Google+ Mars Travel: January 2012

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 31 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows dunes and sand ripples of varying sizes within an impact crater in Noachis Terra. These dunes are a perfect representation of the natural beauty on Mars. 

Because dunes are shaped by the wind, their orientation helps scientists to determine the wind's direction and strength in the imaged area. This can help scientists when they are planning future missions to Mars and need to be wary of all environmental factors. 

Clicking on this image will take you to the original high-resolution image from HiRISE. [See the captioned image]

We Must Increase Celebrity Support of the Space Industry

With enough help from people like you we can put space back on the agenda for everyone again. Anytime that you read something about a celebrity supporting the space industry, even if it's just a tweet, let me know via any of these channels.

or email david.j.geaney[at]

Celebrities exert incredible influence over people from all walks of life. They have thousands and sometimes millions of people following their every word. If an A-List celebrity says something is cool, it becomes cool. When Stephen Colbert features something on The Colbert Report it instantly becomes popular.

Morgan Freeman - Celebrity space industry supporter
Celebrities are people and people are naturally fascinated with the cosmos. Many celebrities have previously shown interest in personal space travel, so the interest is there: it's just a matter of capitalizing on it for the betterment of the entire space industry, and ultimately all of humanity. If celebrities could see how important their public support of the space industry would be to the advancement of humanity, there is no doubt that some of them would do something.

View the list of celebrities actively supporting the space industry.

Why does it matter if celebrities support the space industry?

World governments have been the primary customer of the space industry, but in recent years many governments have been questioning the importance of the space industry. This makes it more important than ever to gain celebrity support because doing so will also increase popular support for the space industry.

If celebrities don't already openly support space exploration, why would they suddenly jump on board?

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 30 2012

Today's Images of Mars are two topographic maps of Mars from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), which show the enormous variance in altitudes on The Red Planet. As you can see, much of the Northern hemisphere is much lower than the Southern hemisphere. The Northern hemisphere on Mars is 1-3km lower than the Southern hemisphere. The crust in the northern hemisphere averages 32 km thick, but the crust in the southern hemisphere averages 58 km thick.

There are numerous theories to explain this highland-lowland dichotomy. In a previous post I detailed these theories, but I will reproduce them below:

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 29 2012

Today's Image of Mars is actually a few geologic maps from the Lunar Planetary Institute. These maps of Mars were created in 1978 by David H. Scott and Michael H. Carr. The data used to create these maps was compiled primarily from Mariner 9.

Included with the map is a legend, which explains all the labels. Do keep in mind that this map is from 1978 so scientists have learned a lot about Mars since then. I just thought it would be great to let you get a basic idea of what a map of Mars would look like. 

This map is so large that I had to post it to my Pinterest account and use that link to upload the image, but clicking on this image is going to take you to the original image from the Lunar Planetary Institute. Just know that it might take a while to load because the image is huge.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 28 2012

Today's Image of Mars is shows Dodo-Goldilocks, a 22x35cm trench dug by the Mars Phoenix Lander, which, at its deepest reaches a depth between 7 and 8cm. The trench was dug using Phoenix's robotic arm on Sol 18 of its mission, which was June 12 2008, and this image was taken 6 Sol later on June 19 2008.

The white material that you see is ice. The ice lumps on the bottom left of the trench sublimated (turned from solid to gas) over the course of the next four days. [See the trench a few days later]

Clicking on this image will take you to the NASA page that shows the trench before and after the ice sublimated.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 27 2012

Today's Image of Mars is from HiRISE and it shows a spectacular fluvial fan on a crater floor. The fan begins where a channel enters the crater, which suggests that it was a delta.

Deltas are formed when water enters a larger space and spreads out. When spreading out the water begins to move at a slower pace and many sediments that were caught up in the fast moving water begin to sink. Eventually those sediments sink and become deposits.

This image is further evidence that water once existed in abundance on Mars. By studying the image and others like it scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the Martian past and eventually discover what happened to all the water on Mars.

