curiosity rover

Curiosity drill site reveals Mars isn’t red - it’s greyish-blue

NASA’s Curiosity rover has drilled down into Mars to collect samples, and it’s revealed that just under the dusty red surface, the Red Planet is actually a greyish blue.

The drilling happened at a site called Telegraph Peak, right up in a region called Pahrump Hills, where Curiosity has been working for the past five months. It’s been drilling into the rocky surface to get some idea of how and when Mars evolved from a wet environment to the dry and dusty one we see today, and in the process has discovered that the dusty red top layer is made up of completely different stuff than the actual planet itself.

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Mars rover Curiosity finds signs of ancient stream

Scientists say NASA’s Curiosity rover has found signs that a stream once flowed across the surface near the site where it landed on Mars. Read more from NBC News.

Photo: In this image from NASA’s Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust. The picture was taken on Sept. 2, the 27th Martian day of Curiosity’s mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Curiosity Rover: Looking Back on the Two Years of Wear and Tear Inflicted By Mars

It’s insanely hard to believe that Curiosity has been traversing Mars for a full two years now, but, as these images show, time has certainly taken a toll on it. See before and after images of the damage:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL


Curiosity Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.

Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, although they can exist without the presence of life. Curiosity’s findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars.

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water

NASA’s Curiosity rover is continuing to help scientists piece together the mystery of how Mars lost its surface water over the course of billions of years.

The rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity’s onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water, NASA officials said. In the same sample, Curiosity also detected the first organic molecules it has found. Mission scientists announced the discovery in a news conference today (Dec. 15) at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco, where they also unveiled Curiosity's first detection of methane on Mars.

“It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” Paul Mahaffy, Curiosity’s SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. 

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Nasa’s Curiosity rover finds water in Martian soil

Dirt sample reveals two pints of liquid water per cubic feet, not freely accessible but bound to other minerals in the soil.

Water has been discovered in the fine-grained soil on the surface of Mars, which could be a useful resource for future human missions to the red planet, according to measurements made by Nasa’s Curiosity rover.

Each cubic foot of Martian soil contains around two pints of liquid water, though the molecules are not freely accessible, but rather bound to other minerals in the soil.

The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since August 2012, landing in an area near the equator of the planet known as Gale Crater. Its target is to circle and climb Mount Sharp, which lies at the centre of the crater, a five-kilometre-high mountain of layered rock that will help scientists unravel the history of the planet.

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Credit: NASA / Alok Jha


Details Of A 3 Billion-Year-Old Martian Lake Emerge

NASA says its Curiosity rover has uncovered more details of a large lake that existed on Mars more than 3 billion years ago. The waterbody, which partially filled a crater near the planet’s equator called Gale, measured 96 miles in diameter and was fed by melting snow that flowed from its northern rim.

The Curiosity mission has also found evidence of streams, river deltas and filled and dried lakes around the crater that indicate the area went through multiple hydrologic cycles over millions of years.

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What’s the difference between accuracy and precision?

When we measure things, most people are only worried about how accurate, or how close to the actual value, they are. Looking at the process of measurement more carefully, you will see that there is another important consideration: precision. But, what exactly is precision and how can it help us to measure things better?

Accuracy involves how close you come to the correct result. Your accuracy improves with tools that are calibrated correctly and that you are well trained on. Accuracy without precision gets you pretty close to the target, but without certainty of a bullseye for any given shot.

Precision is how consistently you can get that result using the same method. Your precision improves with more finely incremented tools that require less estimation. Precision without accuracy gets you the same wrong result every time.

You can probably get away with low accuracy or low precision in everyday tasks, but engineers and researchers often require accuracy on microscopic levels with a high certainty of being right every time.

Investments in precision can take us beyond what was previously possible. It may surprise you that NASA does not know exactly where their probes are going to touch down on another planet. Predicting where they will land requires extensive calculations fed by measurements that don’t always have a precise answer.

In 1976, the landing ellipse for the Mars Viking Lander was nearly the area of New Jersey. With such a limitation, NASA had to ignore many interesting but risky landing areas. Since then, new information about the Martian atmosphere, improved spacecraft technology, and more powerful computer simulations have drastically reduced uncertainty. In 2012 the landing ellipse for the Curiosity Lander was more than 200 times smaller than Viking’s. This allowed NASA to target a specific spot in Gale Crater, a previously un-landable area of high scientific interest.

While we ultimately strive for accuracy, precision reflects our certainty of reliably achieving it. With these two principles in mind, we can shoot for the stars, and be confident of hitting them every time.

From the TED-Ed Lesson What’s the difference between accuracy and precision? - Matt Anticole

Animation by Anton Bogaty


Curiosity Discovers Ancient Mars Lake Could Support Life

An ancient lake on Mars was capable of supporting life for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, researchers reported today based on findings from NASA’s Curiosity rover. In March, NASA announced that the lake was once capable of supporting microbial life, but little more was known. Now researchers have shown that the lake existed around 3.5-3.6 billion years ago and actually contained an “Earth-like” environment.

Not long after touching down in the Gale Crater last August, NASA’s Curiosity rover was driven over to Yellowknife Bay, a trough over 16 feet deep made up of basaltic sandstones. It’s there, near the edges of the lake where lower levels of dirt are accessible, that researchers tested to see if microorganisms could have existed. In particular, they say that chemolithoautotrophs — a type of microorganism commonly found in caves on Earth — could have existed in the lake’s environment, breaking down the area’s rocks and minerals for energy as they do on Earth.

The researchers say that liquid water once existed there, and they’ve previously speculated that it would actually have been drinkable because of its low salinity and neutral acidity level. Actual signs of microbial life haven’t been observed, but researchers say that an elemental cocktail that would have supported them was certainly present.

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech