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No methane in 'initial sniffs' of Martian air, says NASA

mars curiosity methane nasa jpl

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lab demo of the measurement chamber inside the Tunable Laser Spectrometer — an atmosphere analysis instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover.

"The most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on Mars" did not detect methane gas on Mars, reports NASA.

Preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or non-biological processes. 

Officials released the test results Friday during a teleconference from Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists with the space agency are trying to figure out if Mars was ever hospitable to microbial life, and how the planet may have lost a substantial amount of original atmosphere.

Learning what happened to the Martian atmosphere will help scientists assess whether the planet ever was habitable. The present atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

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Speculation to observation: NASA finds evidence of ancient, flowing stream on Mars (PHOTOS)

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

mars curiosity rock outcrops

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI

Rock Outcrops on Mars and Earth: This set of images compares the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars (left) with similar rocks seen on Earth (right). The image of Link, obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover, shows rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters), within the rock outcrop. Erosion of the outcrop results in gravel clasts that fall onto the ground, creating the gravel pile at left. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. A typical Earth example of sedimentary conglomerate formed of gravel fragments in a stream is shown on the right. An annotated version of the image highlights a piece of gravel that is about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) across. It was selected as an example of coarse size and rounded shape. Rounded grains (of any size) occur by abrasion in sediment transport, by wind or water, when the grains bounce against each other. Gravel fragments are too large to be transported by wind. At this size, scientists know the rounding occurred in water transport in a stream. The name Link is derived from a significant rock formation in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where there is also a lake with the same name. Scientists enhanced the color in the Mars image to show the scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain. The Link outcrop was imaged with the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on Sept. 2, 2012, which was the 27th sol, or Martian day of operations.

curiosity ancient stream bed

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Link to a Watery Past: In this image from NASA's Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust. The Link outcrop was imaged with the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on Sept. 2, 2012, which was the 27th sol, or Martian day of operations. The name Link is derived from a significant rock formation in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where there is also a lake with the same name. Scientists enhanced the color in this version to show the Martian scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain.

curiosity finds evidence of ancient flowing stream

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories.


Curiosity has seen evidence of an ancient, flowing stream on Mars. The secret is in the Martian gravel. 

NASA reports, "The shapes tell you they were transported and the sizes tell you they couldn't be transported by wind. They were transported by water flow," said Curiosity science co-investigator Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

The sizes and shapes of the stones cemented into conglomerate rock at the discovery sites offer clues about the speed and distance of the stream. The gravels ranges in size from as small a grain of sand, to as large as a golf ball. 

Earlier evidence suggested the presence of water on Mars, but the discovery of "rocks containing ancient streambed gravels -- is the first of its kind," says NASA.

"From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep," said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. "Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it."

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Video: Curiosity rolls, zaps Mars rock, 'No Martians were injured'

NASA's Torsten Zorn, the tactical downlink lead on the Mars Curiosity rover, explained via video how the team had a major success this week when they deployed a laser-firing arm for the first time on Mars.

"The ChemCam unit, or Chemistry and Camera instrument, fired the laser for the first time on Mars using the beam from the science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called 'Coronation,'" Zorn explained. "We promise, no Martians were injured in this experiment," he joked.

Soon the team will turn on its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. Next week the rover will also head to Gleneig on Mars where the goal is to drill a rock sample at the alien location. 

"The team named the landing site this week after the famous science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, on his birthday, Aug. 22nd, and he would've been 92," Zorn said.

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Video: What it really looks like to land on Mars

This color full-resolution image showing the heat shield of NASA's Curiosity rover was obtained during descent to the surface of Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech

This color full-resolution image showing the heat shield of NASA's Curiosity rover was obtained during descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield when it was about 50 feet (16 meters) from the spacecraft.

KPCC reporters have been following NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — as it gives us a new look at the Martian surface. Follow the series online.

Like a patchwork parachute, the descent images of NASA's Curiosity have been sewn into a story of what it feels like to smack the surface of a far away planet. The new HD video (below) shows the spacecraft's skydive onto the surface of Mars using full-resolution images of the rover's descent.

Notes YouTube user dlfitch:

As of August 20, all but a dozen 1600x1200 frames have been uploaded from the rover, and those missing were interpolated using thumbnail data.The result was applied a heavy noise reduction, color balance, and sharpening for best visibility. The video plays at 15fps, or 3x realtime. The heat shield impacts in the lower left frame at 0:21, and is shown enlarged at the end of the video.

On Wednesday it was also announced that Curiosity's landing site had been named for the late author Ray Bradbury on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Bradbury Landing then bid goodbye to Curiosity as the rover passed the driving test, making its first movement and leaving its first wheel tracks on the Martian surface. The rover is now roughly 20 feet from where it landed 16 days ago, said NASA in a news release.

During a news conference today at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission's lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive. "We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead," Heverly said.

VIDEO


(h/t io9 and metafilter

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Space lasers are happening: Curiosity to fire at unsuspecting Martian rock

 first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech

This is the first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater landing site taken by NASA's Curiosity rover. The panorama was made from thumbnail versions of images taken by the Mast Camera.

NASA takes the figurative phasers off stun as Curiosity, the world's coolest remote control vehicle, prepares to fire its space laser at an unsuspecting Martian rock next week.

Since landing in the Gale crater on the surface of Mars on Aug. 5, NASA's rover has been getting a full health checkup. Now, it's time for target practice.

Scientists said Friday they've selected a generic-looking rock about 10 feet away from the landing site to ready, aim, fire, and burn with a small hole.

Let's just hope the generic-looking rock they've selected isn't one of those generic-looking fakes with a hidden key inside that leads to some other part of Mars that's invisible or located in another dimension or something. 

The laser is one of ten tools Curiosity will be using to study the planet in search of signs that the environment was favorable for microbial life.

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