I'm actually surprised that conspiracy theorists haven't jumped on this one because the delta "looks like the side profile of a head" or something ridiculous. Just another natural formation here!

Clicking on this image will take you to the original, captioned image from HiRISE.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 26 2012

Today's Image of Mars comes from HiRISE and shows an extremely fresh impact crater superimposed over a wrinkle ridge in Hesperia Planum. Wrinkle ridges are low, winding ridges formed when lava first cools and contracts. The often extend for several hundred kilometers.

The real prize of this photo is the impact crater on the bottom right. Scientists believe this crater is extremely fresh because the rim is distinct and sharp and the crater's shape has not been modified. Look closely (click on the image) and you will see the faint signs of ejecta surrounding the crater, some of which created secondary craters.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original image from HiRISE. [See the image with HiRISE caption]

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 25 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows Mars Rover Opportunity's magnificent view looking north from Greeley Haven, the rover's resting point for its fifth winter on Mars. This is just part of a 360 degree view that is being compiled by images from Opportunity.

In this image you can see the northern edge of Endeavour Crater's Cape York, which forms an ark across the upper half of the scene.You can also see features sculpted by wind at the front of this image. Opportunity will be monitoring the changes caused by wind throughout its stay at Greeley Haven in hopes that doing so will help scientists learn more about wind and the way it shapes the various features on Mars.

In addition to monitoring the wind, Opportunity will be conducting a radio-science investigation of the interior of Mars and inspecting the outcrops to determine their mineral composition and textures.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original high resolution image from NASA. [See their caption for this image]

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 24 2012

Today's Image of Mars is from the European Space Agency's Rosetta's flyby of Mars in 2007.  This image was one of many Rosetta images of Mars recently released by the ESA. This spectacular image shows Phobos transiting Mars and the shadow left on the Martian surface by its largest moon, but that isn't all. We can also see Gale Crater, which is the August 2012 landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. This image also shows Gusev Crater, which was studied by Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and found to have numerous dust devils.

The ESA's Rosetta spacecraft was launched on Mar 2 2004 on a mission to study the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. In 2007 it did a flyby of Mars, which is when it took numerous images of Mars and its largest moon, Phobos. 

Labels for this image come from The Planetary Society. Clicking on the image will take you to the high resolution version. [See the Planetary Society's article on the newly released Rosetta images]

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 23 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows a portion of Cerberus Fossae, a series of roughly parallel fissures in the Cerberus Region measuring 1,630km long. Cerberus Fossae was formed from faults created by the formation of the Elysium Volcanic Field. It passed through preexisting features, like hills, which indicates that the faults are relatively recent.

Research suggests that the formation of Cerberus Fossae released massive amounts of pressurized underground water, which led to the creation of Athabasca Valles, a large outflow channel on Mars.

Clicking this image will take you to the original high resolution image from Mars Odyssey Orbiter's THEMIS. [See the original THEMIS caption]

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 22 2012

Today's Image of Mars is from HiRISE and shows gullies on a wall in Bamberg Crater. The gullies appear to be more recent features because they don't have extensive debris aprons. There is also very little material accumulation on the crater floor, which is in contrast to most craters with gullies. These two observations seems to point to the gullies being relatively young features. There could be other explanations for this, but our knowledge of gully formation on Mars is incomplete and more observations are necessary for better interpretations. 

Clicking on this image will take you to the original, captioned image from HiRISE.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 21 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows some spectacularly colored gullies in a relatively fresh crater on Mars near Argyre Basin. The crater is in such pristine condition that scientists believe it was formed within the last million years or so.

You can see in this image that the gullies and their deposits have many different colors. This is because the relatively recent impact exposed many different rock types and the gullies are still active, so they have yet to be covered by windblown deposits.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original high resolution image from HiRISE. I highly recommend checking it out because it's pretty amazing. [See the HiRISE caption for the image].

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 20 2012

Today's Image of Mars is a north-looking perspective view of Juventae Chasma, a large fissure that cuts 5000m into Lunae Planum on Mars and measures 180km east-west and 250km north-south.
Juventae Chasma obvious interaction with water led NASA to consider it as a candidate destination for Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. Though it was not selected to be the MSL landing spot, there is still much to be learned from the chasm.

