Could life on Mars be lurking deep underground?

WASHINGTON — To find life on Mars, scientists may need to give up surface exploration and "go deep." Typically, Mars missions searching for signs of life target the planet's surface, at sites where there are signs of ancient water (a reliable indicator of where life is found on Earth). But while no life has turned … Continue reading “Could life on Mars be lurking deep underground?”

WASHINGTON — To find life on Mars, scientists may need to give up surface exploration and "go deep."

Typically, Mars missions searching for signs of life target the planet's surface, at sites where there are signs of ancient water (a reliable indicator of where life is found on Earth). But while no life has turned up yet on Mars' surface, there may be an abundance of microbial Martians congregating underground, according to research presented Dec. 11 here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

In recent decades, explorations underground on Earth have revealed the so-called deep biosphere — a subsurface environment teeming with microorganisms. And scientists suspect that a similarly biologically-rich zone may be thriving under Mars' surface, too. [Mars-like Places on Earth]

In fact, perhaps there was never an evolutionary push to inhabit the surface of Mars at all, Joseph Michalski, an associate professor with the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said at the presentation. The expectation that life evolved on the Martian surface may reflect a bias established by what we know about life on our home planet, Michalski said.

More From LiveScience

  • Mars-like Places on Earth
  • Earth’s deep biosphere
  • 13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens
  • 9 Strange, Scientific Excuses for Why Humans Haven’t Found Aliens
  • Billions of years ago, when the planets in our solar system were young, the surface of Mars was likely quite similar to that of Earth, its rocky neighbor. That changed when Mars lost its magnetic field, which exposed it to bombardment from intense radiation that would have made survival aboveground extremely challenging, Michalski told Live Science.

    However, it's possible that life was already "cooking" on Mars before that happened. Scientists think life first appeared on Earth about 3.8 billion to 3.9 billion years ago, when conditions in some spots likely resembled today’s hydrothermal environments — much like Mars at the time. Perhaps, life arose on Mars at the same time that it was taking shape on Earth, but adapted exclusively to life underground, Michalski said.

    "Life could have emerged in those hydrothermal settings and survived in the subsurface for quite a long time," he said.

    And if Earth's deep biosphere is any indication, the underground Martian microbial communities could be exceptionally rich and diverse. Earth's deep biosphere was first discovered only about 30 years ago, and estimates since then have suggested that those deep-dwelling microorganisms make up nearly half of all life on the planet, Michalski told Live Science.

    Microbes in Earth's deep biosphere play a role in burying carbon that could otherwise become a greenhouse gas, are linked to deep energy resources "and are important for understanding the origins and evolution of life," Michalski said.

    "We're at a point now where it's truly a frontier of understanding what 'deep biosphere' truly means on Earth, and how that relates to exoplanets and other planets in our solar system," he said. "It's a window into our own origins."

    Mars' subsurface is an especially promising place to start looking for extraterrestrial microbes because it's "even more habitable" for microorganisms than Earth's deep biosphere. Subsurface rock on Mars is more porous than on Earth — creating pockets for nutrients and gas exchange — and Mars' cooler core (though still molten) provides a more hospitable temperature for microbes living in deep rock, Michalski added.

    "We could have single-celled organisms that could be dormant for a long time, but could survive through metabolizing hydrogen, methane, potentially sulfur," Michalski told Live Science. "Without being too specific, we think there are a lot of possibilities."

    13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens9 Strange, Scientific Excuses for Why Humans Haven’t Found AliensThe 10 Strangest Places Where Life Is Found on Earth

    Original article on Live Science.

    Mars ‘terror,’ future Moon missions and an epic journey to the Sun: 2018’s year in space

    2018 has been a busy year for space exploration. Here are some of the highlights:

    MARS LANDER’S ‘SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR’

    NASA’s Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. The final stage of its descent, however, was fraught with difficulty – NASA engineers characterize landing on Mars as “seven minutes of terror.”

    Safely settled on the surface of the planet, sensors on the Lander recently captured the first-ever “sounds” of Martian wind. The probe also used a camera on its robotic arm, to take its first Mars selfie.

    NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

    The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. By studying Mars’ deep interior, the mission is expected to provide valuable information on the formation of rocky worlds, including Earth.

    Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

    In November, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

    NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

    MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY

    NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover found organic molecules on Mars, the space agency revealed in a major announcement in June.

    The molecules, which were found in rocks from an ancient lake bed, provide fresh insight into the Red Planet, according to scientists. The rocks are billions of years old, NASA said.

    While NASA went to great lengths to explain that it has not discovered life on Mars, the organic molecules could provide vital clues.

    MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY: ORGANIC MOLECULES 'FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR SEARCH FOR LIFE' FOUND BY NASA ROVER

    “Organic compounds are fundamental to our search for life,” said Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md.

    Described as the most technologically advanced rover ever built, Curiosity launched on Nov. 26, 2011. The rover landed on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, with the goal of determining whether Mars was ever able to support microbial life.

    RENDEZVOUS WITH ASTEROID BENNU

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, reached its orbit at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3 after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. The spacecraft launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

    The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA.

    OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

    NASA'S OSIRIS-REX SPACECRAFT REACHES ASTEROID BENNU AFTER EPIC JOURNEY

    Scientists recently made a fascinating discovery on the asteroid. They analyzed data from the probe and identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, the space agency announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.

    Other countries are also ramping up their efforts to study asteroids. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 spacecraft recently lowered two small rovers onto a distant asteroid. Hayabusa 2 arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018, when the asteroid was almost 170 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft, which traveled almost 2 billion miles to reach the space rock, is expected to leave Ryugu at the end of 2019 and return to Earth around the end of 2020.

    DRAMATIC LAUNCH ESCAPE

    On Oct. 11, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin made a dramatic escape after their Soyuz booster rocket failed just two minutes after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    The spacecraft was about 30 miles above Earth’s surface when the crew was forced to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere. After the successful deployment of its parachute, the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.

    A Russian investigation attributed the failure to a sensor that was damaged during the rocket's final assembly.

    US, RUSSIAN ASTRONAUTS MAKE DANGEROUS BALLISTIC RE-ENTRY INTO EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE AFTER ROCKET FAILS

    Less than two months later, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including one American, successfully docked with the International Space Station. The launch from Kazakhstan was the first successful manned mission to the space lab since the aborted Soyuz launch.

    The Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station, but Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

    MYSTERIOUS SPACE STATION LEAK

    The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the orbiting space lab. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

    The capsule leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station's commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

    SPACE STATION CREW TO INSPECT MYSTERIOUS HOLE ON SPACEWALK

    The Russian space chief has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

    Rogozin said recently that the Russian official probe is ongoing. During a grueling spacewalk in December, Russian cosmonauts took samples of the black epoxy sealant protruding from the hole and put insulation over the area. Roscosmos will discuss the probe findings with NASA and other space station partners, according to Rogozin.

    NASA ANNOUNCES MOON, MARS MISSION PARTNERS

    In November, NASA announced that Lockheed Martin and eight other companies will compete for $2.6 billion worth of contracts to help take American astronauts back to the Moon and Mars.

    In addition to Lockheed, which built the Mars InSight lander, NASA's commercial partners include Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space System, Draper, Firefly, Intuitive Machines, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

    The contracts could be worth as much as $2.6 billion over a span of 10 years and flights could start as soon as next year, officials said. The original list included more than 30 companies vying for the bids, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

    NASA SAYS LOCKHEED MARTIN, 8 OTHER COMPANIES WILL HELP BRING ASTRONAUTS BACK TO THE MOON AND MARS

    President Donald Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

    The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

    NASA’s goal is also to send to manned missions into space from U.S. soil during the coming years. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS.

    In August, NASA also named nine “American hero” astronauts that will crew the test flights and first space station resupply missions on SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

    PARKER SOLAR PROBE’S EPIC JOURNEY TO ‘TOUCH THE SUN’

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasted off on its odyssey from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2018.

