A weird shape spotted on the surface of Mars may look like an agave plant, a starfish, fossilized coral or even an infant Demogorgon, but experts say there’s a perfectly natural explanation for the object that’s been dubbed a “Martian Flower.”
The tiny multi-branched shape was captured in images from the ChemCam and Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been operating for nearly 10 years in Gale Crater on Mars.
BELLEVUE, Wash. — NASA says the record-setting belch of Martian methane that its Curiosity rover detected last week has faded away, leaving some big questions hanging in the air: Where did the gas come from, and what were its origins?
Much of the methane on Earth is produced biologically, from sources ranging from microbes to the digestive tracts of cows and humans. But methane can also be produced through geological, completely non-biological processes. For example, methane makes up about 5 percent of the atmosphere of the Saturnian moon Titan, which is so cold that methane and other hydrocarbons pool up in lakes and rivers.
Curiosity’s onboard chemistry lab — known as Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM — has an instrument that can sense methane levels in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, and those levels usually amount to less than 1 part per billion by volume. But SAM has registered several curious methane spikes during its seven years of surface operations — including a rise to 6 parts per billion in 2013 that got NASA’s attention, and another detection that rose even higher during the following Martian year.
Last week, methane levels spiked to the highest levels ever detected by Curiosity: 21 parts per billion. That caused the SAM science team to change their plans for the weekend and make follow-up measurements.
Those measurements were sent back to the science team this morning, and they showed that methane levels were back to their usual level.
BELLEVUE, Wash. — NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected fresh whiffs of Martian methane, once again sparking speculation about a potential biological source — but researchers at the space agency say it’s too early to raise the alert for life on Mars.
The latest evidence for methane and other organic chemicals on Mars isn’t the smoking gun for life on Mars that some folks may have been hoping for, but it gives astrobiologists much more to go on.
Readings gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover show a seasonal cycle in the rise and fall of methane in Mars’ atmosphere, as well as conclusive evidence of organic molecules in drilled-out Martian rocks. The findings are laid out in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
Scientists say they’re putting together the puzzle pieces provided by NASA’s Curiosity rover to get a better picture of how the outlook for habitability on Mars brightened and dimmed over the course of billions of years.
“We see all the properties in place that we like to associate with habitability,” Caltech planetary scientist John Grotzinger said today during a session at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco.
As Curiosity makes its way up the layered slopes of a 3-mile-high peak known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, it’s encountering different layers of material that hint at how the region around the mountain was formed.
Grotzinger and his colleagues said that clay minerals, boron and an iron-bearing mineral known as hematite are more abundant in the higher layers. Their presence suggests that there was dynamic chemical interaction between the rocks and groundwater in ancient times.
The sands of Mars move in mysterious ways – including one way that’s not seen on Earth’s surface, but only on the sandy bottom of bodies of water. And the scientists behind NASA’s Curiosity rover mission say those weird medium-sized ripples can reveal how Mars’ atmosphere has changed, or not, over the course of billions of years.
The alien ripples are the focus of a research paper published today by the journal Science.
“Earth and Mars both have big sand dunes and small sand ripples, but on Mars, there’s something in between that we don’t have on Earth,” Caltech researcher Mathieu Lapotre said in a NASA news release. Lapotre, who works with the Curiosity mission’s science team, is the lead author of the Science report.
The report is based on a close-up examination of the Bagnold Dunes, a stretch of Martian sand that Curiosity passed through as it made its way toward the foothills of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp (a.k.a. Aeolis Mons).
The dominant feature is Namib Dune, a huge pile of grayish-reddish sand that has been built up by the action of Martian winds. It’s part of the Bagnold Dunes, a series of sandy slopes that line the northwest flank of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp.