NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

This is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). This is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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August 05, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars.  Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal." 

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

"Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars," said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives."

Confirmation of Curiosity's successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information on the mission, visit: and .

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:
And .

Guy Webster / D.C. Agle 818-354-6278 / 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. /

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington                                                       



Cheers for Curiosity

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., celebrate the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on the Red Planet. The rover touched down on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Curiosity Has Landed

Curiosity Has Landed

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Curiosity's Early Views of Mars NASA's New Mars Rover Sends Higher-Resolution Image

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NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). NASA's Curiosity Rover Caught in the Act of Landing

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artist's still shows how NASA's Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth Curiosity Rover Just Hours from Mars Landing

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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Dust Storm on Mars
Credit & Copyright: Jean-Luc Dauvergne, Francois Colas, IMCCE/S2P, Obs. Midi-Pyrénées

Explanation: It's spring for the northern hemisphere of Mars and spring on Mars usually means dust storms. So the dramatic brown swath of dust (top) marking the otherwise white north polar cap in this picture of the Red Planet is not really surprising. Taking advantage of the good views of Mars currently possible near opposition and its closest approach to planet Earth in 2010, this sharp image shows the evolving dust storm extending from the large dark region known as Mare Acidalium below the polar cap. It was recorded on  2010 February 2nd with the 1 meter telescope at Pic Du Midi, a mountain top observatory in the French Pyrenees.




Mars Rover Finds a Turkey Haven for the Holiday

by Nancy Atkinson on November 22, 2011 From

A region on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars that has been named 'Turkey Haven,' Credit: NASA/JPL, colorization by Stu Atkinson.

What does a Mars Rover do for the Thanksgiving holiday? While one rover will be sitting on the launchpad, preparing to head to the Red Planet (MSL/ Curiosity) the Opportunity rover has now trekked to an enticing outcrop near the summit of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater. This summit or ridge has been named “Turkey Haven” by the MER science team, as this is where Oppy will conduct scientific studies over the four-day-long US holiday. The image above was taken a few days ago, showing the Turkey Haven ridge. Our pal Stu Atkinson has provided a beautiful color rendering, and you can see all the rocks that the rover will be looking at more closely with its suite of instruments and cameras. You can see more images of this area, including 3-D versions on Stu’s site, Road to Endeavour.

Oppy is now sitting among these rocks studying the outcrop region seen on the left.

And there’s other enticing regions ahead to study as well.

An usual dagger-shaped feature along the rim of Endeavour Crater, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL

A dagger-shaped gorge or geological fault, as seen from above by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may well be a future destination, but likely after Oppy finds another haven – a winter haven – a good place and location for soaking up as much sunshine as possible for the upcoming long winter on Mars.

The rock outrcopping called 'Homestake," with part of the Opportunity rover visible. Credit: NASA/JPL. Colorization courtesy Stu Atkinson.

But behind Oppy was a most intriguing light-colored rock outcropping – this one was named “Homestake.” The rover spent several days studying the rock – even doing what could be termed a cruel drive-by (or driver-over). You can see in this image below, how Oppy really created havoc and a mess with her studies of this region:

A before-and-after montage of the Homestake outcropping, before and after the Opportunity rover drover over the rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL. Color and montage by Stu Atkinson

…leading Stu Atkinson to create this:

A crime scene on Mars? Credit: NASA/JPL, liberties taken by Stu Atkinson.

But seriously, many Mars rover fans are anxiously waiting to hear from the science team about what they found during Oppy’s close-up studies of this unusual rock outcropping.

Opportunity’s odometer reading is now over 21.33 miles (34,328.09 meters, or 34.33 kilometers).

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the project manager for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, works with Astronomy Cast and is host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.


Strange Martian Spirals Explained


June 16, 2010:  Almost 40 years ago, NASA's Mariner 9 spacecraft relayed to Earth the first video images of Mars' northern polar ice cap, revealing a strange pattern of spiral swirls that has puzzled scientists ever since. Using new data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), researchers have finally uncovered the secrets of the troughs that snake through the ice cap like a spiraled maze.