    The $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Parker is the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere

    To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

    NASA'S PARKER SOLAR PROBE BLASTS OFF ON EPIC JOURNEY TO 'TOUCH THE SUN'

    Parker will face “brutal” heat and radiation during the epic journey that will take it to within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.

    Harnessing Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer and closer to the Sun. On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will be traveling at approximately 430,000 mph, setting a new speed record for a manmade object.

    The Sun’s corona, which can be seen during a total solar eclipse, is usually hidden by the bright light of the star’s surface. The probe, named after pioneering solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, will provide a wealth of invaluable scientific data.

    Scientists expect to shed new light on the Sun’s potential to disrupt satellites and spacecraft, as well as electronics and communications on Earth.

    In November, the probe snapped a stunning picture of the Sun’s atmosphere.

    ‘SUPER-EARTH’ DISCOVERY

    In March, scientists announced the discovery of 15 new planets, including a “super-Earth” that may have liquid water on its surface.

    The planets are orbiting small, cool stars near our solar system, known as “Red Dwarfs.”

    One of the brightest Red Dwarfs, K2-155, has three “super-Earths,” one of which, K2-155d, could be within the star’s habitable zone. K2-155d, which has a radius 1.6 times that of Earth, may harbor liquid water, according to three-dimensional global climate simulations.

    K2-155 is about 200 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

    PLANETS IN GALAXIES BEYOND MILKY WAY SPOTTED FOR FIRST TIME

    In February, revealed the discovery, for the first time, of planets in galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

    Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma identified the extragalactic planets about 3.8 billion light-years away. The space observatory helped scientists find about 2,000 objects with comparable mass to the Moon and Jupiter.

    The Oklahoma University team used a technique called microlensing, which identifies the gravitational signature of planets orbiting extremely distant stars.

    MYSTERIOUS INTERSTELLAR OBJECT

    Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system, also garnered plenty of attention in 2018. NASA said that Oumuamua is a "metallic or rocky object," while a study from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics speculated that it could be a “lightsail” sent from an ancient civilization.

    Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia, Jennifer Earl, Amy Lieu and the Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

    NASA’s InSight Mars Lander snaps its first stunning selfie

    Say "cheese!" NASA’s InSight Mars Lander has snapped its first selfie from the surface of the Red Planet.

    Using a camera on its robotic arm, the probe took a selfie that is actually a “mosaic” comprised of 11 images. The selfie was taken on Dec. 6.

    In a statement, NASA explained that scientists have also got their first complete look at the Lander’s “workspace” – an approximately 14-by-7-foot crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft.

    NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

    The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. By studying Mars’ deep interior, the mission is expected to provide valuable information on the formation of rocky worlds, including Earth.

    A "mosaic" image, composed of 52 individual images from the InSight lander, shows the "workspace" where the spacecraft will set its science instruments. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    "The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it'll be extremely safe for our instruments," said InSight's Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the statement. "This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren't on Mars, but we're glad to see that."

    The Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. Sensors on the Lander recently captured the first-ever “sounds” of Martian wind.

    NASA RELEASES FIRST-EVER AUDIO RECORDING FROM MARS

    The United States is the only country to successfully operate a spacecraft on the Martian surface. InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed.

    Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

    Last month, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

    NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

    NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

    Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

    Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

    NASA releases first-ever audio recording from Mars

    David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ alter ego would be impressed … NASA has released the first-ever audio recording from the surface of Mars.

    The Mars InSight Lander reached the surface of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. Sensors on the lander have now captured the first “sounds” of Martian wind.

    In a video courtesy of the space agency, the wind vibrations are raised two octaves to be more perceptible to the human ear, can be heard as a low rumble. NASA described the sound as “haunting,” noting that the vibrations were captured on Dec. 1 when the Martian wind was blowing between 10 to 15 mph.

    NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

    "Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement. "But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves."

    The vibrations were captured by an air pressure sensor inside the Lander and a seismometer on the Lander’s deck.

