On January 24th, something wonderful happened on Mars. Opportunity completed her 11th year of exploring the surface of the Red Planet! The veteran rover couldn't exactly go to Disneyland to celebrate this amazing achievement, so she did what she loves to do – roved on.
Curiosity has spent the last two months completing a second circuit of the Pahrump Hills field site, gathering APXS and MAHLI data. The work has been hampered by the loss of the ChemCam focusing laser, but the team is developing a workaround. Over the holidays, the rover downlinked many Gigabits of image data. The rover is now preparing for a drilling campaign.
With a wonder year of discoveries, historic feats, and bummers in the rear view mirror – and plenty of mettle to continue exploring – Opportunity ended 2014 quietly working in a temporary back-up mode, as her colleagues on Earth ramped up for the mission's marathon adventure to come in 2015.
At the American Geophysical Union meeting, the Curiosity mission announced that an instrument had finally definitively detected methane in Mars' atmosphere. It exists at a low background level, but there was a spike to about ten times that, which lasted for a couple of months before disappearing. What that means is unclear.
There have been tons and tons of HiRISE images of the Curiosity landing region, and it has taken quite a lot of work for me to find, locate, and catalogue them. This post is a summary of what I've found; after four revisions and updates, it's now version 2.0 of the list.
With the announcement of Curiosity's detection of methane on Mars, Nicholas Heavens gives us a guide to the history of methane detection on Mars, a discussion of its scientific significance, and a few things to consider when hearing about and asking about the detection.
Last month, the Earth's longest-lived and most traveled robot on another planet drove into a network of fractures the likes of which the scientists had never seen before on Mars and wound up working there through the end of the month – and then something not completely unexpected happened.
As winds whirled and converged to the west of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity's power dropped dramatically in October, but the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) pressed on. By month's end, the robot field geologist had completed her assignments – including capturing the first close-in shot of a comet from the surface of the Red Planet – and was roving onward through the darkness, driving the mission into the 130th month of what started out more than 10-and-a-half years ago to be a 3-month tour.
It's been two weeks since comet Siding Spring passed close by Mars, and six of the seven Mars spacecraft have now checked in with quick looks at their images of the encounter. I round up all the results.
At the Geological Society of America conference this week, Curiosity scientists dug into the geology of Gale crater and shared puzzling results about the nature of the rocks that the rover has found there.