mastcam image), and we’re curious how they fit in the overall stratigraphy at Vera Rubin Ridge.  The other main event in today’s plan is a SAM wet chemistry experiment on the Ogunquit Beach sample.  This is a very power hungry activity, so we had to keep our other remote sensing activities in check.  The team planned two Mastcam mosaics to document the context of the site we’re driving back to, and to investigate similar color variations in an outcrop to the southeast.  After a busy night of SAM activities, Curiosity will spend the second sol driving back toward an area named “Lismore.”  During the drive we’ll take a bunch of MARDI images to document the terrain beneath the rover, and then we’ll take our typical post-drive Navcam and Mastcam mosaics to prepare for targeting on Wednesday.  In the afternoon, Curiosity will acquire two Navcam movies to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.  I’ll be on duty on Wednesday, so I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar rocks and preparing for the long holiday plan!

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sol 1904-1905: Curiosity's Arm Workout]]> Fri, 15 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700 ChemCam RMI image of fine-scale layers in a rock.

I was on downlink for ChemCam on Wednesday, so I was busy analyzing the latest data while the uplink team decided what to do for sols 1904 and 1905. We had some nice data, including a gorgeous image of a finely-layered rock named "Trotternish" (shown above).

The sol 1904 plan started with some Mastcam and Navcam atmospheric observations, followed by ChemCam on the targets "Oban", "Talisker", and "Laphroaig". That is followed by a MAHLI "goniometer" observation of Oban. A goniometer measures the amount of light scattered from a surface at different angles, so when we say we have a MAHLI goniometer measurement, it means lots and lots of images of the same target from precisely spaced intervals. It gives Curiosity's arm a workout and delivers a nice data set that can be used for detailed photometry and to create a 3D reconstruction of the target. In addition to the goniometer observation, MAHLI also did normal observations of Oban and Talisker. APXS then did overnight observations on both targets.

On Sol 1905, Mastcam had a documentation image of Talisker, and a full multispectral observation of Oban. Mastcam also had a couple of mosaics of targets "Leadhills" and "Lismore" followed by a MARDI image to document the terrain before we move on.

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<![CDATA[Wonder No More: Back to the Moon We Go!]]> Tue, 12 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Inquiring minds have wanted to know if astronauts will ever go back to the Moon, and if so, when? Neil Armstrong’s words “The eagle has landed" were uttered 45 years ago. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt took the most recent American steps on the Moon, in 1972. Twelve astronauts have left their boot prints on the lunar surface, but since then, some people have wondered why astronauts haven’t been back to dig deeper into lunar scientific investigations and endeavors. Inquiring minds need wonder no further! On December 11th President Trump authorized NASA to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually to Mars.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1899-1901: SAM Evolved Gas Analysis]]> Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0700
The plan for this weekend is to finish up the investigation of Vera Rubin Ridge stop #9 and drive toward the next stop.  On Sol 1899, Mastcam will acquire multispectral observations of possibly hematite-rich outcrops at "Farr" and the Sol 1897 contact science target "Wick."  Both ChemCam and the Right Mastcam will observe "Muck," another Sol 1897 contact science target, and new rock targets named "Gala" and "Lagavulin."  Mastcam will also take standard color images of interesting blocks named "Moffat" and "Cape Wrath."  Then more of the Ogunquit Beach sample will be dropped into SAM for an overnight evolved gas analysis on Sols 1900 and 1901.  The goal is to measure the amounts of various noble gases in the sample in order to determine when the minerals in the sand were formed. 

Just before sunrise on Sol 1900, ChemCam will again attempt to detect frost on the "Sandwick" soil target that was observed during the day on Sol 1898.  Navcam will search for clouds above the rover just after sunrise, then only REMS measurements and a few engineering activities are planned before the SAM solid sample analysis, which requires a significant amount of power. 