Scientists believe that sometime 3-4 billion years ago Juventae Chasma was filled with water, which then created the large deposits of clays, gypsum, and other sulfate minerals we see today. They have speculated that Juventae once had a habitat that was suitable to life, which keeps it on the list of potential landing sites for future missions to Mars

How did Juventae Chasma form?

Scientists speculate that Juventae Chasm formed as a result of faulting and volcanic heat opening up cracks in the surface, which then let water and subsurface ice out, causing the surface to collapse from the floods that resulted. There was enough water that it poured out of the northern end and created the outflow channel, Maja Valles, which flows all the way to the Chryse impact basin.

Eventually Juventae Chasma stopped growing, but the water within the canyon altered the rocks and surface materials, turning them into the gypsum and other aqueous material we see today.

The ridge you see in the northeast of Juventae Chasma's valley measures 59km long, 23km wide, and 2500m high, making it half as high as the chasm's walls.. This mountain became of interest to scientists when they determined that it was composed of sulfate deposits.

On the top part of the ridge, Mars Express' OMEGA instrument detected gypsum, with 12 distinct layers present. Below the gypsum layers lies kieserite, a form of magnesium sulfate. Both gypsum and kieserite are classified as evaporates, meaning that they often form where lakes of salty water dry up. 

The potential landing site for future missions to Mars lies on the southern tip of this ridge. Any rover would then likely move along the western side of the ridge where there are numerous layered deposits that could provide answers as to whether Mars ever sustained life. 

This image was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) aboard Mars Express. Clicking on the image will take you to the original high resolution image from them.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 19 2012

Today's Image of Mars is a topographic map of the "highland-lowland dichotomy boundary," one of the most mysterious features on the Red Planet. This map shows the drastic difference in elevation between the northern and southern hemisphere.

The northern hemisphere on Mars is 1-3km lower than the southern hemisphere. The crust in the northern hemisphere averages 32 km thick, but the crust in the southern hemisphere averages 58 km thick. The crust in the southern hemisphere is much older than that in the northern hemisphere as evidence by the much greater density of impact craters in the south.

There are a few theories as to how this dichotomy on Mars developed.

  • One involves a Pluto-sized object impacting with the northern hemisphere of Mars around four billion years ago. Scientists believe the impact created the North Polar Basin (also called the Borealis Basin), which is a depression that covers 40% of Mars, measuring 10,600 km and 8,500 km. If this was proven true it would be the largest impact crater ever discovered, beating out the Moon's South Pole-Aitken Basin.
  • Another theory is less interesting; it involves tectonic processes. Scientists theorize that one half of Mars could have gone through an upwelling, when the other half went through a downwelling, as the result of mantle convection.
  • The third theory suggests that the Borealis Basin is actually the result of multiple impacts. This theory has the least evidence to back it up and is statistically very unlikely to have occurred.

The highland-lowland boundary is what separates the northern lowlands from the southern highlands. It is full of mesas, knobs, and flat valleys with walls about one mile high. Surrounding these features are lobate debris aprons, which have been determined to be rock-covered glaciers. Many large river valleys cut through the highland-lowland boundary. There are many regions in the boundary that are of great interest to scientists because they contain landforms which were likely formed by the movement of ice.

Clicking on this image will take you to the very thorough Wikipedia article on the Martian dichotomy.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 18 2012

Today's Image of Mars is of an inverted crater surrounded by dark dunes in Arabia Terra. The dark dunes surrounding the inverted crater are comprised of basalt, a black igneous (volcanic) rock commonly found on Mars.

Inverted craters are formed in much the same way that inverted riverbeds are created. Sediment becomes deposited in the crater and packed down, usually in the presence of water. This make the material much denser and more wear-resistant than the surrounding terrain. Over the course of millions and billions of years wind erosion ended up wearing down the surrounding terrain, but since the sediment packed into this crater was more resistant, less of it was eroded. This created the inverted look that we see in the image below.

