Planetary scientists sometimes joke that we know more about Mars than we do about the moon. NASA first landed a spacecraft on the surface of the fourth planet during the U.S. Bicentennial, five years before the first space shuttle ever lifted off. And we've learned plenty in the intervening 35 years: Viking 1 and 2 analyzed Mars rocks, Spirit and Opportunity found evidence of ancient water, and Phoenix saw the Martian snow. Yet the biggest question — whether Mars could ever be home to life — still eludes us.
NASA's newest rover, Curiosity, sets off this week in search of answers. It's the most complex interplanetary explorer ever, earning a PopSci 2011 Best of What's New award. If everything goes to plan — from Saturday's thundering Atlas V launch to the rover's self-piloted atmospheric entry and hovercraft airdrop — it just might become the type of once-in-a-generation explorer that raises even more questions than it answers.
Methane concentrations on Mars change with the seasons as well as location, and the gas disappears within a Martian year, according to a new study by Italian scientists. The finding, developed over five Earth years using NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, adds to the ongoing debate about the nature of CH4 on Mars.
In 2016, NASA and the European Space Agency will launch the first-ever joint U.S./Euro mission to Mars, and Tuesday they unveiled exactly what kind of toys the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will have on board. Among the highlights: the Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer (MATMOS) that can detect concentrations of gas down to parts per trillion.
It took NASA a few decades, several probes, and a whole lot of money to find hard evidence for the existence of water on the surface of Mars. But timing is everything. Had the agency been looking for water on the Red Planet a few billion years earlier, all they would've needed was a telescope. A new CU-Boulder analysis of the Martian surface has concluded that a massive ocean covered as much as a third of the planet around 3.5 billion years ago.
A stuck robotic rover may have overtaken NASA's Viking probe as the longest-surviving mission on Mars -- so long as it's still alive. But its robotic twin Opportunity could also still grab the record next month if the Spirit rover has slipped into its final winter slumber, SPACE.com reports.
Relax, David Bowie: in all likelihood there is life on Mars. Unfortunately for those of us hoping to find organic life forms thriving elsewhere in our solar system, there's a reasonably good chance the microbial life we might someday find on Mars was put there by us.
Astronauts probably won't use iPhone-controlled Mars rovers if they ever get to the red planet, but perhaps NASA could glean some lessons from the demo here on Earth. Peter Friese and Heiko Behrens used their rover iPhone app to compete with other attendees at EclipseCon 2010 in Santa Clara, California.
Springtime on Mars means the thaw of carbon dioxide ice in the northern hemisphere. And when the dry ice goes, the party's over for any trapped debris that then goes tumbling down Martian cliffs in spectacular images such as this.
A camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has taken nearly 13,000 observations of the red planet, but might only now begin to live up to its nickname of "the people's camera." The U.S. space agency has announced a new chance for you, dear reader, to suggest where that spacecraft should point its camera next.
Netizens can see both existing images and suggested targets on a new public suggestion website. They may then use a simple rectangle to designate their location of choice for MRO's HiRISE camera.
NASA's SUV-sized Mars rover now has the ability to check for possible ingredients or signatures of life. The U.S. space agency recently approved a new instrument for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) that can closely study carbon-containing compounds, if any show up in the dozens of planned soil and rock samples.