Curiosity is the name of NASA's latest Mars rover, a car-sized nuclear powered robot whose lasers and sensors will hopefully help determine if the planet could ever have supported life. Launched on November 26th, 2011, the vehicle successfully touched down on August 6th, beginning its mission to send back the newest and most complete information scientists have ever gathered about Mars's climate and geology, and laying the groundwork for a future manned mission to the red planet.
Sep 14, 2014Read Article >
A little over two years after landing, Curiosity has reached a milestone. NASA recently announced that the rover has arrived at the base of Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high mountain that Curiosity has been heading towards since July of 2013. The initial landing was in Gale Crater, and the total journey has been around 9km or 5.5 miles — a number that becomes more impressive if you consider that Curiosity was designed to travel a maximum of 660 feet per day and navigate difficult terrain on its six wheels. The Spirit rover traveled only 4.8 miles over its lifespan, although the still-active Opportunity rover has logged about 25 miles since 2003. Curiosity's path was rerouted earlier this year after scientists found that sharp rocks were poking holes in its wheels.
Feb 7, 2014
Many photos of Earth taken from space have entered into legend; The Blue Marble's beautiful, glowing globe is one of the most recognizable images of all time, and Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot put our planet's place in the vastness of the universe into poignant perspective. The first image of Earth from Mars shot by NASA's intrepid Curiosity rover might not reach those heights, but it provokes a similar sense of wonder nonetheless.Read Article >
Taken with Curiosity's Mastcam, the shot casts Earth as the brightest object in the night sky, with the Martian landscape lending scale at the bottom of the frame. It's been processed to remove interference from cosmic rays, making the sky as clear as you might imagine. Look closely and you can just make out the moon orbiting Earth — NASA says that both objects would be visible to the naked eye from Mars' surface, appearing as "evening stars." You can download high-resolution versions of the photo from NASA's website.
Dec 28, 2013
Here's another use for your newfound holiday cash: On New Year's Day, the Mars Curiosity Rover will become an official Lego set. It's the latest success from the crowdsourced Lego Cuusoo project, which previously brought us the Back to the Future Lego DeLorean and — fittingly — a miniature Minecraft world. Now, the company's offering an articulated version of the six-wheel Mars rover designed by an actual NASA engineer who worked on the Mars Curiosity project. It'll cost $29.99 on January 1st.Read Article >
Dec 9, 2013
An ancient lake on Mars was capable of supporting life for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, researchers reported today based on findings from NASA's Curiosity rover. In March, NASA announced that the lake was once capable of supporting microbial life, but little more was known. Now researchers have shown that the lake existed around 3.5-3.6 billion years ago and actually contained an "Earth-like" environment. "There would have been some snow, maybe ice up in the mountains around the crater rim," John Grotzinger, project scientist for Curiosity, said at a press conference this morning. "It's pretty darn similar to Earth."Read Article >
Not long after touching down in the Gale Crater last August, NASA's Curiosity rover was driven over to Yellowknife Bay, a trough over 16 feet deep made up of basaltic sandstones. It's there, near the edges of the lake where lower levels of dirt are accessible, that researchers tested to see if microorganisms could have existed. In particular, they say that chemolithoautotrophs — a type of microorganism commonly found in caves on Earth — could have existed in the lake's environment, breaking down the area's rocks and minerals for energy as they do on Earth.
Oct 2, 2013
The shuttering of the federal government has resulted in NASA shutting down almost completely — but for the time being at least, the Mars Curiosity rover won't be affected. A spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates both Curiosity and the older Spirit rover, has clarified to International Business Times that JPL is a private contractor owned by the California Institute of Technology. As such, its personnel aren't among the 17,701 NASA employees that were furloughed today after the US Congress was unable to pass a funding bill. That means at the moment Curiosity will continue to operate as scheduled, even if its Twitter account has gone offline.Read Article >
Still, that doesn't mean the rover couldn't run into issues should the partisan brinksmanship continue. JPL's Jane Platt told the Times that "changes to JPL's status will be assessed on a week-by-week basis as events unfold." Should the shutdown stretch on Curiosity isn't the only Mars-related project that could suffer. As Space.com points out, the NASA furloughs have sidelined preparation for the launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution — or MAVEN — project. Designed to study the Martian atmosphere, MAVEN had been scheduled to launch on November 18th, but it's working with a relatively narrow window. If the craft doesn't launch by December 7th, team members say, it would have to wait a full 26 months before Earth and Mars would line up again.
