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NASA Mars Space

NASA Shares Curiosity's New Mars Photos (nasa.gov) 88

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: "Curiosity is making us giddy by showing us some of the most amazing vistas we have ever seen on Mars," reports NASA. On the web site for their Mars Science Lab, they're sharing mission updates, but also all the raw photos as they're transmitted back by their Curiosity rover, which is travelling up a Martian mountain. "The plan so far has been to drive about 1/3 mile, stop to drill and drive again sampling the layers of the mountain as Curiosity makes her way up."
Curiosity is trying to determine whether Mars ever had environments capable of supporting simple life forms. NASA points out that it took Curiosity four years to reach its current location, joking about one wall of layered sandstone, "Wait, is this the Utah or Mars?"
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NASA Shares Curiosity's New Mars Photos

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  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Monday September 12, 2016 @07:41AM (#52869703)

    Wait, is this the Utah or Mars?

    It could be the Mars, I suppose. . . .

    • Re:The Utah? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:02AM (#52869751) Homepage

      Sort of like how people say "The Ukraine" ;)

      I love how thin and fragile looking those layers are, you rarely see such delicate shapes on Earth. Mars has the advantages of low gravity and winds that exert only tiny forces. No rain, snow or floods either. There's stronger thermal cycling, but that's apparently not a problem for them.

      I also love the white hydrothermal deposits that fill in the cracks; it reminds me of my land here (Iceland) - though my land is basaltic, not sedimentary. Too bad it all looks so amorphous and bland; would be neat to find deposits of large single-crystal calcite, pretty chalcedony (maybe with botryoidal surface patterns), opal, zeolites, etc. Hydrothermal systems can make neat minerals, but I see no evidence unfortunately that it's done so there.

      • Re:The Utah? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @10:20AM (#52870263) Homepage Journal

        I *is* an alien landscape, after all.

        These images remind me quite a bit of the Atacama Desert, large parts of which receive almost no rain. The resemblance is almost uncanny, right down to the color. There are two very subtle differences though. Some of the sand slopes on Mars are unusually steep, they almost climb up the rock faces; that suggests there's a steep static critical angle of repose, but of course that depends on the material. I think if you are a sci-fi writer you might be tempted to make detritus slopes on a low-gravity world all steep; that would't be the case because avalanches tend to go on longer so the median slope wouldn't be that different. But some slopes could get very steep.

        The second and more obvious difference is how on Mars erosion scars are all horizontal, wind-cut features; the Atacama gets very little rain, but the movement of water down slopes leaves very obvious traces behind in the loose material.

        The utter lack of vegetation on Mars is also striking, although I've been in parts of the Atacama where it hadn't rained in five years (which is not unusual). That landscape appeared to be just as lifeless as one sees in the Mars photos, except for a narrow strip of a few hundred yards near the ocean where a few cacti survived off morning sea mists. The Atacama got rain a months after I was there, and a friend sent me a picture of the "moonscape" afterward: literally every inch of it was covered in wildflowers as far as the eye could see. She reported that the fragrance was so overwhelming it'd make you retch. A vast cloud of tiny pollinating insects hovered over the carpet of flowers.

        The thing is, when I was there you could take a handful of that sand and without a very close grain-by-grain examination under a magnifying glass you'd swear it was completely sterile. In fact it would be chock full of extremophile life, adapted to a life cycle of a week or two of furious growth and reproduction followed by years of dormancy.

        By the way Mars has been very visible in the evening sky for the past few months. If you have clear evening you should go out and look for it in the twilight, before the stars come out. It's easy to identify by its striking red color.

        • Spot on. I visited the Atacama desert quite a few years ago and these pictures are very similar to what I saw there.

          In fact, I recall one day when I walked away from the asphalted road various kilometres into the desert; it was a quite isolated area (around 30 km to the nearest village). The first picture starting from the top shows a landscape which is surprisingly similar to the one I remember there.
        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          By the way Mars has been very visible in the evening sky for the past few months.

          Yes. It's just to the East of the sodium vapor streetlight.

      • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 )

        Sort of like how people say "The Ukraine" ;)

        I love how thin and fragile looking those layers are, you rarely see such delicate shapes on Earth. Mars has the advantages of low gravity and winds that exert only tiny forces. No rain, snow or floods either. There's stronger thermal cycling, but that's apparently not a problem for them.

        Thermal cycling isn't a problem without the frost associated with the presence of migrating water:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        Also, CO2 cannot be present in a liquid state on Mars due to the low atmospheric pressure, so there can be no frost weathering associated with that material either.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Frost weathering != thermal cycling. Different materials have different coefficients of expansion, not just "water" and "everything else". Try epoxying a piece of glass to a piece of steel and watch what happens when you set it outside in a place where the temperature varies, even if the temperature never drops below freezing

          Clearly however it's not at a problematic level in this case :)

          Also I'm not sure why you're of the view that only liquids can enter rocks and freeze...

        • There is frost on Mars though, Viking photographed it [slidesharecdn.com].