    NASA will be sending back much clearer sounds from Mars in the coming years. The space agency’s Mars 2020 rover will land on the Red Planet with two microphones on board. The first sensor, built by JPL, will, for the first time, record the sound of a Mars landing. The second sensor is part of the rover’s SuperCam and will detect the sound of the research instrument’s laser as it “zaps” different materials on the Martian surface.

    NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

    Last month, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

    NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

    Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

    NASA’s InSight Mars Lander ‘hears’ Martian winds, shares images of Red Planet and other accomplishments

    NASA's InSight Mars Lander made history when it touched down on the Red Planet in late November — the eighth successful landing on Mars since 1976. It joined NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover, which has made some interesting finds since it arrived on the planet in August 2012.

    And even minutes after it landed on Martian sand, the InSight Lander was already getting to work. In the past week, it has checked several tasks off its to-do list.

    "I landed on #Mars a week ago today. Here’s what I’ve been up to so far: Snap first images, Open solar panels, Check health status, Power on instruments, Take preliminary science data for calibration," NASA tweeted on Dec. 4 from an account dedicated to the InSight Lander's mission. The account noted it still had to extend its arm and take pictures of the deck.

    It may not sound like much now, but the InSight Lander's journey is just beginning. Here's what the spacecraft has accomplished so far.

    Surviving “7 minutes of terror”

    The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for on Nov. 26.

    After six months, traveling 300 million miles at speeds up to 12,000 mph, the InSight Lander made its way into Mars' atmosphere — but it wasn't an easy task.

    "There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars 'seven minutes of terror,'" Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft. We've spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us."

    Video

    On Nov. 26 at 3 p.m. ET the InSight Lander successfully completed its "soft touchdown."

    "Touchdown confirmed!" a flight controller called out to fellow NASA employees.

    NASA IS GOING THROUGH 'SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR' TO GET TO MARS

    Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing the spacecraft.

    "Flawless," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "Sometimes things work out in your favor."

    First photos

    Just minutes after it landed on Mars' sandy surface, the 800-pound Insight Lander had already sent back "nice and dirty" images to the space station. Hours later, the spacecraft sent a clearer image of its surroundings.

    These images were just the beginning of what the spacecraft is expected to capture during its $1 billion international mission on the Red Planet.

    A week later, NASA blasted Twitter with stunning images from the planet's Martian surface at Elysium Planitia, the lava plain where the InSight Lander parked on.

    MARS INSIGHT LANDER SHOWS OFF FIRST IMAGE FROM MARS

    "Raise your hand if you’re in this new photo from #Mars!" NASA wrote in a Dec. 6 tweet. "These two tiny chips contain the names of more than 2.4 million people who signed up to fly with me. We’re ON MARS, you guys. You’re all honorary Martians!"

    Hours later that same day, NASA added, "One step at a time… Now that I’ve got my arm out, I can start making a detailed 3D map of my workspace, the area right in front of me where I’ll place my instruments. Here’s more on what I’ve been doing, and what’s yet to come."

    "I don’t like to brag, but tell me when you’ve ever seen a prettier solar panel," NASA then joked.

    Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, said space enthusiasts can expect more images to be released in mid-December.

    "By early next week (Dec. 10-15), we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic," Banerdt said in an online statement.

    NASA'S INSIGHT MARS LANDER REVEALS STUNNINGLY CLEAR PICTURES OF THE RED PLANET

    Another camera called the Instrument Context Camera on the Insight Lander will also provide views of the spacecraft's "workspace."

    "We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens," Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager, said in a statement. "While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed."

    “Hearing” Martian winds

    NASA's new Mars lander has captured the first sounds of the Martian wind.

    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory released audio clips of the alien wind on Dec. 7. The low-frequency rumblings were collected by the InSight lander during its first week-and-a-half of operations on Mars.

    "Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," Banerdt said in an online statement. "But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves."

