malin space science systems

The Mars Surveyor ‘98 Climate Orbiter is shown here during acoustic tests that simulate launch conditions. The orbiter was to conduct a two year primary mission to profile the Martian atmosphere and map the surface. To carry out these scientific objectives, the spacecraft carried a rebuilt version of the pressure modulated infrared radiometer, lost with the Mars Observer spacecraft, and a miniaturized dual camera system the size of a pair of binoculars, provided by Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., San Diego, California. During its primary mission, the orbiter was to monitor Mars atmosphere and surface globally on a daily basis for one Martian year (two Earth years), observing the appearance and movement of atmospheric dust and water vapor, as well as characterizing seasonal changes of the planet’s surface. Imaging of the surface morphology would also provide important clues about the planet’s climate in its early history. The mission was part of NASA’s Mars Surveyor program, a sustained program of robotic exploration of the red planet, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics was NASA’s industrial partner in the mission. Unfortunately, Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere on September 23, 1999, due to a metric conversion error that caused the spacecraft to be off course.

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NASA’S CURIOSITY ROVER TEAM CONFIRMS ANCIENT LAKES ON MARS A new study from the team behind NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity has confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time. Using data from the Curiosity rover, the team has determined that, long ago, water helped deposit sediment into Gale Crater, where the rover landed more than three years ago. The sediment deposited as layers that formed the foundation for Mount Sharp, the mountain found in the middle of the crater today. “Observations from the rover suggest that a series of long-lived streams and lakes existed at some point between about 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, delivering sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and co-author of the new Science article to be published Friday, Oct. 9. The findings build upon previous work that suggested there were ancient lakes on Mars, and add to the unfolding story of a wet Mars, both past and present. Last month, NASA scientists confirmed current water flows on Mars. “What we thought we knew about water on Mars is constantly being put to the test,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It’s clear that the Mars of billions of years ago more closely resembled Earth than it does today. Our challenge is to figure out how this more clement Mars was even possible, and what happened to that wetter Mars.” Before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, scientists proposed that Gale Crater had filled with layers of sediments. Some hypotheses were “dry,” suggesting that sediment accumulated from wind-blown dust and sand. Others focused on the possibility that sediment layers were deposited in ancient lakes. The latest results from Curiosity indicate that these wetter scenarios were correct for the lower portions of Mount Sharp. Based on the new analysis, the filling of at least the bottom layers of the mountain occurred mostly by ancient rivers and lakes over a period of less than 500 million years. “During the traverse of Gale, we have noticed patterns in the geology where we saw evidence of ancient fast-moving streams with coarser gravel, as well as places where streams appear to have emptied out into bodies of standing water,” Vasavada said. “The prediction was that we should start seeing water-deposited, fine-grained rocks closer to Mount Sharp. Now that we’ve arrived, we’re seeing finely laminated mudstones in abundance that look like lake deposits.” The mudstone indicates the presence of bodies of standing water in the form of lakes that remained for long periods of time, possibly repeatedly expanding and contracting during hundreds to millions of years. These lakes deposited the sediment that eventually formed the lower portion of the mountain. “Paradoxically, where there is a mountain today there was once a basin, and it was sometimes filled with water,” said John Grotzinger, the former project scientist for Mars Science Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and lead author of the new report. “We see evidence of about 250 feet (75 meters) of sedimentary fill, and based on mapping data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and images from Curiosity’s camera, it appears that the water-transported sedimentary deposition could have extended at least 500 to 650 feet (150 to 200) meters above the crater floor.” Furthermore, the total thickness of sedimentary deposits in Gale Crater that indicate interaction with water could extend higher still, perhaps up to one-half mile (800 meters) above the crater floor. Above 800 meters, Mount Sharp shows no evidence of hydrated strata, and that is the bulk of what forms Mount Sharp. Grotzinger suggests that perhaps this later segment of the crater’s history may have been dominated by dry, wind-driven deposits, as was once imagined for the lower part explored by Curiosity. A lingering question surrounds the original source of the water that carried sediment into the crater. For flowing water to have existed on the surface, Mars must have had a thicker atmosphere and warmer climate than has been theorized for the ancient era when Gale Crater experienced the intense geological activity. However, current models of this paleoclimate have, literally, come up dry. At least some of the water may have been supplied to the lakes by snowfall and rain in the highlands of the Gale Crater rim. Some have made the argument that there was an ocean in the plains north of the crater, but that does not explain how the water managed to exist as a liquid for extended periods of time on the surface. “We have tended to think of Mars as being simple,” Grotzinger mused. “We once thought of the Earth as being simple too. But the more you look into it, questions come up because you’re beginning to fathom the real complexity of what we see on Mars. This is a good time to go back to reevaluate all our assumptions. Something is missing somewhere.” TOP IMAGE….Strata at Base of Mount Sharp A view from the “Kimberley” formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. The colors are adjusted so that rocks look approximately as they would if they were on Earth, to help geologists interpret the rocks. This “white balancing” to adjust for the lighting on Mars overly compensates for the absence of blue on Mars, making the sky appear light blue and sometimes giving dark, black rocks a blue cast. This image was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Curiosity on the 580th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. LOWER IMAGE….Secrets of ‘Hidden Valley’ on Mars An image taken at the “Hidden Valley” site, en-route to Mount Sharp, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. A variety of mudstone strata in the area indicate a lakebed deposit, with river- and stream-related deposits nearby. Decoding the history of how these sedimentary rocks were formed, and during what period of time, was a key component in the confirming of the role of water and sedimentation in the formation of the floor of Gale Crater and Mount Sharp. This image was taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Curiosity on the 703rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Curiosity’s Mastcam. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Be a scientist for a day, solstice on the Red Planet, historic launches and more!

