Google+ Mars Travel: June 2013

Western Rim of Endeavour Crater Digital Terrain Model

The labeled image below is a digital terrain model (DTM) of the Western rim of Endeavour Crater overlain with a northward perspective from HiRISE and compositional data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). This is the area Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been investigating since 2011.

Click to see hires version from HiRISE

This image has been instrumental in planning Opportunity's movements and continuously developing mission. As indicated in the image above, orbital data has identified areas where clay (red), sulfate (green), and volcanic (blue) minerals could be present. Clays and sulfates are indicative of a watery past on Mars as they often only form in the presence of significant moisture.

Opportunity is currently around Cape York, but heading south in an attempt to discover more about the geology of Endeavour Crater.

1.3 Billion Pixel Mosaic from Mars Science Laboratory

Below is a panoramic mosaic of Mars compiled from almost 900 images taken by Mars Science Laboratory. Click on the image to see the interactive photo with over 1.3 billion pixels, then zoom in on any feature that interests you!

Click above to view the interactive 1.3 billion pixel image from MSL Curiosity!
Source: NASA/JPL

This images used to create this mosaic was taken while Curiosity was at Rocknest between October 5 and November 16 2013. The center of the image is directly south of the rover, while the right and left edges are north of it.

Definitely click on this image so that you can view all 1.3 billion magnificent pixels of Mars!

'Rat' on Mars

Recently a lot of people have been talking about a 'Rat' on Mars, so I thought I'd show you what all the fuss is about. To see this supposed 'rat' click on the first image for the high resolution version from NASA then zoom in on the upper left corner. See anything?

Click on the image for the High Resolution version from NASA then zoom in on the upper left corner. See anything?
What you might think is an animal is actually a psychological phenomena called pareidolia where your brain interprets vague objects as familiar shapes, or in this case, an animal.  This is an evolutionary trait in humans that once allowed us to easily identify predators on the horizon because we could easily identify their faces and features

In case you can't find the 'rat' in the photo above, I've included the zoomed in and circled version that Huffington Post compiled from UFO Sightings Daily below. UFO Sightings Daily was the first to report on the 'rat'.

While I believe this 'rat' on Mars is simply pareidolia, yet again on Mars, I leave it up to you to decide whether it is a 'rat' or simply your mind playing a trick on you. 

The Radiation Dilemma

Data from Mars Science Laboratory's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is enabling scientists to accurately assess the level of radiation exposure experienced during a mission to Mars. Understanding the risks faced by astronauts on future manned missions to Mars will help scientists mitigate those risks. But what exactly are the risks?

Scientists have determined that the crew on a round-trip human mission to Mars would be exposed to 100 times the amount of radiation the average person experiences on an annual basis. The amount of radiation exposure faced by the crew could increase their risk of cancer by 5%, which is outside NASA's acceptable parameters. The risk increases if the astronauts land on Mars because they will not be shielded by the ship and Mars lacks a magnetic field like Earth's to shield people from radiation. The below graphic from NASA compares the level of radiation exposure from several experiences, including a round-trip mission to Mars.

Comparing Radiation of a Manned Missioon to Mars with Other Activities (NASA)

While the level of radiation exposure is important to understand and mitigate, there is no reason why it should be a show-stopper for space missions. Just as a soldier signs up for the military knowing he could get shot at, an astronaut knows they could die from a spacecraft malfunction or radiation exposure, among other things. These risks, while not inconsequential, are acceptable, as long as before the mission the crew understands and accepts the risks.

Not only that, but governments have no standing to prevent astronauts from embarking on potentially hazardous missions. There are numerous legal activities that increase a person's risk of cancer exponentially more than a trip to Mars. According to a study at Oxford, cigarette smoking causes a "25-fold increase in lung cancer risk in men smoking 25 cigarettes a day or more, compared to lifelong non-smokers,"  (Cancer Research UK) yet the government still allows people to smoke as many cigarettes as they want. Why then should astronauts be limited on how much risk they can take?

If governments refuse to allow astronauts to take the risks inherent in their job, then it will be dependent on private corporations unhindered by unnecessary regulations to begin human exploration of the solar system in earnest.