    Scientists agree the sound has an otherworldly quality to it, and they feel as though they're sitting on the spacecraft.

    The noise is of the wind blowing against InSight's solar panels and the resulting vibration of the entire spacecraft. The sounds were recorded by an air pressure sensor inside the lander that's part of a weather station, as well as the seismometer on the deck of the spacecraft.

    “The InSight lander acts like a giant ear,” Tom Pike, InSight science team member and sensor designer at Imperial College London, added in a statement. "The solar panels on the lander's sides respond to pressure fluctuations of the wind. It's like InSight is cupping its ears and hearing the Mars wind beating on it. When we looked at the direction of the lander vibrations coming from the solar panels, it matches the expected wind direction at our landing site."

    Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

    NASA’s InSight Mars Lander reveals stunningly clear pictures of the Red Planet

    NASA has released several stunning new images of Mars captured by the InSight lander's robotic arm as it snapped a photos of its new workspace.

    The government space agency shared the photos to Twitter and on its website, as it gets ready to explore the Elysium Planitia, the plain where the lander touched down on Nov. 26.

    "Raise your hand if you’re in this new photo from #Mars!" NASA wrote in one tweet. "These two tiny chips contain the names of more than 2.4 million people who signed up to fly with me. We’re ON MARS, you guys. You’re all honorary Martians!"

    MARS INSIGHT LANDER SHOWS OFF FIRST IMAGE FROM MARS

    In another, NASA wrote: "One step at a time…
    Now that I’ve got my arm out, I can start making a detailed 3D map of my workspace, the area right in front of me where I’ll place my instruments. Here’s more on what I’ve been doing, and what’s yet to come."

    "Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. in a statement. "By early next week, we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic."

    In addition to taking pictures, the nearly 6-foot arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander's deck. The photos will help the mission team decide where to put the lander's seismometer and heat flow probe — "the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet," NASA said.

    There's also another camera on the lander, which cost $828 million, known as the Instrument Context Camera. This camera is under the lander's deck and, even though it was covered, dust managed to get on the lens, Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager, added.

    "While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed," Hoffman said.

    NASA IS GOING THROUGH 'SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR' TO GET TO MARS

    Since the InSight lander set down on the Red Planet a week and a half ago, ending a journey that lasted six months and covered more than 300 million miles, it's been quite busy for NASA.

    "Over the past week and a half, mission engineers have been testing those instruments and spacecraft systems, ensuring they're in working order," NASA said in the statement. "A couple instruments are even recording data: a drop in air pressure, possibly caused by a passing dust devil, was detected by the pressure sensor. This, along with a magnetometer and a set of wind and temperature sensors, are part of a package called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which will collect meteorological data."

    The InSight lander entered Mars' atmosphere just shortly after 2:40 p.m. EST on Nov. 26 and touched the surface at approximately 2:54 p.m. EST. The last part of the journey was the most harrowing, with NASA calling it "seven minutes of terror" due to the agency's inability to control the landing of the spacecraft.

    As the lander descended, it was hit with extreme temperatures, speeds and forces. In an attempt to prevent any damage to the craft, NASA chose a "vanilla ice cream" landing site, the Elysium Planitia, which is flat and featureless.

    The InSight Lander is the space agency’s first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years, following the August 2012 landing of the Curiosity Rover. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface. The Opportunity Rover, which was launched in July 2003, is currently inoperable thanks to a dust storm the Red Planet experienced several months ago.

    The unmanned probe, which is built by Lockheed Martin, will dig deeper into the planet than anything that's come before.

    InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is also the first spacecraft to launch to another planet from the West Coast. The spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket.

    HOW NASA'S MARS INSIGHT WILL PHONE HOME AFTER ITS DRAMATIC LANDING

    NASA’s last landing on Mars took place in 2012 when the Curiosity Rover reached the Red Planet. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface.

    The space agency's older, smaller Opportunity was roaming around up there until June, when a global dust storm knocked it out of service. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived.

    Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

    NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

    NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

    Last month, the space agency announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The Rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.