Clicking on this image will take you to a captioned HiRISE image that provides context for this inverted crater.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 17 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows Aram Chaos in false color, as taken by Mars Odyssey Orbiter's THEMIS camera. Aram Chaos is a 280km wide basin in Western Arabia Terra formed over four billion years ago when a huge asteroid hit the surface.

Over millions of years material filled the crater. Because the Martian environment was much wetter the material became saturated with water. As the climate changed the water froze, but then something strange happened. The ice melted. Scientists aren't sure what caused the ice to melt, but they believe that molten rock moved into the ground below the basin.

When the water-ice melted all the sediments that were frozen with it collapsed and formed the chaotic network of valleys, mesas, and hills you see below. The melted water-ice began pooling in the basin and eventually overflowed the eastern basin rim. When the water rose above the eastern rim it created a channel measuring 15km wide, 80km long, and 2500m deep, flowing into Ares Valles.

After the formation of all this chaotic terrain, Aram refilled with water. The water deposited sediments over the chaos terrain. These sediments varied in composition, leading scientists to believe the environment was in a state of transition.

Hematite is abundant in Aram Chaos; in fact, it contains the second largest known deposit on Mars, after Meridiani Planum. Hematite usually forms in association with water, so it's no surprise that scientists were interested in investigating the area in hopes of finding evidence of water on Mars. In fact, scientists were so interested in examining hematite that they sent Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity to Meridiani Planum, where it found the now infamous blueberries, which are hematite-rich nuggets that formed within water-saturated sediments. It's safe to assume that similar features would exist in Aram.

The OMEGA instrument on board Mars Express has more recently detected large deposits of sulfates in Aram. Like Hematite, sulfates are usually formed in the presence of water, which lends credence to the previous conclusions that water was once abundant in Aram Chaos.

Aram Chaos has a long fascinating history and it promises to continue producing surprises as scientists begin to learn more about the conditions under which it was formed.

This image comes from THEMIS aboard the Mars Odyssey Orbiter. Clicking on the image will take you to the original high resolution image from THEMIS. To see their article on Aram Chaos click here.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 16 2012

Today's Image of Mars once again shows Iani Chaos, but this time we can see all the intricate features  created by the massive amount of water that once passed through the area. Iani Chaos was the source for the large outflow channel, Ares Valles after geologic faults ruptured an enormous reservoir of ground water, causing it to flood the surface.

Two Mars orbiters (Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express) have found mineralogical evidence that there was once an abundance of water in Iani Chaos, lending credence to the idea that the features below were formed by water. The two Mars orbiters found hematite and gypsum in the area, two minerals that are only known to be formed in the presence of an abundance of water.

But how did all these features form?

Looking at the image you can see many web-like features created by what look like inverted riverbeds. Once active rivers on Mars deposited sediments, which were more wear-resistant than the surrounding terrain. When Mars dried up these sediments remained. Over billions of years the wind on Mars eroded the landscape, but the hardened sediments were harder than the surrounding terrain so they became less eroded, thus the reason you see this web of features.

But where did these rivers come from?

When geologic faults ruptured an underground reservoir, millions of tons water poured out onto the surface. The water took the easiest way out, following natural features and creating what we see here today. 

You can see in the bottom right of this image that the terrain is about as high as the inverted riverbeds we see elsewhere. I think we can safely assume from this that there was an enormous presence of water at the bottom right of this image, which drained through the interlocking riverbeds we see below. While this is just an educated guess, these same features are common on Earth, where great lakes and seas have channels and rivers feeding into and out of them.

 Clicking on this image will show the larger size. To see the THEMIS article this image came from
Source: THEMIS

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 15 2012

Today's Image of Mars is a north-looking view of Iani Chaos, the source for the huge outflow channel, Ares Valles. The features that you see in this image were created by enormous amounts of ground water that erupted from an underground reservoir when it became ruptured by geologic faults. 