Mystery of the Martian Spirals (Mariner Spirals, 200px)
A 1972-era TV image of Mars' north polar cap. [more]

Jack Holt of the University of Texas and his graduate student Isaac Smith used radar data from MRO's Shallow Subsurface Radar to crack the case. Examining the details of this new data set has laid open the ice cap's internal structure, revealing clues to the massive ice troughs' formation.

Apparently, the wind did it.

"Radar cross sections reveal layers of ice deposited throughout the ice cap's history," says Holt. "The size and shape of those layers indicate that wind has played a key role in creating and shaping the spiral troughs."

Not only does wind shape the spirals, but also it causes them to move. They rotate around the north pole, turning like an excruciatingly slow pinwheel, curiously enough, against the wind.

Smith explains the process: "Cold air from the top of the ice cap sweeps down the slope, gaining speed and picking up water vapor and ice particles along the way. As this wind blows across the trough and starts up the other slope (the cooler side, facing away from the sun), it slows and precipitates the ice it holds. All of this ice is deposited on this cool slope, building it up, so the trough actually grows and migrates, over time, against the wind."

Mystery of the  Martian Spirals (Wind Model, 550px)
Alan Howard of the University of Virginia first suggested the ice trough migration model based on Viking spacecraft data back in 1982. His theory, that wind erosion and sunlight shape and move the troughs, was never widely accepted, but the new data supports it. [larger image]

The Coriolis force generated by Mars' rotation twists the winds sweeping down from the ice cap.

"That explains the troughs' spiral design," says Smith.

Similar formations can be found in Antarctic regions of Earth, but without the spiral shape.

Mystery of the Martian Spirals (Antarctic Megadunes, 200px)
Icy megadunes in Antarctica do not spiral like the ice troughs of Mars. [more]

"You don't see spirals in Earth's Antarctic ice sheet because local topography there prevents the winds from being steered by the Coriolis force."

The radar data have solved another icy mystery, too--the origin of Chasma Boreale.

Chasma Boreale is a Grand Canyon-sized chasm that slashes through the midst of the spiraled troughs. Theories to date suggested that either wind erosion or a single melt event excavated Chasma Boreale within the past 5 to 10 million years.

"Not so," says Holt. "The MRO data clearly show the chasm formed [long before the spirals did] in a much older ice sheet dating back billions of years. Due to the shape of that ancient sheet, the chasm grew deeper as newer ice deposits built up around it. Winds sweeping across the ice cap likely prevented new ice from building up inside the chasm [so it never filled up]."

The radar data also revealed a second chasm matching Boreale in size.

Mystery of the Martian Spirals (Chasma Boreale, 200px)
Chasma Boreale is indicated by an arrow in this modern image of the Martian north pole. [more]

"This chasm's never been seen before -- unlike Boreale, it did fill up with ice, probably because it's in a different location. Boreale is closer to the highest points of the ancient ice cap, where the winds are stronger and more consistent."

By discovering that both Chasma Boreale and the ice troughs were shaped by similar processes over different timescales, Holt and Smith answer some questions about Martian climate history. But they're also sparking new ones.

"For a long stretch of Martian history the ice layers were regular and uniform, then there was a distinct period when the spiral ice troughs got started," says Smith. "Something changed. There must have been a very fast (relatively speaking) and powerful change in climate. We still don't know what that change was."

"To figure that out, we need to look at the rest of Mars for evidence of other changes at that same time," says Holt. "This is just the tip of the ice berg."

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter home page

NASA Orbiter Penetrates Mysteries of Martian Ice Cap -- NASA press release

Credits: Holt and Smith, both from the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics, were lead authors on two papers on this subject, published in the May 27, 2010 issue of Nature. Co-authors on the paper "The Construction of Chasma Boreale on Mars" include Kathryn Fishbaugh (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum), Shane Byrne (Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona), Sarah Christian (University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and Bryn Mawr College), Kenneth Tanaka (Astrogeology Science Center, U. S. Geological Survey), Patrick Russell (Planetary Science Institute), Ken Herkenhoff (Astrogeology Science Center, U. S. Geological Survey), Ali Safaeinili (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Nathaniel Putzig (Southwest Research Institute) and Roger Phillips (Southwest Research Institute).