1. Scientist for a Day!

This year’s Scientist for a Day essay contest was announced last week. Write an essay on one of the three images above. Essays are due in Feb. 2017. Students in grades 5-12 in U.S. schools, after-school and home-school programs, scout troops and museum programs are eligible to participate.

+ Learn more

2. Tuesday is Winter Solstice on Mars’ Northern Hemisphere

Mars’ orbit is much more eccentric than Earth’s. The winters in the northern hemisphere are warm and short, as Mars is near perihelion—closer to the sun. This means that the winters in the southern hemisphere are long and cold.

+ Read Mars: The Other Terrestrial Planet

+ Seasons on Mars (Malin Space Science Systems) 

3. Launch-iversaries!

We’re celebrating two launch anniversaries. Before Curiosity. Before Spirit and Opportunity, there was Pathfinder and the hardy Sojourner rover, launched on Dec. 4, 1996. Pathfinder was a demonstration of the technology necessary to deliver a lander and a free-ranging robotic rover to the surface of Mars in a cost-effective and efficient manner. The lander, formally named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station following its successful touchdown, and the rover, named Sojourner after American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth, both outlived their design lives — the lander by nearly three times, and the rover by 12 times! We continued the tradition with Spirit and Opportunity. Now there is the Mars Science Laboratory (with the Curiosity rover in stowage), which was launched on Nov. 26, 2011. It landed successfully in Gale Crater at 1:31 am EDT on Aug. 6, 2012. 

+ Go Back in Time

+ Video: Where Were You When Curiosity Landed on Mars? 

4. Mars Ice Deposit Holds as Much Water as Lake Superior

Water ice makes up half or more of an underground layer in a large region of Mars, about halfway from the equator to the north pole. The amount of water in this deposit—assessed using a radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—is about as much as in Lake Superior.

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5. A Little Bit of History

Finally, it’s been seven years since Cassini caught one of its most stunning views of the plume on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

+ Read More

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

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Mars Rover Views Spectacular Layered Rock Formations

The layered geologic past of Mars is revealed in stunning detail in new color images returned by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, which is currently exploring the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp.

The new images arguably rival photos taken in U.S. National Parks.
Curiosity took the images with its Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sept. 8.

The rover team plans to assemble several large, color mosaics from the multitude of images taken at this location in the near future.

“Curiosity’s science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The Martian buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed.

“Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today,” Vasavada said.

The new images represent Curiosity’s last stop in the Murray Buttes, where the rover has been driving for just over one month. As of this week, Curiosity has exited these buttes toward the south, driving up to the base of the final butte on its way out. In this location, the rover began its latest drilling campaign (on Sept. 9). After this drilling is completed, Curiosity will continue farther south and higher up Mount Sharp, leaving behind these spectacular formations.

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in 2012. It reached the base of the mountain in 2014 after successfully finding evidence on the surrounding plains that ancient Martian lakes offered conditions that would have been favorable for microbes if Mars has ever hosted life. Rock layers forming the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes billions of years ago.

On Mount Sharp, Curiosity is investigating how and when the habitable ancient conditions known from the mission’s earlier findings evolved into conditions drier and less favorable for life.

IMAGE 1….This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp.
The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer – called the “Stimson formation” – during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding” and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes.
The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars.


IMAGE 2….This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a sloping hillside within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp. The rim of Gale Crater, where the rover has been active since landing in 2012, is visible in the distance, through the dusty haze.
The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars.


IMAGE 3….This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows sloping buttes and layered outcrops within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp.
The buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer – called the “Stimson formation” – during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding” and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes.
The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars.


IMAGE 4….This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows finely layered rocks within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp.
The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer – called the “Stimson formation” – during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding” and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes.
The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars.


IMAGE 5….This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a hillside outcrop with layered rocks within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp.
The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer – called the “Stimson formation” – during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding” and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes.
The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars.
Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the rover’s Mastcam. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.