Iani Chaos was considered a candidate landing site for Mars Science Laboratory because of the large role of water in its formation. Two Mars orbiters (Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express) have found mineralogical evidence that there was once an abundance of water in Iani Chaos. They found hematite and gypsum in the area, two minerals that are only known to be formed in the presence of an abundance of water.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original article on floods in Iani Chaos by the THEMIS team.

Where did Phobos-Grunt Crash?

Reports from senior Russian military officials indicate that Phobos-Grunt crashed into the Pacific. 1250 km west of Wellington Island at 1245ET. Despite reports that it may have crashed in Brazil, all evidence seems to point toward the original observation.

See the below map for an idea of where Phobos-Grunt is reported to have crashed. (Map created from @JPMajor)

Mars Travel is waiting for confirmation and will update this accordingly. For the latest news


When and Where Could Phobos-Grunt Crash?

Updates on Phobos-Grunt landing site. 

UPDATE:  Reports from senior Russian military officials indicate that Phobos-Grunt crashed into the Pacific 1250 km west of Wellington Island. The image below shows the area. (Map source: @JPMajor)


EDIT: According to Roscosmos (The Russian Space Agency) Phobos-Grunt is expected to make landfall between approximately 1250-1334ET in the Atlantic Ocean (As of 1238ET). [This is a pretty good live Phobos-Grunt tracker]

Please note these calculations are based on numerous factors and they can change in an instant.
 For the latest information on Phobos-Grunt Reentry


The below map from Roscosmos shows the anticipated orbit during which Phobos-Grunt is expected to make landfall. (Map Source: RussianSpaceWeb) You can see they have narrowed it down to one orbit.

It appears that Phobos-Grunt will miss North America, but landfall may occur on all other inhabited continents.

Click on the image to see the enlarged version.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 14 2012

Today's Image of Mars was taken in early 2007 by HiRISE after there was speculation that this crater was the landing site of the lost Beagle 2 lander.

The Beagle 2 lander detached from the Mars Express orbiter in December 2003, but  all communication was lost with the lander six days before atmospheric entry. Because there was no telemetry being sent back during its descent scientists cannot be sure where is landed. It is unlikely that the entry, descent, and landing sequence (EDL) was nominal, but just in case, the HiRISE team has been examining the area it was expected to land in hopes of finding it.

This particular image was taken in response to reports that the Beagle 2 lander had actually been found within this crater. One of the reports, from the United Kingdom's The Times referenced the Beagle 2 chief scientist, Colin Pillinger, saying
They suggest that the probe was lost because of cruel luck as it touched down in one of the worst possible places for a soft and successful landing. Rather than dropping to the surface on a flat plain, it appears to have first struck the downslope of a small crater about 18.5m (60ft) in diameter, before crashing into its opposite wall, bouncing several times around the rim and eventually coming to rest at the bottom. Even if the gas bags that were meant to cushion its impact were fully inflated, and there is some evidence that they were not, their design would not have allowed them to protect the probe properly under these unlikely circumstances.
Unfortunately these claims were unsubstantiated, as you can see from the below image of the crater in question. To this day the HiRISE team has continued to look for all the lost Mars landers, including Beagle 2 in hopes that finding them would help to understand the reason for the malfunction and allow future missions to be better prepared. 

To see surface images of all the successful Mars landers and learn about the easiest way to identify a lander simply click here or on the image below.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 13 2012

Today we're going to take a look at 15 different images of Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera. These images show the parachute and backshell of the six successful Mars Landers: Viking I, Viking 2, Mars Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix

It is easy to spot these landers and their associated hardware because we know exactly where they landed. We still haven't been able to find the failed landers, Mars 2, Mars 3, Mars 6, Beagle 2, and Mars Polar Lander, despite extensive searching. Finding the failed landers is much harder because we don't know where they land and we have to guess according to their last known positions as they approached Mars.

When trying to identify a lander the easiest things to identify are the parachute and the large protective backshell. As you can see from most the of the below images, the parachute is the easiest thing to see. The lander itself is relatively small and hard to see. All but one (Mars 2) of the lost landers are believed to have deployed their parachute so they should theoretically be visible if in an area imaged by HiRISE.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original article from the Planetary Society about finding Mars landers.