    Fox News’ James Rogers and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

    Curiosity rover spots ‘shiny’ object on Mars and NASA isn’t sure what it is

    Last month marked a new pinnacle for space exploration, as the InSight lander became NASA's first probe to reach Mars and land successfully since the Curiosity rover did in 2012.

    But the Curiosity is not going quietly into the night, letting its new brother steal all the attention — the seven-year-old rover has detected a "shiny" object which may indeed be a meteorite.

    In a mission update posted on Nov. 28, NASA noted Curiosity is drilling at the Highfield site and will give a further look at four samples, including one known as "Little Colonsay" because of its startling looks.

    NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

    "The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny," NASA wrote in the mission update. "But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry."

    The government space agency said it missed "Little Colonsay" in a previous attempt and will use that information to try again, using the rover’s ChemCam instrument to confirm the make-up of the object.

    There are three other targets that are getting special attention, including the "Flanders Moss," which NASA said, "shows an interesting, dark colored coating, for which chemistry is required to confirm its nature."

    There are two other targets, known as "Forres" and "Eildon," which Curiosity will further investigate before it leaves the Highfield site.

    Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

    How America can get its slice of the $1 trillion space economy

    NASA announced this week it would return to the Moon and eventually head toward Mars with the help of commercial partners for the first time, adding to the level of excitement about space exploration and its potential socioeconomic benefits.

    Some analysts believe the space economy could be worth $1 trillion in a few decades — and America stands to capture a significant portion of that.

    In a note to investors earlier this week, Morgan Stanley analysts estimated the space economy will be worth more than $1 trillion by the year 2040 and could be worth as much as $1.7 trillion if all goes as planned.

    Much of the benefits will come from satellite broadband, of which California-based SpaceX has already started working on. In February 2018, the Elon Musk-led company received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a satellite broadband network, providing high-speed network to all corners of the Earth. On November 15, the company received approval to make its eventual network even larger, getting the OK to launch more than 7,500 Internet-delivery satellites into low-Earth orbit, on top of the already approved 4,000 satellites, Fox 47 reported.

    ELON MUSK THINKS HUMANS WILL HAVE TO MERGE WITH MACHINES TO OVERCOME THEIR 'EXISTENTIAL THREAT'

    "Think of the innovation that has come from the Internet that we would not have been able to model in the 1990s," the analysts wrote in their note, while cautioning that if there is less emphasis on broadband, the space economy could be worth significantly less than $1 trillion.

    The analysts mentioned several areas where the space economy could see booms: consumer services (including TV, radio and broadband connections), satellite services, ground equipment, consumer navigation, consumer and networking equipment, satellite manufacturing and launch and what it calls the "non satellite industry."

    In May, SpaceX successfully launched the first satellite from Bangladesh into orbit, which will allow Internet access in all corners of the country.

    While the $1 trillion figure is eye-opening, it is nothing to say of the potential for mining asteroids, which some analysts could be worth multiple trillions of dollars. In 2017, one analyst from Goldman Sachs theorized that one asteroid could have as much as $50 billion worth of platinum, as well as water and other precious resources.

    Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint," Poponak wrote in an investor note. "According to a 2012 Reuters interview with Planetary Resources, a single asteroid the size of a football field could contain $25bn- $50bn worth of platinum," the analyst added.

    NASA has said for several years, going back to 2013, that it intends to mine asteroids as well.

    Socioeconomic benefits

    While announcing the nine companies – including Lockheed Martin and New Jersey-based Orbit Beyond – that will help take NASA astronauts to the Moon and beyond, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine stressed that this would not be like past initiatives that have previously failed.

    Bridenstine stated NASA was "spreading the risk" and "lowering the cost with multiple commercial partners." "This is not going to be Lucy and the football again," Bridenstine said. "We're not going to plan to go to the Moon and not go to the Moon. We have more partners than ever before and their level of excitement is higher than it's ever been."

