NASA Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.” Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a … Continue reading

Signs of Ancient Mars Lakes and Quakes Seen in New Map

Long ago, in the largest canyon system in our solar system, vibrations from “marsquakes” shook soft sediments that had accumulated in Martian lakes. The shaken sediments formed features that now appear as a series of low hills apparent in a geological map based on NASA images. The map was released today by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This map of the western Candor Chasma canyon within Mars’ Valles Marineris is the highest-resolution Martian geological map ever relased by USGS. It is derived from images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which … Continue reading

Rosetta Comet Water Different Than Earth Water

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has found the water vapor from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to be significantly different from that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet’s oceans. The measurements, by the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) instrument, were made in the month following the arrival of the spacecraft on Aug. 6. It is one of the most anticipated early results of the mission, because the origin of Earth’s water is still an open question. Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the … Continue reading

Sedimentary Signs of a Martian Lakebed

This evenly layered rock photographed by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit not far from where flowing water entered a lake. The scene combines multiple frames taken with Mastcam’s right-eye camera on Aug. 7, 2014, during the 712th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. It shows an outcrop at the edge of “Hidden Valley,” seen from the valley floor.  This view spans about 5 feet (1.5 meters) across in the foreground.  The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under … Continue reading

Warm Gas Pours ‘Cold Water’ on Galaxy’s Star-Making

Some like it hot, but for creating new stars, a cool cosmic environment is ideal. As a new study suggests, a surge of warm gas into a nearby galaxy — left over from the devouring of a separate galaxy — has extinguished star formation by agitating the available chilled gas. The unique findings illustrate a new dimension to galaxy evolution, and come courtesy of the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory, in which NASA played a key role, and NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. Astronomers want to understand why galaxies in the local universe fall into two major categories: … Continue reading

On Pluto’s Doorstep, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens for Encounter

After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., confirmed at 9:53 p.m. (EST) that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to “active” mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons – currently more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just over 162 million miles from … Continue reading

Microgravity Helping Us Understand Immune System’s Tiny Warriors

Scary threats to human health dominate the news these days. Space travel may help scientists strengthen our bodies’ ability to fight such threats. Two upcoming studies on leukocytes—human defense cells—seek to understand how these tiny warriors mount their defense. Astronauts’ immune systems don’t work as well in microgravity as on Earth. Knowing why is key to protecting astronauts’ health and could lead to new treatments on Earth for those with impaired immune systems. TripleLux-B launches to the International Space Station in December 2014 on SpaceX’s fifth commercial resupply mission. In February 2015, TripleLux-A will follow aboard SpaceX’s sixth mission. Both … Continue reading

NASA’s New Orion Spacecraft Completes First Spaceflight Test

NASA marked a major milestone Friday as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years. “Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.” Orion blazed into the morning sky … Continue reading

Strange galaxy perplexes astronomers

With the help of citizen scientists, a team of astronomers has found an important new example of a very rare type of galaxy that may yield valuable insight on how galaxies developed in the early Universe. The new discovery technique promises to give astronomers many more examples of this important and mysterious type of galaxy. The galaxy they studied, named J1649+2635, nearly 800 million light-years from Earth, is a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way, but with prominent “jets” of subatomic particles propelled outward from its core at nearly the speed of light. The problem is that spiral galaxies … Continue reading