Updates Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)

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NASA / NASA JPL:
Rover's 'SAM' Lab Instrument Suite Tastes Soil

November 13, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- A pinch of fine sand and dust became the first solid Martian sample deposited into the biggest instrument on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity: the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM.

Located inside the rover, SAM examines the chemistry of samples it ingests, checking particularly for chemistry relevant to whether an environment can support life. Curiosity's robotic arm delivered SAM's first taste of Martian soil to an inlet port on the rover deck on Nov. 9. During the following two days, SAM used mass spectrometry, gas chromatography and laser spectrometry to analyze the sample.

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This subframe image from the left Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the covers in place over two sample inlet funnels of the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS​
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The sample came from the patch of windblown material called "Rocknest," which had provided a sample previously for mineralogical analysis by Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. CheMin also received a new sample from the same Rocknest scoop that fed SAM. SAM has previously analyzed samples of the Martian atmosphere.

"We received good data from this first solid sample," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "We have a lot of data analysis to do, and we are planning to get additional samples of Rocknest material to add confidence about what we learn."

{...}



Spaceflight Now: Curiosity's mini-laboratory tastes first Martian soil

SPACE.com: Curiosity Rover's Chemistry Lab Takes 1st First Taste of Mars Soil

Science Daily: Mars Rover's 'SAM' Lab Instrument Suite Tastes Soil



Universe Today: ‘Ultimate Mars Challenge’ – PBS NOVA TV Curiosity Documentary Premieres Nov. 14
 

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NASA / NASA JPL:
NASA Rover Providing New Weather and Radiation Data About Mars

November 15, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- Observations of wind patterns and natural radiation patterns on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover are helping scientists better understand the environment on the Red Planet's surface.

Researchers using the car-sized mobile laboratory have identified transient whirlwinds, mapped winds in relation to slopes, tracked daily and seasonal changes in air pressure, and linked rhythmic changes in radiation to daily atmospheric changes. The knowledge being gained about these processes helps scientists interpret evidence about environmental changes on Mars that might have led to conditions favorable for life.

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Five Bites Into Mars
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used a mechanism on its robotic arm to dig up five scoopfuls of material from a patch of dusty sand called "Rocknest," producing the five bite-mark pits visible in this image from the rover's left Navigation Camera (Navcam). Each of the pits is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech​
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Mountain Winds at Gale Crater
This graphic shows the pattern of winds predicted to be swirling around and inside Gale Crater, which is where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars. Modeling the winds gives scientists a context for the data from Curiosity's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS​
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During the first 12 weeks after Curiosity landed in an area named Gale Crater, an international team of researchers analyzed data from more than 20 atmospheric events with at least one characteristic of a whirlwind recorded by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument. Those characteristics can include a brief dip in air pressure, a change in wind direction, a change in wind speed, a rise in air temperature or a dip in ultraviolet light reaching the rover. Two of the events included all five characteristics.

In many regions of Mars, dust-devil tracks and shadows have been seen from orbit, but those visual clues have not been seen in Gale Crater. One possibility is that vortex whirlwinds arise at Gale without lifting as much dust as they do elsewhere.

"Dust in the atmosphere has a major role in shaping the climate on Mars," said Manuel de la Torre Juarez of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He is the investigation scientist for REMS, which Spain provided for the mission. "The dust lifted by dust devils and dust storms warms the atmosphere."

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Signs of a Whirlwind in Gale Crater
Twenty-one times during the first 12 weeks that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity worked on Mars, the rover's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) detected brief dips in air pressure that could be caused by a passing whirlwind.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ CAB (CSIC-INTA​
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Pressure Cycles on Mars
This graph shows the atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars, as measured by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station on NASA's Curiosity rover. The blue curve shows data from Sol 31 (Sept. 6, 2012) and the green curve shows data from Sol 93 (Nov. 7, 2012).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CAB(CSIC-INTA)/FMI/Ashima Research​
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Dominant wind direction identified by REMS has surprised some researchers who expected slope effects to produce north-south winds. The rover is just north of a mountain called Mount Sharp. If air movement up and down the mountain's slope governed wind direction, dominant winds generally would be north-south. However, east-west winds appear to predominate. The rim of Gale Crater may be a factor.

"With the crater rim slope to the north and Mount Sharp to the south, we may be seeing more of the wind blowing along the depression in between the two slopes, rather than up and down the slope of Mount Sharp," said Claire Newman, a REMS investigator at Ashima Research in Pasadena. "If we don't see a change in wind patterns as Curiosity heads up the slope of Mount Sharp -- that would be a surprise."

REMS monitoring of air pressure has tracked both a seasonal increase and a daily rhythm. Neither was unexpected, but the details improve understanding of atmospheric cycles on present-day Mars, which helps with estimating how the cycles may have operated in the past.

