Happy 1 (Martian) Year Anniversary Mars Curiosity!
Today NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will complete a Martian year — 687 Earth days on the Red Planet. Below are some of Curiosity’s accomplishments in Year 1 as compiled by NASA.
In August 2012, Curiosity discovered an ancient riverbed at its landing site. Nearby, at an area known as Yellowknife Bay, the mission met its main goal of determining whether the Martian Gale Crater ever was habitable for simple life forms. The answer, a historic “yes,” came from two mudstone slabs that the rover sampled with its drill. Analysis of these samples revealed the site was once a lakebed with mild water, the essential elemental ingredients for life, and a type of chemical energy source used by some microbes on Earth. If Mars had living organisms, this would have been a good home for them.
Assessed natural radiation levels both during the flight to Mars and on the Martian surface provides guidance for designing the protection needed for human missions to Mars.
Measured heavy-versus-light variants of elements in the Martian atmosphere indicate that much of Mars’ early atmosphere disappeared by processes favoring loss of lighter atoms, such as from the top of the atmosphere. Other measurements found that the atmosphere holds very little, if any, methane, a gas that can be produced biologically.
Made first determinations of the age of a rock on Mars and how long a rock has been exposed to harmful radiation provide prospects for learning when water flowed and for assessing degradation rates of organic compounds in rocks and soils.
Orion’s belt runs just along the horizon, seen through Earth’s atmosphere and rising in this starry snapshot from low Earth orbit on board the International Space Station. The belt stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka run right to left and Orion’s sword, home to the great Orion Nebula, hangs above his belt, an orientation unfamiliar to denizens of the planet’s northern hemisphere. That puts bright star Rigel, at the foot of Orion, still higher above Orion’s belt. Of course the brightest celestial beacon in the frame is Sirius, alpha star of the constellation Canis Major. The station’s Destiny Laboratory module is in the foreground at the top right.
Image credit: NASA, ISS Expedition 40, Reid Wiseman
The size of North America compared to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.
Great Red Spot, an enormous, long-lived storm system on the planet Jupiter and the most conspicuous feature of its visible cloud surface. It is generally reddish in colour and oval in shape, approximately 20,000 km long and 12,000 km wide (12,400 by 7,500 miles)—large enough to engulf Earth and Mars side by side.