The drive is scheduled for Sol 1901, followed by the usual post-drive imaging to enable more contact science in the next plan.  Finally, the AEGIS software will be used to autonomously select an outcrop target and observe it with ChemCam.   

by Ken Herkenhoff

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[This Software Rocks for Processing Planetary Data]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0700 The Integrated System for Imagers and Spectrometers (ISIS) is one of the most reliable specialty software packages designed for cartographic and scientific processing of images acquired from NASA and other science missions. This software rocks and it’s free. Although many planetary enthusiasts are familiar with this priceless software, it may be news to others.

code

It is our pleasure at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center to help scientists, academia, and the general public learn about ISIS tools and applications to make their scientific work and research easier.

A tight budget does not mean you need to go without because you have just found over 400 ISIS applications, a gold mine of free tools for your image processing needs. Even if you have an unlimited budget, lucky you can spend those funds elsewhere. Yes, source code is free and yes, customer support is free. The old adage that “nothing good is free” or “you get what you pay for” are for those who believe a pot of gold can be found under the rainbow.

You are invited to learn more about ISIS software for serious planetary processing needs, and better still, you can bookmark this page for ISIS news and updates. You will be happy that you did.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1868-1869: Hello gorgeous]]> Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1866 Mastcam

It was a good weekend on Mars.  Curiosity spent the weekend exploring a beautiful outcrop of sedimentary rocks (shown in the above image) as part of our continued investigation of the middle and upper parts of Vera Rubin Ridge.  Images like these will help us figure out the environment in which these rocks were deposited.

Today’s two-sol plan is focused on additional imaging of a different part of this outcrop to better constrain the sedimentary structures and the transport directions that they record.  We planned a large Mastcam stereo mosaic of the outcrop seen in this Navcam image, as well as a ChemCam RMI mosaic to get even higher resolution imaging of a small portion of the section.  The plan also includes MAHLI and APXS observations of the target “Volksrust” to characterize typical bedrock in this location, as well as a number of environmental monitoring observations to investigate the spectral characteristics and dust content of the atmosphere.  On the second sol, Curiosity will drive toward our next outcrop and prepare for more contact science and imaging.  Can’t wait to see what the next stop will hold!

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Dawn Spacecraft Contribution and Fate]]> Mon, 30 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Halloween day prompts a chilling question: If you were a spacecraft, which fate would you prefer? Would you choose to remain in a stable orbit forever around Ceres or would you prefer to crash into Saturn and burn?

The Cassini spacecraft crashed into Saturn and was engulfed in flames in September 2017, while Dawn’s fate, projected for 2018, will be to remain in a stable orbit around Ceres once it runs out of hydrazine fuel. Until then, Dawn will continue to explore and transmit the latest and greatest observations about the rocky, icy, dwarf planet.

Ceres Photos

Dawn acquired these two images of Ceres on February 19 at a distance of 28,000 miles in its RC2 orbit. Photo Credit: NASA,JPL,CALTECH,/UCLA,MPS.DLR, and IDA.

The Dawn spacecraft was launched by NASA in September 2007, and was the first spacecraft to orbit both Vesta and Ceres. Dawn entered Vesta's orbit in 2011 and has now been in orbit around the dwarf planet, Ceres, since March 2015, capturing a great deal of new photos and enriching scientific study. Scientist Mike Bland of the USGS Astrogeology team makes use of these high resolution images and has made some very interesting observations about Ceres’ surface morphology. Don’t be the last one to find out what Mike’s observations are in the excerpt.

Excerpt: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered Ceres orbit in March of 2015 and has (to date) attained global imaging at resolutions as high as 410 m/pixel. In contrast to some pre-Dawn predictions [1], these images reveal a heavily cratered surface. The persistence of pristine crater morphologies over geologic time provides direct constraints on Ceres’ near-surface composition and structure, and requires a relatively high-viscosity near-surface more consistent with a thick, frozen rock regolith (more rock than ice) than the relatively pure water ice shell suggested by theoretical interior models [2, 3]. Other more exotic compositions with high viscosity are also possible. Read more.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1852-1853: Feeding SAM some sand]]> Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700

MSL drove over 20 meters on Sol 1850, to an area with lots of bedrock exposed.  We had several nice targets to choose from, but were limited in what we could plan because we want to prepare for a SAM evolved gas analysis (EGA) of sand from "Ogunquit Beach," which requires significant power.  We are planning only 2 sols today, to get synced back up with "Mars time" on Monday, so will not be driving this weekend. 