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Thermal Tides at Mars
This diagram illustrates Mars' "thermal tides," a weather phenomenon responsible for large, daily variations in pressure at the Martian surface. Sunlight heats the surface and atmosphere on the day side of the planet, causing air to expand upwards.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ashima Research/SWRI​
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The seasonal increase results from tons of carbon dioxide, which had been frozen into a southern winter ice cap, returning into the atmosphere as southern spring turns to summer. The daily cycle of higher pressure in the morning and lower pressure in the evening results from daytime heating of the atmosphere by the sun. As morning works its way westward around the planet, so does a wave of heat-expanded atmosphere, known as a thermal tide.

Effects of that atmospheric tide show up in data from Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD). This instrument monitors high-energy radiation considered to be a health risk to astronauts and a factor in whether microbes could survive on Mars' surface.

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Daily Cycles of Radiation and Pressure at Gale Crater
This graphic shows the daily variations in Martian radiation and atmospheric pressure as measured by NASA's Curiosity rover. As pressure increases, the total radiation dose decreases. When the atmosphere is thicker, it provides a better barrier with more effective shielding for radiation from outside of Mars. At each of the pressure maximums, the radiation level drops between 3 to 5 percent.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI​
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Longer-Term Radiation Variations at Gale Crater
This graphic shows the variation of radiation dose measured by the Radiation Assessment Detector on NASA's Curiosity rover over about 50 sols, or Martian days, on Mars. (On Earth, Sol 10 was Sept. 15 and Sol 60 was Oct. 6, 2012.) The dose rate of charged particles was measured using silicon detectors and is shown in black. The total dose rate (from both charged particles and neutral particles) was measured using a plastic scintillator and is shown in red.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ SwRI​
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"We see a definite pattern related to the daily thermal tides of the atmosphere," said RAD Principal Investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute's Boulder, Colo., branch. "The atmosphere provides a level of shielding, and so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker. Overall, Mars' atmosphere reduces the radiation dose compared to what we saw during the flight to Mars."

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0596IF-8s4"]Curiosity Rover Report (Nov. 15, 2012): Wind and Radiation on Mars - YouTube[/ame]

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SPACE.com: Astronauts Could Survive Mars Radiation, Curiosity Rover Finds

Spaceflight Now: Mars rover catches wind of fleeting dust devils

Mars Daily: NASA Rover Providing New Weather and Radiation Data About Mars

Universe Today: Are Dust Devils Whirling Around the Curiosity Rover?
 

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NASA JPL:
Curiosity Rover Preparing for Thanksgiving Activities

November 20, 2012

Mars Science Laboratory Mission Status Report

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity completed a touch-and-go inspection of one rock on Sunday, Nov. 18, then pivoted and, on the same day, drove toward a Thanksgiving overlook location.

Last week, Curiosity drove for the first time after spending several weeks in soil-scooping activities at one location. On Friday, Nov. 16, the rover drove 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) to get within arm's reach of a rock called "Rocknest 3." On Sunday, it touched that rock with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on its arm, and took two 10-minute APXS readings of data about the chemical elements in the rock. Then Curiosity stowed its arm and drove 83 feet (25.3 meters) eastward toward a target called "Point Lake."

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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove 83 feet eastward during the 102nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Nov. 18, 2012), and used its left navigation camera to record this view ahead at the end of the drive.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech​
|NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) during the 100th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Nov. 16, 2012).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech​
|NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) during the 100th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Nov. 16, 2012). The rover used its Navigation Camera after the drive to record the images combined into this stereo, panoramic view.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech​
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"We have done touches before, and we've done goes before, but this is our first 'touch-and-go' on the same day," said Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "It is a good sign that the rover team is getting comfortable with more complex operational planning, which will serve us well in the weeks ahead."

During a Thanksgiving break, the team will use Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) from Point Lake to examine possible routes and targets to the east. A priority is to choose a rock for the first use of the rover's hammering drill, which will collect samples of powder from rock interiors.

Although Curiosity has departed the Rocknest patch of windblown sand and dust where it scooped up soil samples in recent weeks, the sample-handling mechanism on the rover's arm is still holding some soil from the fifth and final scoop collected at Rocknest. The rover is carrying this sample so it can be available for analysis by instruments within the rover if scientists choose that option in coming days.

{...}



The Planetary Society Blog:
Universe Today:
SPACE.com: Mars Mystery: Has Curiosity Rover Made Big Discovery?

Discovery News: Mars Mystery: What HAS Curiosity Discovered?

Science Daily: Curiosity Rover Preparing for Thanksgiving Activities

RIA Novosti: Curiosity Team May Reveal Major Discovery Soon

AmericaSpace: What has Curiosity Found on Mars?