Aug 28, 2013
NASA engineers have been piloting the Mars rover Curiosity for over a year now, but yesterday, Curiosity finally took the wheel. On Tuesday, the rover switched to its autonomous navigation system and took its first drive into unapproved territory, as part of a general shift that will help the rover to cover more ground.Read Article >
Aug 6, 2013
One year ago today, NASA's Curiosity rover touched down on the surface of Mars and began studying the planet. The rover may be lonely out there on its first birthday, but it won't go entirely without celebration: NASA has repurposed Curiosity's soil analysis system to play the tune of "Happy Birthday to You" out loud for all of Mars to hear.Read Article >
Though the analysis system doesn't include a loudspeaker, it does include a motor that can loudly vibrate at very specific frequencies. Normally, the motor is used to help move soil through the analysis system, but it's been modified for the day to produce the exact frequencies that make up "Happy Birthday." Such a performance of the ubiquitous jingle would usually require a license from Warner Music, but the recording group is likely to have trouble collecting any royalties on Mars.
Aug 1, 2013
It seems like just yesterday that NASA landed its largest-ever interplanetary rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. But now, after quite a bit of roving, drilling rocks, zapping them with lasers, and uncovering evidence of past liquid water and an environment previously hospitable to microbial life, Curiosity is gearing up to celebrate its first full year of operations on the Red Planet (in Earth time, that is). In advance of the milestone on Tuesday, August 6th, NASA published a two-minute long video today of 548 images Curiosity captured along its mission so far.Read Article >
The imagery, taken with Curiosity's forward facing, fisheye lens hazard-avoidance camera (Hazcam), includes lots of shots of the rover's 7-foot-long robotic arm lowering into the Martian surface to drill for rock samples. It also shows shadow of the rover's own car-sized body flickering across Mars as the sun rises and sets and many shots of the rover's tracks in the dirt. There's no soundtrack provided, so the resulting silence adds to the eerie, meditative effect of the entire video, one of our best shots yet of the desolate world next door, some 228 million miles away.
Jul 25, 2013Read Article >
It's been almost a year since the Mars Curiosity Rover completed its 36-week trip to the red planet, and NASA has now just released a high-resolution image of the landing site as well as the path the rover took from its landing until the photo was shot on June 27th. The image itself was shot from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, a massive device that's been shooting images of Mars since 2006. Curiosity's landing site shows up on the left side of the image, marked by two blueish dots and some scorch marks — from there you can follow the rover's trails to the Glenelg area of the Gale Crater. Curiosity itself can be seen as a tiny blue-and-white dot in the lower right half of the image. It's tricky to get a sense of just how far Curiosity has traveled since landing last August, but NASA notes that the rover's tracks are about 10 feet apart — check out the full-resolution image to clearly see where Curiosity has been in its first year on Mars.
Apr 17, 2013Read Article >
The Curiosity rover, NASA's most ambitious Mars mission to-date, has received plenty of attention since it blasted off from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, but The New Yorker's Burkhard Bilger has put together what may be the definitive account of the mission. Bilger tells not only the story behind Curiosity and those who worked on it, but the history of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The story puts the daring mission in the context of man's fascination with Mars and the long line of programs that have sought to explore the planet and explain profound questions about the origin of life.
Mar 16, 2013
NASA this week released new high-resolution panoramic images of Mars' Mount Sharp, captured by its Mars Rover Curiosity. Named after late geologist Robert Sharp, the massive Martian mountain is a gently sloping formation that sits at the center of the Gale Crater, where Curiosity recently uncovered evidence that the Red Planet may have supported microbial life forms. According to NASA, Mount Sharp rises three miles above the surface of the crater, making it higher than any point within the 48 contiguous United States.Read Article >
Mar 14, 2013
"Is there life on Mars?" David Bowie crooned in the 1971 glam rock hit of the same name. Four years later, NASA launched the twin Viking missions to the Red Planet in part to help answer that very question. They became the first spacecraft to land on another planet in human history. Almost forty years and 17 attempted missions to Mars later, we still don't know for sure if the planet has or ever had life. Even with this week's exciting news that the Curiosity rover discovered the most conclusive evidence yet that Mars was able to support life, and despite many previous claims of evidence for life on Mars, it's going to take even more proof to be able to say for sure whether something ever actually lived on Mars and, most importantly, whether it still does.Read Article >
NASA announced the latest evidence in support of Martian habitability earlier this week. It's important to distinguish between habitability, the environmental conditions necessary for life as we know it, and evidence of living organisms themselves. Curiosity was only designed to look for evidence of habitability; namely, liquid water, sources of energy, and chemicals that simple, single-celled microbial life require. Proof of life itself is different: first you need a habitable environment, but then you also need to find traces of organic compounds with the right concentration of elements, a much rarer combination, even here on Earth. Curiosity can't measure these, so it's not even technically capable of finding life on Mars. In fact, the only mission where that was even a goal was on the Viking landers from nearly 40 years ago, and those results remain controversial to this day.