    The NASA administrator likened it to venture capital — "we're taking shots on goal," he said, adding that the space agency would have some risk, but a greater reward because of its commercial partners. "We want medium-class landers, we want large-class landers and we want human-class landers. We also want to get there fast."

    In addition, Bridenstine, also a former congressman from Oklahoma, said NASA would be conducting scientific experiments on the surface of the Moon, taking heed from the scientific community. "We believe there is a lot of amazing science we can do on the surface of the Moon," Bridenstine said during the presentation.

    Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said there is water on the Moon and the upcoming scientific experiments will help humanity learn how to use these resources to further science.

    The Trump administration has cited Moon missions a key element of the 2019 NASA budget. President Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

    SPACEX REVEALS YUSAKU MAEZAW WILL FLY 'AROUND THE MOON' IN HISTORIC ANNOUNCEMENT

    Heady times for the final frontier

    2018 has been a monumental year for space exploration, as it included the February launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket and NASA's return to Mars earlier this week with the Mars InSight Lander.

    Other events include September's announcement that SpaceX will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the Moon in 2023, becoming the first private passenger aboard the company's renamed Starship launch vehicle (it was previously known as the Big Falcon Rocket), as well as the Trump administration ordering the establishment of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.

    Initially, the idea puzzled many on both sides of the aisle but recently gained the backing of some luminaries, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and the aforementioned Musk.

    In August, Vice President Pence revealed the Trump administration wants to create the “Space Force” by 2020.

    Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

    What NASA’s Mars InSight Lander reveals about us

    Like many others, I cheered as NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed gingerly onto the Martian surface after its six-months-long, fingernail-biting journey across space. On numerous radio interviews this week, however, I’ve been asked, “Why do we spend millions of dollars to explore a desolate rock more than 30 million miles away? Why in the world do we even care about it, given our truly serious problems here on Earth?”

    Is it merely to escape our woes, as some say to me? No. As I’ll explain in a minute, I think it’s much deeper than that.

    First, it’s worth noting that unlike NASA’s seven other successful Mars landers, which took pictures, roamed the surface, and dug for signs of life, InSight intends to give the Red Planet a thorough medical exam. It’s tricked out with a stethoscope (AKA seismograph) for listening to the planet’s inner rumblings, a thermometer for taking its body temperature, and a super-sensitive instrument for measuring its reflexes – the jerks and wobbles it experiences as it whirls around the sun.

    Why bother? Partly, it’s to satisfy our native curiosity – which, frankly, is still in its infancy. Think about it: despite our supposed technological sophistication, we’re only now venturing out of the house. Sending a spacecraft to Mars is like a child sending a drone to the next-door neighbor’s house to snoop.

    Video

    Granted, Mars is a fascinating neighbor. It and Earth are like siblings separated at birth. Whereas Earth is warm, watery, and filled with life, Mars has an average temperature of minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit; its severe landscape is routinely scoured by dust storms, some of which mushroom to engulf the entire planet; and it is lifeless, so far as we can tell.

    That said, scientists continue speculating the Martian climate was once upon a time more like Earth’s. And that something cataclysmic happened to it, turning it into the lifeless hulk of today. Given today’s passionate debate about climate change on Earth, Mar’s luckless fate is certainly something important to be curious about.

    However, I believe there is an even more profound reason for our interest in Mars and space exploration generally. We are not simply physical creatures with a brain – formidable though it is, capable of feats as impressive as this week’s Mars landing. Mounting scientific evidence in many disciplines – from anthropology and neurobiology to paleontology and psychology – affirms we are spiritual creatures who have an inkling there’s more to life than the turmoil happening on this tiny Blue Planet. Our brains are hard-wired to believe there’s more to reality than meets the eye, even when aided by powerful, space-based telescopes.

    Video

    Most humans live with a sense – albeit imprecise and at times doubtful – that, as with InSight, our paths are guided not solely by logic and our onboard computers, our brains, but by a higher intelligence with a purpose in mind. For InSight, that higher, purposeful power is the group of brilliant Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists, men and women huddled inside the control room in Pasadena, California. In our case, I believe, it’s the God who designed us to – well, do precisely what those JPL scientists are doing: exploring creation.