Despite the power constraints, we were able to plan a lot of activities today.  Sol 1852 will start with Navcam searches for clouds and dust devils, followed by Mastcam mosaics of the expected path ahead (southward).  Then ChemCam and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock target "Balfour" and a block named "Ripon."  Late that afternoon, MAHLI will acquire a full suite of images of Balfour before APXS is placed on it for an overnight integration.  We considered brushing Balfour before examining it with MAHLI and APXS, but to save time/power we decided not to.  The ChemCam laser often cleans dust off of the surface of rock targets, so we're hoping that will suffice on Balfour.

On Sol 1853, the long-awaited drop-off of Ogunquit Beach sample to SAM is planned!  This activity was delayed by the drill anomaly and the testing that followed, so we are excited to be planning it today.  If all goes well, the SAM EGA will be planned on Monday.

by Ken Herkenhoff

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1848-1849: How far we’ve come]]> Mon, 16 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1846 Navcam

Today felt like any other planning day: a straightforward plan involving remote sensing, a drive, post-drive imaging, and some untargeted observations on the second sol.  Just a typical day in the office.  Maybe even an easy one.  It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog that I fully processed how far we’ve come and just how awesome Curiosity’s “office” is.  I was looking through the drive imagery and came across this Navcam frame (posted above), which looks down on the Murray Buttes and Bagnold Dune Field, across Aeolis Palus and the northern rim of Gale crater.  It’s pretty spectacular to see just how much we’ve explored in 5 years.  But that was just a quick glance over Curiosity’s shoulder (or the RTG, which hangs off the back of the rover), because our sights were mostly set on the terrain ahead of us to choose where to go next. 

I was the Geology Science Theme Lead today, and it felt like any other planning day.  We came in to assess how the weekend activities completed, what targets we had in front of us, and which route we wanted to take to get to the next interesting feature on Vera Rubin Ridge.  The two-sol plan begins with a preload test of the rover’s drill.  Then Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam observations of some nodular purple bedrock (target “Buck Reef”), and a unique gray-white vein or clast (target “Boomplaas”).  We also planned some Mastcam imaging of sedimentary structures exposed in cross-section (target “Eccles”) and to document the previously-acquired ChemCam AEGIS target.  Then Curiosity will drive ~15-20 m further south to investigate some mottled outcrop that we first noticed from orbit.  After the drive, we’ll take Mastcam and Navcam images to prepare for contact science in the next plan.  Data volume was a challenge today, so we had to think carefully about which images we need to have down in time to make decisions on Wednesday. On the second sol, Curiosity will wake up early to acquire a number of environmental monitoring observations to monitor clouds, dust, and wind.  Later on the second sol we planned another ChemCam AEGIS observation to automatically target bedrock in our new location.  Not bad for a typical day in the office! 

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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<![CDATA[Rare Photos by Early NASA Astronauts for Sale]]> Mon, 16 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Did you know famous NASA photographs captured by astronauts are objets d’art these days and are auctioned and sold for a considerable price tag? Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in Marlborough, Massachusetts will allow people to leave bids online starting later this week. The live auction of these vintage photographs will take place on November 2. Familiar images to most people, include astronaut John Glenn's 1962 photo of the sun illuminating the Earth (shown below), the first ever photo of the Earth from space taken by a person.

Buzz Aldrin’s 1969 photo of his own boot print on lunar soil is another famous image for sale. Other photos include a shot of the original seven project Mercury astronauts, the Nile River and the Red Sea from space, and a print of Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon.

Michelle Lamunière, a specialist in fine photography at Skinner, says the 445 images for sale from 1961 to 1972, are each worth anywhere from $300 to $9,000. Many of the photographs have original NASA marks, captions, identifying numbers and Kodak paper watermarks. The images are not reprints but original, gelatin silver or chromogenic prints produced by NASA following the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. The good news is that although you may not score an original, you can always revisit famous photographs at NASA.

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