Get Mars Rover Opportunity Images Sent to Your Phone

That's right! There's an app for that! Now you can browse the latest images from the surface of Mars on your phone! And it's FREE!

The new Mars Images app grabs images from Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's latest transmission as soon as they become available. Mars Images also allows you to browse through old photos from Opportunity. The app was developed by Mark Powell, a computer scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

You can download the app for FREE on the iPhone/iPad and Android phones.

Below are some screenshots from the iPhone/iPad version (top) and the Android version (bottom). Clicking on these images will take you to their respective sites where you can download them for FREE.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 12 2012

Today's Image of Mars is of Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's breathtaking view looking north from the top of Cape York. This image was compiled and colored by The Road to Endeavour's Stuart Atkinson from some of the original images taken by Opportunity.

This is just a taste of the 360 degree panoramic that the MER team has promised to come out with as Opportunity spends the winter at Greeley Haven. The next few months promise to be exciting as Opportunity will be sending back a ton of images showing magnificent views like this!

Clicking on this image will take you to the original, larger image from The Road to Endeavour. I highly recommend checking it out and reading Atkinson's post with this image.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 11 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows the Martian equivalent of terrestrial barchan dunes, which are usually crescent shaped and formed by winds blowing in one uniform direction. These dunes are located in the North Polar region of Mars.

Dunes like these are useful in determining the direction of the wind in this region of Mars because the side facing the wind becomes more eroded, resulting in a sheer, less rounded face. The wind also creates horn-like features oriented in the direction the wind predominantly blows. 

In this image the carbon dioxide ice on the dunes is just beginning to sublimate, revealing the dark basaltic sand underneath. The north polar Martian winter is just ending so most of the ground is still covered in the carbon dioxide ice, but by the time summer arrives it will have fully thawed, leaving the ground as dark as the patches in this image.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original, captioned HiRISE image.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 10 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows a large depression in Deuteronilus Mensae, a region characterized by glacial features. The depression that is central to this image measures 2000m deep and 110km in diameter from north to south. This depression is eye-catching because it contains darker material than the surrounding terrain. 

In this image you can also see valleys cut deep into the Martian surface. Scientists believe these valleys may have formed from intense melting of water ice, which then quickly froze and flowed down the slopes of the depression, much like a glacier. This was common on Mars when rising magma or impacts resulted in massive amounts of ground water erupting from underground reservoirs, only to be frozen in the frigid Martian temperatures.

At least one glacier in Deuteronilus Mensae formed as recently as 10,000-100,000 years ago. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's radar have discovered that part of Deuteronilus Mensae currently contain ice, making the region a possible landing site for any future manned mission to mars.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original high-resolution image from Mars Express. [See the ESA's article on Deuteronilus Mensae]

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 9 2012

Today's Image of Mars is of the Face on Mars, one of the most famous pareidolias on Mars.

In 1976 the Viking I Orbiter was taking photos of possible landing sites for Viking II when it took the below shot of what looked like a human face. Scientists quickly realized this 'face' for what it was, a mesa with irregular shadows that at the right angle made it look like the face of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

The Face on Mars soon captured the public interest, but what many people don't realize is that NASA wanted that to happen. They initially published the photo with a caption "huge rock formation ... which resembles a human head ... formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth." They the created a public relations campaign around The Face on Mars. According to NASA "the authors [of the initial caption] reasoned it would be a good way to engage the public and attract attention to Mars." They were successful - perhaps too successful.

 The public became fascinated by The Face on Mars, with some theorizing it was an alien artifact being covered up by NASA. NASA felt it was important to dispatch these claims, so they imaged it with the Mars Global Surveyor in 1998 and 2001. [See those images in this NASA article]

Regardless of evidence, there will always be people that wish to believe in conspiracy, so NASA hasn't convinced them all, despite having a high resolution image of The Face. NASA has even pointed out they would have no reason to deny a civilization on Mars because their budget would surely increase if one was discovered. Alas, the Face on Mars is just one of many mesas in the Cydonia region of Mars.