Mar 12, 2013
NASA just announced that its Curiosity rover has discovered evidence that Mars had the conditions necessary to support life in ancient times, specifically microorganisms. The evidence comes comes from a drilling sample retrieved by the rover from a rock on the Red Planet. The powder was found to contain traces of "sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon," all key chemical ingredients of microbial life. NASA scientists just finished a live streaming press conference to explain the results.Read Article >
The scientists said that the Martian environment where the rock sample was found, called Yellowknife Bay, was likely the end of a river system or lake bed that dried up millions of years ago, but that would have been hospitable to microscopic organisms when it was wet. "We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity's chief project scientist.
Mar 5, 2013
Over the weekend a memory problem with the Mars Curiosity rover forced NASA engineers to switch it into "safe mode" so a backup system could take over. According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that process has proved successful and Curiosity will be back to normal operation by next week. The move to the secondary "B-side" computer began on Thursday, February 28th, with the rover exiting safe mode — with the secondary computer in control — on Saturday. It regained the ability to use its high-gain antenna the following day.Read Article >
The cause behind the primary computer's memory problem has yet to be determined, but NASA does hope to restore it to some kind of working order. "One path of progress is evaluating the A-side with intent to recover it as a backup," said Richard Cook, the Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager for JPL. "Also, we need to go through a series of steps with the B-side, such as informing the computer about the state of the rover — the position of the arm, the position of the mast, that kind of information."
Mar 3, 2013
A memory issue on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has led engineers to switch the rover's operations onto its backup computer. NASA says Curiosity is currently in a "safe mode" while its backup computer is updated to take control of the rover — once it's running again, the rover will be able to use the backup system for it's primary operations. The issue shouldn't result in any long-term disruptions for Curiosity.Read Article >
The memory issue was caught on Wednesday when engineers noticed that Curiosity had not sent recorded data back to Earth or switch into a daily sleep mode as it was expected to. The error was caused by corrupted memory files that led to a glitch on the rover's primary computer. The cause of the corrupted memory is still uncertain, but Space.com reports that the memory may have been damaged by cosmic rays — radiation that originates in space. The rover's hardware is meant to shield against the radiation, but it's possible that some particles may have made it through the rover's shell.
Feb 9, 2013
See that mysterious silver object in the picture above? That photograph was taken on the surface of Mars, and yet it sure doesn't look like a red rock. On January 30th, NASA's Curiosity rover snapped shots of the Martian landscape with each of its two MastCam cameras with this mystery object in the shot. NASA doesn't seem to have commented on the horn-like item yet, but theories currently include a meteorite that landed on the planet, or a piece of ore exposed by erosion of some sort.Read Article >
Elisabetta Bonora of Alive Universe Images, who spotted the mystery object in Curiosity's photo database, notes that it takes up about 35 pixels in the frame. Given the camera's resolution of 150 microns per pixel at two meters distant, and what seems like quite a distance between the rover and the object, it could be relatively large... up to a foot tall, even.
Jan 16, 2013
Curiosity Rover planning to drill into Martian rock for the first time, search for evidence of water
NASA has announced that the Mars Curiosity Rover is planning to drill into Martian rock for the first time in an attempt to prove there was once water on the planet. Veins on the rock appear to be made up of hydrated calcium sulfate, or gypsum — a mineral that requires the presence of water to form. Once the rover reaches the rock in question, it will drill, ingest, and analyze samples of the rock to determine the makeup of the minerals in question as well as the more general chemical composition. "The orbital signal drew us here, but what we found when we arrived has been a great surprise," said Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger. "This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments."Read Article >
While this mission will delay Curiosity's planned trip to the base of Mount Sharp, there's no doubt NASA is excited to get this first drilling expedition underway. National Geographic reports that Grotzinger said in a press conference that the drilling site turned out "to be jackpot unit. Every place we drive exposes fractures and vein fills."
