Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Update and Winter's Snow

Although we received snow yesterday, the total amount was not any where what was predicted. They were saying that we could get up to 16 inches of snow, but we only received 2-3 inches in town. Most likely there is a bit more snow on the ground south of town in the lake effect snow belt range.

Here are a few pictures I took yesterday afternoon.

Ice on my front window...

I lost power early in the afternoon.  I worked on the project until my computer battery ran out of juice, hoping that power would turn back on in time for me to watch the NIT preseason basketball tournament final.  It was been a long time since my Alma mater, the University of Michigan, has been highly ranked and I wanted to watch the game.  One of my friends had power so I headed over there to attempt to watch the game.  As I drove down my road, I found out why I was without power.  There was a tree down over the wires.  Unfortunately, my friend who had cable didn't have the channel that covered the game so I didn't get to watch it anyway.  But UofM won so I am excited about the season.  We'll see what our football team does against Ohio State today.

Here are a couple pictures of the tree down on the wires.

For the rest of today's posting I'll give an update on the fantastic work being done by the Mars rover, Curiosity. 

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

On Sol 84 (Oct. 31, 2012), NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to capture the above picture, which is actually a set of 55 high-resolution images that were stitched together to create this full-color self-portrait.  The mosaic shows the rover at "Rocknest," the spot in Gale Crater where the mission's first scoop sampling took place. Four scoop scars can be seen in front of the rover.

The base of Gale Crater's 3-mile-high (5-kilometer) sedimentary mountain, Mount Sharp, rises on the right side of the frame. Mountains in the background to the left are the northern wall of Gale Crater.
Self-portraits like this one document the state of the rover and allow mission engineers to track changes over time, such as dust accumulation and wheel wear. Due to its location on the end of the robotic arm, only MAHLI (among the rover's 17 cameras) is able to image some parts of the craft, including the port-side wheels.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The above illustration shows the locations and interactions of volatiles on Mars. Volatiles are molecules that readily evaporate, converting to their gaseous form, such as water and carbon dioxide. On Mars, and other planets, these molecules are released from the crust and planetary interior into the atmosphere via volcanic plumes. On Mars, significant amounts of carbon dioxide go back and forth between polar ice caps and the atmosphere depending on the season (when it's colder, this gas freezes into the polar ice caps).

New results from the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover show that the lighter forms of certain volatiles, also called isotopes, have preferentially escaped from the atmosphere, leaving behind a larger proportion of heavy isotopes. Scientists will continue to examine this phenomenon as the mission continues, looking for isotope signatures in rocks. One question they plan to address is: To what degree have atmospheric volatiles been incorporated into rocks in the crust through the action of fluids, perhaps in the distant past?
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, SAM/GSFC

This graph shows the percentage abundance of five gases in the atmosphere of Mars.  The season was early spring in Mars' southern hemisphere, and the location was inside Mars' Gale Crater.  The graph uses as logarithmic scale for volume percentage of the atmosphere so that these gases with very different concentrations can all be plotted. By far the predominant gas is carbon dioxide, making up 95.9 percent of the atmosphere's volume. The next four most abundant gases are argon, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon monoxide.  Researchers will use SAM repeatedly throughout Curiosity's mission on Mars to check for seasonal changes in atmospheric composition.
Just for comparison, on Earth our atmosphere contains roughly (by volume) 78.09% nitrogen,  20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of  water vapor, on average around 1%.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

The above graphic shows the pattern of winds predicted to be swirling around and inside Gale Crater, which is where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars. Curiosity's current location is marked with an "X." The rover's setting within a broad depression between the mountain dubbed "Mount Sharp" to the southeast and the rim of Gale Crater to the northwest strongly affects wind measurements collected by REMS.  The crater's diameter is 96 miles (154 kilometers).

This snapshot shows midday conditions. In the daytime, winds rise out of the crater, shown by the red arrows, and up the mountain, shown by the yellow arrows. Blue arrows indicate winds that flow along the depression and seem, to Curiosity, to be coming up out of the depression since Curiosity is near the bottom.  The patterns reverse in the evening and overnight, when winds flow in the downhill direction. At its current location, Curiosity may be seeing a mixture of these winds, making it challenging to understand its weather readings.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ashima Research/SWRI

The above diagram illustrates Mars' "thermal tides," a weather phenomenon responsible for large, daily variations in atmospheric pressure at the Martian surface. Sunlight heats the surface and atmosphere on the day side of the planet, causing air to expand upwards. At higher levels in the atmosphere, this bulge of air then expands outward, to the sides, in order to equalize the pressure around it, as shown by the red arrows. Air flows out of the bulge, lowering the pressure of air felt at the surface below the bulge. The result is a deeper atmosphere, but one that is less dense and has a lower pressure at the surface, than that on the night side of the planet. As Mars rotates beneath the sun, this bulge moves across the planet each day, from east to west. A fixed observer, such as NASA's Curiosity rover, measures a decrease in pressure during the day, followed by an increase in pressure at night. The precise timing of the increase and decrease are affected by the time it takes the atmosphere to respond to the sunlight, as well as a number of other factors including the shape of the planet's surface and the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

Information for this posting is from NASA's curiosity web site:

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