Slate - Bad Astronomy: What Did Curiosity Find on Mars? Wait and See
 

garyw

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This was just posted on twitter:

'@NASAJPL says @MarsCuriosity may have found "something for the history books" on Mars. Stay tuned. '

and on the register:

It appears the Curiosity rover on Mars has had some exciting news, but NASA controllers have said that they're keeping quiet about it until the facts have been checked.

"This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," John Grotzinger, principal investigator for Curiosity told NPR.

According to Grotzinger, the data comes from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which consists of a six-column gas chromatograph, a quadrupole mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer. This gives SAM the ability to find organic life, if it exists.

So far Curiosity has done a sample scoop of soil for SAM earlier this month, and NASA announced more samples were going to be taken last week from an area the team have dubbed Rocknest. It appears they have found something very special, but Grotzinger says his lips are sealed.

"We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," he teased. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down,"

Part of the caution comes from nearly getting burned in the past, Grotzinger explained. Earlier in the mission, SAM took a sample of the Martian atmosphere and found methane present, which is a good indicator that there was life on Mars, at least at one point.

Source: -> http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/21/nasa_hiding_martian_news/
 

kerlix

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Theories? Appropriate thread or is there another I'm not aware of? My bet is either on evidence of past life, or evidence of (or direct detection of) current life. Third on my list is evidence of copiuos amounts of (recent) water.
 

MattBaker

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When it's for the history books then I can only imagine microbes or H2O, I mean we already discovered methane on Mars and it would not be for the history books I think, just ask your family/friends what they think about methane on Mars, even if we have discovered small amounts, nobody cares...
 

Rtyh-12

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When it's for the history books then I can only imagine microbes or H2O, I mean we already discovered methane on Mars and it would not be for the history books I think, just ask your family/friends what they think about methane on Mars, even if we have discovered small amounts, nobody cares...

I care, and I'm sure that most Orbinauts care as well.

Come to think about it - who would care if we discovered bacteria? I doubt anything less than little green men is interesting for most (and no, I'm not looking down on 'the general public' here. It's just that most people aren't as interested in space as we are).
 

MattBaker

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I care, and I'm sure that most Orbinauts care as well.

Yeah, because we are, as you said, interested into space (Just like some others are interested into gossip, just ask orbinauts what the names of Angelina Jolie's children are, probably the same result like the general public and methane...). But "something for the history books" is something everyone cares about, not just us.
And bacterias are interesting, they would be the first life we discovered on another planet and would show that even on a relatively hostile environment (read as: not as warm and cosy like Earth) like Mars life could exist. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of planets in the Milky Way that are like Mars, or better.
 

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I care as well.
Think about what the ramifications would be if any sort of life on Mars had been detected.
I can think of a lot of issues.
And then NASA has a strong case to send even more advanced robots to Mars and eventually humans.
But I think we must wait and see what these "earthshaking" discovery is all about.
 

Izack

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My guess: Some more evidence of seasonal flowing water. But not actual life, past or present. NASA tends to overstate things to the point of hysteria these days.
 

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I'll just quote Phil Plait from the Bad Astronomy blog entry linked in my earlier post:
Phil Plait said:
I’m seeing tons of speculation, though, and I will happily be the party pooper: don’t let your imagination run away from you. If you immediately jump to the conclusion that this is really something amazing, then when you find out what it's actually about, as exciting as it may be, it may not live up to what you think.
 

BruceJohnJennerLawso

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Curiosity's mass is 900 kg. On Mars, her weight is around 3300 N, which makes for around 550 N per each wheel, or equivalent to about 55 kg mass on Earth. That's like having 55 kg pressing down on her wheels with a rock that touches the wheels with the surface area of a pencil...


It's tough to get the scale of the rover from the images, but this thing ain't no "cute lil rover" like the ones before.

Dont say that! Its still cute :lol:
 

statickid

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maybe its poop residue

jk

I think it will be water related, or at least something that changes our view of Mars' history and appearance
 

RisingFury

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I think it won't be anything as shocking as life or anything like that. My guess is they found some organic chemistry going on that nobody though could or would be going on...
 

Mader Levap

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Theories? Appropriate thread or is there another I'm not aware of? My bet is either on evidence of past life, or evidence of (or direct detection of) current life. Third on my list is evidence of copiuos amounts of (recent) water.
I think you will be very, very disappionted. Something "earthshaking" for sciencist is completely difference than "earthshaking" for a layman.

SarcasticRover said it best: I'm on a completely different planet doing a science! Literally every thing up here is a "major discovery," okay?
 

Keatah

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Pffaggh.. Some sort of gas concentration or new kind of radiation or something equally dumb. I hate these announcements and pay little attention to them anymore. Especially after what they announced in the past. None of it was exciting to the layperson.
 

Izack

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Pffaggh.. Some sort of gas concentration or new kind of radiation or something equally dumb.

News: Curiosity detects neutronial phason quadropolarised radiation on Mars: Gene Roddenberry wasn't just making it up!
 
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