Dec 31, 2012
NASA's Curiosity Rover is already known for its significant social presence across networks like Twitter and Foursquare, but the Mars rover is scheduled to reach a whole new audience tonight. Curiosity will make a guest appearance at tonight's New Year's celebrations in New York City's Time Square, where millions watch the ball drop each year. According to the rover's official Twitter account, NASA will broadcast a "special message from Mars" on the massive screens to celebrate the end of this year and ring in the next. If you won't be there in person, be sure to tune into live coverage tonight to see what Curiosity has to share.Read Article >
Dec 27, 2012
It's no secret that NASA has seen great success with social media and the Curiosity rover. Now, it's trying to turn some of that interest into real science education. In a partnership with Foursquare, it's offering a Curiosity rover badge to users who follow NASA and check into a NASA visitor center, science museum, or planetarium. They'll also be greeted with the following message:Read Article >
The Curiosity rover itself is on Foursquare — it made the first check-in from another planet on Mars in October. In 2010, an astronaut also became the first person to check in from space, launching the now long-running partnership between NASA and Foursquare. An older badge, "NASA Explorer," was offered to users who checked in at recommended locations from NASA's page.
Dec 4, 2012
NASA announces new rover mission launch in 2020, says new plans take a 'significant step' towards human visitation
NASA has just announced new plans for additional Mars missions, building on its ongoing Curiosity rover expedition. The US space agency will send a new "robotic science rover" to the Red Planet in 2020, which it says will cap a decade of new missions. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said of the plans that "with this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."Read Article >
The announcement adds to a growing list of Mars missions for NASA; the agency recently announced that it will return to Mars in 2016 for geologic discovery with its InSight lander. Through the remainder of the decade, NASA will study Mars at various levels: on the surface, in the atmosphere, and into Mars' interior. NASA says the new rover mission will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory, but it doesn't have a specific purpose yet; the agency plans to form a team to outline the mission's scientific objectives, and then use a competitive process to determine scientific instrument selection.
Nov 26, 2012
Once teased as "one for the record books," NASA is now actively toning down hype surrounding its pending announcement regarding findings from the Mars Curiosity Rover. It was only a week ago that principal Curiosity investigator John Grotzinger told NPR, "this data is gonna be one for the history books." Thanks to the rover's SAM instrumentation — which analyzes the composition of dirt, rocks, air, and other items on the Red Planet — experts had come across something significant, he said. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down," Grotzinger said of SAM's data, adding it looked "real good" that NASA could soon divulge historic news.Read Article >
But now the agency is backpedaling slightly, with spokesman Guy Webster conceding, "it won't be earthshaking but it will be interesting." In the days since the supposed major discovery, NASA has closely examined data and conducted numerous tests to ensure it can report these findings with the utmost certainty. As for when we'll finally hear what's behind the swell of anticipation. NASA is expected to share the news during the American Geophysical Union meetings slated to begin December 3rd.
Nov 20, 2012
The Mars Curiosity Rover has already sent plenty of new information about the Red Planet, but NASA apparently has some new exciting data it's in the process of verifying. As NPR reports, NASA is currently looking hard at data received from Curiosity's SAM instrument, a reader that can analyse samples of rocks, dirt, air, and other materials to determine its composition. Of course, despite the fact that principal investigator for the Rover project John Grotzinger calls the data "one for the history books," he's refusing to release any details on what it might be to avoid getting stung if their first impressions aren't correct.Read Article >
That's something that has already nearly happened once — earlier, the SAM sensor detected methane in an air sample (a gas often made from living organisms), but the methane was absent in further testing, with the scientists believing it actually came from Florida air. To avoid jumping the gun, NASA plans to run tests for several more weeks before talking about this potential discovery — while NASA would love to have a major new discovery to tout, it would also hate to have to admit that its data was faulty after exciting the scientific community. We're hoping that, regardless of whether the finding is accurate or not, NASA opens up about its secret once testing is complete.
Oct 3, 2012Read Article >
NASA's Curiosity has accomplished a series of unprecedented feats, including broadcasting will.i.am on the surface of Mars, and now it's the rightful owner of the first check-in from another planet with the help of Foursquare. While this is the second time a check-in has occurred from beyond Earth's atmosphere, never before has it been done by a non-human. Curiosity jokes that it is "One check-in closer to being Mayor of Mars," but Foursquare assures us that the rover will continue to keep everyone updated on its whereabouts throughout its mission. In case you're planning on visiting Mars in the future, Curiosity was nice enough to leave a tip at the Gale Crater, recommending that visitors bring sturdy shoes and plenty of oxygen.