It may be closer than we think when the Associated Press or Reuters have news bureaus on Mars. Still, even in May 2015 news is happening on the Red Planet that deserves coverage.
First, NASA’s rover Curiosity has climbed a Martian Mountain. According to NASA, the vehicle climbed a hill on Thursday, May 7 to get to an alternative site for investigating geological boundary after a comparable site proved too difficult to reach.
Curiosity drove about 72 feet (22 meters) up slopes that are as steep as 21° bringing the rover close to a target area where two distinctive types of bedrock meet. The Rover science team wants to examine the outcrop that includes contact between pale rock and a darker, bedded rock unit.
A few weeks ago, Curiosity tried to reach a comparable geological feature farther south, but could not negotiate the slippery slopes on the way there.
In an unrelated event, Curiosity tested the success of a repair to the autonomous focusing capability of the Chemistry and Camera instrument. The gadget offers information about the chemical composition of targets by zapping them with laser pulses and taking spectrometer readings of the induced sparks. It also takes detailed images through a telescope.
Instrument team members at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and in France created an alternative auto-focus method after the instrument lost use of a small laser that served to focus during the first two years of Curiosity’s trek on Mars.
The repair required sending new software to be installed on the instrument. It now takes multiple images and uses those to autonomously select the focus positions for the final images and laser analyses sent back to Earth.
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express took an image of pockmarked impact craters on the surface of Mars on November 26, 2014.
After further review of the photos, scientists think that they have spotted the remains of an ancient supervolcano on the shallow bowl-shaped feature called the Siloe Patera in the Arabia Terra region of Mars.
The Siloe Patera includes two large nested craters. The outer rim measures about 40km x 30km and, at its deepest point, dips as low as 1750 meters below the surrounding plains.
Some scientists believe that this feature, as well as others on Mars, are the collapsed centers of supervolcanoes.
A supervolcano on Earth is defined as a volcano that can produce at least 1000 cubic kilometers of volcanic materials in an eruption. Its eruptions are thousands of times larger than ‘normal’ volcanic eruptions and powerful enough to alter global climate.
Supervolcanoes occur when magna is trapped below the surface, leading to a huge build up in pressure. They erupt suddenly in violent explosions and do not ‘grow’ sloping mountains. So they are difficult to identify, especially millions or billions of years later.
The ESA’s Mars Express has also shot a collage of Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) images on May 25, 2015 and downloaded them to Earth on May 26, 2015. They are among the first in a series of more than 2000 images that are being acquired by the Mars Express in support of the VMC Schools Campaign.
In March 2015 ESA invited schools, science clubs and youth groups to submit proposals for imaging Mars using the VMC –- the ‘Mars Webcam’ – on board the Mars Express.
Of more than 50 responses received worldwide, 25 proposals from 12 countries including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Spain, UK, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, and the United States were selected to receive images of their desired targets. These include Martian surface features ranging from Olympus Mons and Meridani, Planum to Phillips Crater and the South Pole.
Each group has promised to complete an educational or artistic project/activity using their images, which will later be published by ESA.