Could we “terraform” Mars—that is, transform its frozen, thin-aired surface into something more friendly and Earthlike? Should we? The first question has a clear answer: Yes, we probably could. Spacecraft, including the ones now exploring Mars, have found evidence that it was warm in its youth, with rivers draining into vast seas. And right here on Earth, we’ve learned how to warm a planet: just add greenhouse gases to its atmosphere. Much of the carbon dioxide that once warmed Mars is probably still there, in frozen dirt and polar ice caps, and so is the water. All the planet needs to recapture its salad days is a gardener with a big budget.
The picture, taken by the powerful HiRISE camera, has focused attention on Mar’s polar region. However, the trees are nothing but an optical illusion.
Latest pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show hilly desert area with islands of trees on Mar’s surface.
The orbiter, which was commissioned to search for water on the planet, took the images that show a thin coating of frozen carbon dioxide or dry ice.
However, the trees are nothing but an optical illusion.
NASA’s Candy Hansen told The Sun, “The streaks are sand, dislodged as ice evaporates, which slide down the dune. At this time of the Martian year the whole scene is covered by CO2 frost.”
“The color of the ice surrounding adjacent streaks of material suggests that dust has settled on the ice at the bottom after similar events,” he added.
NASA has big plans for its Mars Exploration Program.
As it decides the future of one of the two rovers exploring the planet, the agency is looking to the launch of the newest generation of robotic explorer next year.
In addition, NASA tells CNN Radio that the agency is close to a deal to merge its Mars program with that of the European Space Agency, a big step toward manned missions.
NASA’s Mars rover program is now heading into its sixth year. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2004 and landed on opposite sides of Mars for what was to be a 90-day exploration mission.
Almost six years and a wealth of information later, the rovers were still ranging across the planet until recently, sending back data to researchers on Earth.
New images taken from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that huge lakes of melted ice may have once existed on ancient Mars. The lakes suggest a possible warm, wet period that may have occurred more recently than previously thought. Scientists hope to prove that these ancient lakes may have hosted life of some form.
Thus far, there is no firm evidence of any past or present Martian biology. But these new photos show winding channels that link several lake-like depressions in the Martian surface. NASA speculates that these channels could only have been caused by Martian lake water running between the depressions about 3 billion years ago. We already know that water once existed on Mars, based on the data collected from other satellites and the Mars rovers. Previous studies also suggest that Mars was warm and wet enough to support liquid lakes around 4 billion years ago.
But this new evidence suggests that Mars could have sustained lakes even later. Nicholas Warner is a researcher who led the study at the Imperial College of London. As Warner explains, “Excitingly, our study now shows that this middle period in Mars’ history was much more dynamic than we previously thought.”
For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.
In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.
In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.
“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.
“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”
Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA
NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.
Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.
All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.
“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”
Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.
A photo from Cassini shows sunlight reflecting from a giant lake of methane on the northern half of Saturn’s moon Titan.
NASA scientists revealed Friday a first-of-its-kind image from space showing reflecting sunlight from a lake on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
It’s the first visual “smoking gun” evidence of liquid on the northern hemisphere of the moon, scientists said, and the first-ever photo from another world showing a “specular reflection” — which is reflection of light from an extremely smooth surface and in this case, a liquid one.
“This is the first time outside Earth we’ve seen specular reflection from another liquid from another body,” said Ralf Jaumann, a scientist analyzing data from the Cassini unmanned space probe.
Jaumann said he was surprised when he first saw the photos transmitting from Cassini, orbiting Saturn about a billion miles from Earth.
“It was great because if you look at photos of planets, you mostly see nothing is happening. But in two hours we saw a glint of light getting brighter.”
Mars Colony Concept Credit: NASA
Only a few details have dribbled out of the meeting in the Oval Office between President Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Most observers do not expect any news of an Obama space exploration policy before the 2011 budget is released this February.
However the Orlando Sentinel has a few tid bits.
“Among the things Bolden told lawmakers and Congressional staff was that the White House was now favoring a $1 billion top line increase to NASA’s budget in 2011. This would be far better than the 5 percent cut that all agencies, including NASA, were asked by the White House to prepare, but difficult to secure given the deficit cutting mindset in Congress now.
The ExoMars programme will be launched in partnership with NASA. Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA, will launch two Mars exploration
missions in 2016 and 2018.
The ExoMars mission will be undertaken to probe the Martian atmosphere, especially astrobiological issues and to develop and demonstrate new technologies for planetary exploration with a long-term view of a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020s, ESA said.
The project, for which around $1.2 billion (850 million euro) has been sanctioned, will include an Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator, to be launched in 2016, and two rovers which would be sent in 2018.
“This marks an important moment for Europe in its steps towards space exploration on the world scale,” David Southwood, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said.
“We have been to the planets before, sure. But now we have a plan for exploration ahead to build our technical capability and explore Mars in a long-term partnership,” he said.
Eleven of ESA’s 17 member states are participating in the project.
Source: BNS (Paris)
LOS ANGELES, November 17 — NASA and Microsoft Corp. have collaborated to create a Web site to allow earthlings to become Martians, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced on Tuesday.
By surfing the “Be a Martian” Web site, internet users can have fun while advancing their knowledge of Mars, the JPL said in a press release.
The public will be able to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.
The Web site will also enable the public to explore details of the solar system’s grandest canyon, which resides on Mars, call up images in the Valles Marineris canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet.
The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, enabling smoother zoom-in views and easier interpretation of Martian surface changes.
By counting craters, the public also may help scientists determine the relative ages of small regions on Mars, according to the release.
In the past, counting Martian craters has posed a challenge because of the vast numbers involved. By contributing, Web site users will win game points assigned to a robotic animal avatar they select.
“Mars exploration inspires people of all ages, and we are especially eager to encourage young people to explore Mars for themselves,” said Charles Elachi, director of JPL in Pasadena, California. “We are delighted to be involved in providing the creative opportunity for future explorers to contribute to our understanding of Mars.”
“The beauty of this type of experience is that it not only teaches people about Mars and the work NASA is doing there, but it also engages large groups of people to help solve real challenges that computers cannot solve by themselves,” said Marc Mercuri, director of business innovation in the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft.
With a common goal of inspiring digital-age workforce development and life-long learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, NASA and Microsoft unveiled the Web site at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles this week, according to the release.