Clicking on this image will take you to the 2001 article about the Face on Mars and the various images taken of it.

Don't Count Out GLXP Team JURBAN

There are still 26 teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP). You probably haven't heard of all of them, but one you should have heard about is the JURBAN team. JURBAN stands for Juxtopia® Urban Robotics Brilliant Application Network and their unique approach to the GLXP will likely serve as a model for future space missions.

What makes the JURBAN team stand out from the other 26 teams?

First, JURBAN is comprised entirely of underprivileged students, ranging from high school to doctoral students. There are currently 21 students from six states volunteering for the team, but they are looking to increase that number. Students volunteering for the team are directly involved in all aspects of JURBAN's mission, whether it be in the rover design or public outreach.

Simple, JURBAN offers the most innovative Moon rover idea. The JURBAN rover called JOLHT, is unique in the design and technique used to navigate the required 500m across the Moon's surface.  

Initial JOLHT swarm robotics architecture
(Note wheels have been removed from design)
(Image Credit: JURBAN)
The rover moves like an earthworm, and has three semi-autonomous parts that will detach and work independently of one another. So while many of the competitors in GLXP will have to focus on one objective at a time, JOHLT will be able to attempt multiple missions simultaneously.

How does that work exactly?

Each piece of the rover is equipped with visual, locomotion, communication, power, and computer processing subsystems, making them independent and self-sustaining.

What JURBAN is doing is truly ingenious. They are essentially landing three rovers on the Moon. Not only that, but all three are semi-autonomous, meaning they can operate with minimal guidance and communication. JURBAN intends to use two of the pieces in tandem with one another so they can help each other around obstacles.  JURBAN even has a contingency plan if all else fails. In an interview with Mars Travel, JURBAN program manager, Blaze Sanders, said he couldn't go into detail, but claimed their contingency plan involves shooting the rover from a device on the lander.

The JURBAN team has created redundancies in each of the swarm bots so that even if there are communication or hardware issues they can still operate. The idea of having one rover that becomes many is redundant in itself and ensures that even if one of their swarm bots fails the mission can carry on. 

The idea of swarm bots is not unique to the JURBAN team, but there has never been anything like it to land on a body other than Earth, so there is no precedent to rely on for JOLHT. However, the semi-autonomous, fuzzy logic software aboard JOLHT is similar to that used in the Mars Exploration Rover's Spirit and Opportunity to great success. In fact, it was so successful that the recently launched Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity uses a very similar system. There is no doubt that other GLXP teams are planning to use similar software.

Juxtopia® Wearable Augmented Reality Goggles
One edge JURBAN has comes from their plans for maneuvering the swarm bots. They plan to use technology created by their parent company, Juxtopia, to control the individual swarm bots. JURBAN is using a re-purposed version of their Juxtopia® Wearable Augmented Reality Goggles, which won a National Science Foundation grant and allows the wearer to see all the rover information on the lense of the goggles. Three pairs of the goggles will be used, each one for a separate swarm bot.Each person. Each pair will enable the user to see how far away their segment is from the lander, what direction its pointing, its heading, and the status of the battery, among other things.

How will JURBAN get their rover to the Moon?

JURBAN is in a joint partnership with another GLXP team, Rocket City Pioneers, to secure a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket. JURBAN will then use a graphite rocket to navigate the lander to the proper lunar orbit. The graphite rocket is being provided by the Team Phoenicia GLXP team in exchange for JURBAN helping them with their airbag landing system.

How will JOLHT land on the Moon?

Orion CEV with Warwick airbags at NASA LaRC- Source: Warwick Mills®
JURBAN is contracting with Warwick Mills® to use airbags and perform a landing similar to that of the Mars Exploration Rovers. Warwick Mills® airbags are currently being tested for use on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (seen on the right). According to the company's their website "worked with ILC, JPL, and NASA in the development of the inflatable Mars landing airbags for the Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity exploration missions." The success of Warwick Mills airbags helps to ensure the JURBAN lander will reach the lunar surface successfully.