    Only by doing so – by getting out of our houses, our daily ruts, and exploring – are our eyes opened to the magnificence and mystery of creation and our proper place in it. Through such efforts we’re able to appreciate how very special are Earth and we, its human inhabitants – and the enormity of the responsibilities that come with that blessing.

    That is why on Monday I jumped up and down with joy at JPL’s exciting accomplishment. It was an achievement whose true purpose is bigger than Mars, the solar system, or even the universe. One that, at its core, reveals far more about us than it ever will about the Red Planet.

    Michael Guillen  Ph.D., former Emmy-winning ABC News Science Editor, taught physics at Harvard and is now president of Spectacular Science Productions. His thriller, “The Null Prophecy,” was released in July, 2017. His new book, “The End Of Life As We Know It: Ominous News From The Frontiers Of Science,” is available now.

    As NASA celebrates Mars landing, a busy future awaits, agency’s chief says

    It's a busy time for NASA, and as the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) celebrated the successful touchdown of its InSight Mars lander Monday, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine is focused on the future.

    Bridenstine shared a few words from the bustling mission control center, moving away from the celebrations to talk with NASA TV.

    "I'll tell you, it was intense, and you could feel the emotion," Bridenstine told Gay Yee Hill, a spokesperson for JPL, during the landing webcast. "It was very, very quiet when it was time to be quiet and, of course, very celebratory with every little new piece of information that was received. It's very different being here than watching it on TV, by far. I can tell you that for sure now that I've experienced both." [NASA's InSight Mars Lander: Amazing Landing Day Photos!]

    Bridenstine added that right after the landing was confirmed he got a call from a number that came up "with all zeros" on his phone. It proved to be Mike Pence, the U.S. vice president, calling to congratulate the team. Pence is also chairman of the National Space Council.

    More From Space.com

  • NASA’s InSight Mars Lander: Amazing Landing Day Photos!
  • A U.S. astronaut is launching
  • Parker Solar Probe
  • Ultima Thule
  • InSight's successful landing after a nearly seventh-month journey is hugely significant for Mars scientists, who now have a tool to probe deeper into the planet than ever before. After its solar arrays successfully deploy, the lander will probe below the planet's surface and measure meteor impacts and other seismic activity to learn about Mars' interior structure. Researchers said during the webcast that the first science data should come in around March of 2019.

    Looking forward to the agency's future, Bridenstine rattled off a long list of upcoming events for NASA: A U.S. astronaut is launching to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Dec. 3, the first science data from the Parker Solar Probe comes back Dec. 7, and OSIRIS-REx will reach the asteroid Bennu near the end of December.

    Then, on Jan. 1, the New Horizons probe that flew by Pluto in July of 2015 will reach the distant solar system object Ultima Thule, sending back images taken at close range of the incredibly faraway object.

    "You ask what's happening next?" Bridenstine said. "Right now, at NASA there is more underway probably than [since] I don't know how many years past. It's like there's a drought and all of a sudden all these activities at once. So, we're busy. We're going to be working through the holiday — a lot of amazing discoveries to be made, and we're looking forward to them."

    Coming back to InSight, Bridenstine added that everything we learn about Mars, such as whether it has water below its surface, will help humans eventually visit and access resources on the planet. He added that the agency's current directive is to send humans back to the moon first — that "we need to use the moon as a proving ground to accelerate our path to Mars" — but that "in the meantime, we're doing missions like InSight to learn as much about Mars as possible."

    At a press briefing later in the day, Bridenstine talked at length NASA's plans for moon exploration but emphasized again that Mars was on the horizon.

    "We're proving capability and technology to go to Mars even faster than we could go if we didn't use the moon as a tool," Bridenstine said. "The reality is, yes, your nation right now is extremely committed to getting to Mars, and using the moon as a tool to achieve that objective as fast as possible."

    Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook . Original article on Space.com .