      • Sort of like how people say "The Ukraine" ;)

        There is actually a reason why Ukraine is called "The Ukraine" by some. In Russian "Ukraine" means borderland. Russians referred to the territory as "The Borderland".

        It's actually incorrect (and culturally insensitive) to refer to Ukraine as "The Ukraine" now- doing so implies that Ukraine is not a proper country but a region belonging to Russia. Once Ukraine gained its independence then the word "the" was dropped.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @09:08AM (#52869955)
      The question is, does it look like it can be made liveable? If yes, then it's Mars.
    • This totally looks like home, except for the lack of clueless tourists calling in when they run out of water.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Was there any sign of intelligent life? Yes? Then it probably wasn't Utah ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now, that thing is built really old school, ain't it? I wish consumer electronics nowadays were at least a little bit like it.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      You want your next iPod to cost $2,47 billion dollars and powered by plutonium?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You want your next iPod to cost $2,47 billion dollars and powered by plutonium?

        A price cut from Apple would be welcome...

      • You want your next iPod to cost $2,47 billion dollars and powered by plutonium?

        That would be the iPod we would have if electronics were regulated in the same way as medical devices.

    • Re:Still rolling (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 12, 2016 @08:16AM (#52869795) Homepage

      BTW, Curiosity has only been out there for four years. I think you're confusing it with Opportunity (which yes, indeed, is still actively roving Mars, 12 years going!). Spirit and Opportunity combined cost $820M (although the program has gone so long that their science extension costs have been adding up, another ~$120M or so).

      The cost difference between the MER and MSL projects is one reason why I have trouble getting fully onboard with MSL, and why I'm rather disappointed that Mars 2020 got chosen (there goes another $2,1B - tack on another half billion after the inevitable price hikes). We could have sent a sub to Titan and/or a sample return mission to Enceladus for that price. We could have sent a blimp to spend months in the skies of Venus with a multiuse phase-change/bellow balloon lander to sample all across the surface for that price. We could have sent a mission to the core of a protoplanet (16 Psyche) *and* to a Jupiter trojan *and* to another large KBO (say, Eris) for that kind of money. We could have done a mini-Cassini for Uranus or Neptune for that kind of money. I just cannot get myself to believe that the science return on Mars 2020 is going to approach any of those things. Some of the "instruments", like MHS, sound more like NASA they put a "Request For Lame Excuses To Have Such A Large Payload Capacity" rather than a RFP. :P I just don't get this Mars obsession.

      • Had they waited for the Red Dragon, lots of things would have gotten simpler, too. Now on one hand, you can't always wait for something better, since you'd never accomplish anything this way. But given the almost identical mission for the 2020 rover and the strange downgrades of the sample cache idea (we'll need yet another rover to finally collect them?!), I can't but feel a little bit underwhelmed.
      • We could have sent a blimp to spend months in the skies of Venus with a multiuse phase-change/bellow balloon lander to sample all across the surface for that price.

        The surface of Venus is 800 degrees Fahrenheit. A balloon would have its electronics fried. You'd need something akin to a rocket with A/C to get down and back up fast to sample the surface in a re-usable way. That ain't gonna be cheap.

        That being said, I generally agree with you. A Titan boat-bot would be cool both scientifically and conceptually

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          The surface of Venus is 800 degrees Fahrenheit. A balloon would have its electronics fried

          There seems to be some confusion here. Note that there were two things mentioned: balloon *and* lander. Venus's atmosphere has a strong temperature gradient, like ours - it just continues downward to the extremes. Long-term flight in Venus's atmosphere is quite reasonable (and there are a number of missions that have proposed this) at the more temperate altitudes. There are even locations on Venus that are temperat

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            To give a sense of how much "$2,1 + whatever cost overruns we happen to see" can do on Venus, one of the current missions under proposal is for both a balloon and lander for a New Frontiers mission (these generally run around $800m, give or take). Now, that's much more limited - the balloon is only a short-term one (not much longer than Vega, about 3 days) and a one-way lander. But with three times the budget? Totally feasable. We could be answering pretty much all of the *massive* unsolved questions abo

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

            It's important to stress that all of these things have already had a great deal of work on them...

            I'm skeptical. That "great deal of work" is mostly with simplistic models: spherical-cow kind of stuff. If it's new technology it generally ends up costing far more than originally expected when actually implemented. And there's a good chance of failure on the first try.

            I would suggest starting simple: send two sample-return probes to two diverse locations on Venus. Forget about the re-use angle.

            (Another probl

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              I'm skeptical. That "great deal of work" is mostly with simplistic models: spherical-cow kind of stuff.

              You would be wrong.

              Name a particular aspect and I'll go into detail about what's been done on it.

              If it's new technology it generally ends up costing far more than originally expected when actually implemented.

              It's no more new technology than what's going on Mars 2020.

              I would suggest starting simple: send two sample-return probes to two diverse locations on Venus

              If you can go down to the surface and then b

        • Cows on Mars! Yes! Not only will no human lives be at risk, we can test the hypothesis that methane causes global warming.