JURBAN has Summer 2012 plans to conduct drop tests at 60mph (97kmph), the nominal speed at which the lander will impact the Moon's surface. This will help them ensure that the landing will not damage the lander or rover inside. 

The Journey Ahead for JURBAN

JURBAN currently has eight sponsors: Altium, Lockheed Martin, Tree House Venture, Nurture Form, Moon Pie, Final Frontier Design, Solar System Express, and Tennessee State University.
JURBAN hopes to raise $16 million by the end of 2012. To do this they will be seeking out additional sponsors and initiating a grassroots campaign.

During an interview with program manager Blaze Sanders, we discussed their planned NASCAR-like strategy for sponsors, which would give companies the chance to have their logo placed on the JOLHT rover in return for sponsoring the mission. If this is successful it could very well revolutionize the process of finding funds for space missions.
There is no doubt that all the GLXP teams have a long road ahead of them, but the groundwork set by the JURBAN team promises to give their rover a chance at the $30 million prize!

Connect with JURBAN

To keep up with everything JURBAN is doing you can connect with them through

or check out their GLXP team page.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 8 2012

Today's Image of Mars is of 'Greeley Haven,' the site for Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's fifth winter resting point. Greeley Haven in near the northern tip of the Cape York segment of Endeavour Crater. 

Greeley Haven was selected by the MER team because of its interesting geological features and the fact that it lies on a North facing slope. Opportunity needs to spend the winter on a north facing slope in order to optimize its solar energy.

From this position Opportunity will take a 360° panorama of the surrounding area. The Mars rover will also study the terrain and material of Greeley Haven.

This image was taken on Sol 2793 of Opportunity's mission, which was on December 2 2011. Clicking on the image will take you to the original captioned image from NASA. 

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 7 2012

Today's Image of Mars was taken by HiRISE and shows us some puzzling ridges in Aureum Chaos. Scientists are unsure of what created this unusual ridged feature, but in an attempt to explain what they are seeing, the HiRISE team has come up with a geological history that would explain the below features. That history is detailed below:

  • Sediments were deposited by water or airfall.
  • Stresses in the sediments created a "crudely polygonal patterned" surface.
  • Ground water navigated the fracture patterns and deposited minerals which cemented the sediments. 
  • After billions of years of wind erosion, the cemented, more wear-resistant fractures were left as the high-standing ridges seen below.
The HiRISE team emphasizes that this is just pure speculation on their part and there is no way to be sure exactly how these high-standing ridges came to be. Click on the image below to see the original captioned image from HiRISE that contains their speculation.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 6 2012

Today's Image of Mars shows lava flowing into a crater from two distinct flows. The 3km wide crater is located in Southwestern Daedalia Planum, which is south of Arsia Mons.

On the south (bottom) side of the crater a lava flow made contact with the raised rim of the crater, but because the lava flow was not as thick as the height of the crater rim it was not able to break through. We can tell the crater is older than the southern lava flow because the lava flow has blanketed the ejecta that normally surrounds an impact crater and it has pushed up against the rim of the crater, much like water does when it encounters a barrier.

Later, a thicker lava flow came from the north and was able to break through the rim and start filling the crater. If the rim had been a little smaller, or the lava flow thicker then the crater would have been filled.

The HiRISE team studies lava flows like the two here to determine their thickness, viscosity, and rate of movement. These measurements help scientists to determine the composition and temperature of the lava flows.

Clicking on this image will take you to a captioned variation of this one from HiRISE.

Mars Photo of the Day - Jan 5 2012

Today's Image of Mars was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on the 810th sol (Martian day) of its mission (April 13, 2006) and it shows boulders with interesting texture on "Low Ridge." The boulder at the forefront of the image is approximately 40cm (16in) tall and of volcanic origin. Its surface contains many vesicles (rounded holes) in similar fashion to rocks found on the outside of lava flows on Earth.

Clicking on this image will take you to the original captioned image from NASA.