          And if cow colonization is successful...

          All hail our new bovine Martian overlords!

    • Did you hear about Pale Blue Dot [wikipedia.org]? The onboard vidicon cameras, designed in 1970's for Voyager 1, are still working and taking that picture.
      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Well at least they were working in 1990 when the picture was taken. That's about 13 years after Voyager I was launched. Shortly after the picture was taken the cameras were shut down. I understand we still get a faint signal fro Voyager I, from which we can learn about the heliopause and other things, but there's no data being transmitted from the spacecraft any longer.

  • Some of those shots look surprisingly like parts of West Texas with a color filter over the lens.
    • You may be even more surprised once you realize that parts of West Texas look like Mars with a color filter over the lens.
  • ...ultimately useless. What we all want to know if did Mars support life? All the missions to Mars were not equipped to answer that fundamental question. NASA needs to finally design fund a mission to answer that question. Otherwise it is just pretty pictures and things to make planetary geologists happy, and they are going to lose funding and interest very quickly.
    • ...ultimately useless.

      Not totally useless. It helps to forget about the pictures from Jupiter's Juno.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      What we all want to know if did Mars support life? All the missions to Mars were not equipped to answer that fundamental question. NASA needs to finally design fund a mission to answer that question.

      And how exactly do you propose to answer that in a single mission? Do you plan to sample the entire planet at all depths and return that all back to Earth so every test possible can be done?

      (The answer to your initial question is "No", but I know hope springs eternal to a lot of people... ;) )

      • I don't propose anything. I don't know how to do it. That is NASAs job to figure it out. Apparently they don't know how to do it either. They are still trying to answer the question "Did Mars have the capability to support life?" which is a good goal too, but after the nth mission people are going to get tired of that, especially since they haven't answered that question yet. My guess is that Mars never supported life either, but based on what we know so far you can't tell.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          So let me get this straight. Your argument thusfar has been:

          1) Stupid NASA has been doing it all wrong.
          2) I don't know how they should be doing it instead.
          3) They're supposed to be figuring out a better way than either they or I have figured out

          Am I understanding you right here?

          • I don't agree with him but I think I get what's he's trying to say: that NASA doesn't appear to be developing any special tech or sensors to detect signs of life, and putting it on their rovers, so continuing to send them ill-equipped is costing money; but he's not sure what tech you *would* need but figures NASA should have a better idea.
            He's missing the fact that many of the devices, e.g. the spectrometers on the rovers, should be able to detect signs of life -present or past- if it just ran across som
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              NASA doesn't appear to be developing any special tech or sensors to detect signs of life, and putting it on their rovers

              They are. The fact that he doesn't follow what payloads rovers carry does not change this fact.

              Tools that Curiosity was sent with for finding life (as well as other purposes) include ChemCam and APXS for determiing spectra, MAHLI (if anything would be fossilized, or be a mineral-forming organism), and SAM (direct organics analysis).

              Sorry that there's no magical "Tool That Finds 100% Wheth

    • The Vikings missions where a bit controversial in their findings.
      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Well, not all of their findings. Their research on ocean navigation was superb, but I'll admit that their research on which northern European peoples made the best slaves was indeed controversial at best.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Suppose you answer that question, what does it matter in terms of moving forward on Mars exploration?

      It doesn't really change the equation in terms of human exploration or establishing any kind of base there. I'm not even sure it informs the rover exploration missions other than influencing the science they do, although even then I doubt you'd get away with an exclusionary rover that was solely designed for "did Mars support life?" or could even design one if that was possible.

      The planet is too big and the

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      ...ultimately useless.

      Useless to you.

      You think one mission is meant to do all that? Ha.

      You'll be moaning about ExoMars doesn't do once it lands. Awful predictable posting.

  • That looks like a deadly place for a fragile little rover.
    The slate (?) shelves look like they're collapsing constantly.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How come they (NASA) are constantly reminding people that what they see is NOT Utah?

  • Strange, to me it looks a lot like those endless rock quarries [tvtropes.org] used in the innumerable low-budget sci-fi shows produced by the BBC in the '70s and '80s.

    I mean, I am as excited as the next guy to see pictures of Mars and all, but "amazing vistas" these are not. It's grungy, dusty rocks not that dissimilar to what you might find on Earth, without even any funky colors we've been trained to expect from space (they need to use more red filter so people "know" its Mars ;-). Who knew that the universe subscribed

  • It appears to be just dead pixels and/or compression artifacts and/or dust on the lens since its pretty much identical in several different pics, but you already know The UFO conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with several of those images.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      I also notice a thin light line down the right-middle of many recent Curiosity photos, and not just from this site. I wonder if the camera imaging grid had a column of pixels die.

      Not a big deal, easy to interpolate away on processed versions.

  • I know it's not a staged thing, but I have to mention what I saw anyway.

    First thing I saw in the image of the rover's large viewfinder is a dude w/o hair, tilting his head down and holding an earpiece against his ear. His single-piece sunglasses look hip, too.

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