See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Phobos from Mars Express
Credit: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA

Explanation: Why is this small object orbiting Mars? The origin of Phobos, the larger of the two moons orbiting Mars, remains unknown. Phobos and Deimos appear very similar to C-type asteroids, yet gravitationally capturing such asteroids, circularizing their orbits, and dragging them into Mars' equatorial plane seems unlikely. Pictured above is Phobos as it appeared during last week's flyby of ESA's Mars Express, a robotic spacecraft that began orbiting Mars in 2003. Visible in great detail is Phobos' irregular shape, strangely dark terrain, numerous unusual grooves, and a spectacular chain of craters crossing the image center. Phobos spans only about 25 kilometers in length and does not have enough gravity to compress it into a ball. Phobos orbits so close to Mars that sometime in the next 20 million years, tidal deceleration will break up the rubble moon into a ring whose pieces will slowly spiral down and crash onto the red planet. The Russian mission Phobos-Grunt is scheduled to launch and land on Phobos next year.


See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Martian Moon Phobos from Mars Express
Credit: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA; Acknowledgement: Peter Masek

Explanation: Why is Phobos so dark? Phobos, the largest and innermost of two Martian moons, is the darkest moon in the entire Solar System. Its unusual orbit and color indicate that it may be a captured asteroid composed of a mixture of ice and dark rock. The above picture of Phobos near the limb of Mars was captured last month by the robot spacecraft Mars Express currently orbiting Mars. Phobos is a heavily cratered and barren moon, with its largest crater located on the far side. From images like this, Phobos has been determined to be covered by perhaps a meter of loose dust. Phobos orbits so close to Mars that from some places it would appear to rise and set twice a day, but from other places it would not be visible at all. Phobos' orbit around Mars is continually decaying -- it will likely break up with pieces crashing to the Martian surface in about 50 million years.


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Slope Streaks in Acheron Fossae on Mars
Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: What creates these picturesque dark streaks on Mars? No one knows for sure. A leading hypothesis is that streaks like these are caused by fine grained sand sliding down the banks of troughs and craters. Pictured above, dark sand appears to have flowed hundreds of meters down the slopes of Acheron Fossae. The sand appears to flow like a liquid around boulders, and, for some reason, lightens significantly over time. This sand flow process is one of several which can rapidly change the surface of Mars, with other processes including dust devils, dust storms, and the freezing and melting of areas of ice. The above image was taken by the HiRise camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been orbiting Mars since 2006. Acheron Fossae is a 700 kilometer long trough in the Diacria quadrangle of Mars.


See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Dark Sand Cascades on Mars
Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: They might look like TREES on Mars, but they're NOT. Groups of dark brown streaks have been photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on melting pinkish sand dunes covered with light frost. The above image was taken in 2008 April near the North Pole of Mars. At that time, dark sand on the interior of Martian sand dunes became more and more visible as the spring Sun melted the lighter carbon dioxide ice. When occurring near the top of a dune, dark sand may cascade down the dune leaving dark surface streaks -- streaks that might appear at first to be trees standing in front of the lighter regions, but cast no shadows. Objects about 25 centimeters across are resolved on this image spanning about one kilometer. Close ups of some parts of this image show billowing plumes indicating that the sand slides were occurring even when the image was being taken.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Stickney Crater
Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: Stickney Crater, the largest crater on the martian moon Phobos, is named for Chloe Angeline Stickney Hall, mathematician and wife of astronomer Asaph Hall. Asaph Hall discovered both the Red Planet's moons in 1877. Over 9 kilometers across, Stickney is nearly half the diameter of Phobos itself, so large that the impact that blasted out the crater likely came close to shattering the tiny moon. This stunning, enhanced-color image of Stickney and surroundings was recorded by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it passed within some six thousand kilometers of Phobos in March of 2008. Even though the surface gravity of asteroid-like Phobos is less than 1/1000th Earth's gravity, streaks suggest loose material has slid down inside the crater walls over time. Light bluish regions near the crater's rim could indicate a relatively freshly exposed surface. The origin of the curious grooves along the surface is mysterious but may be related to the crater-forming impact.


See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Martian Moon Deimos from MRO
Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. Pictured above, in a recently release image by HiRISE camera onboard the Mars-orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), is Deimos, the smaller moon of Mars. Deimos is one of the smallest known moons in the Solar System measuring only about 15 kilometers across. The diminutive Martian moon was discovered in 1877 by Asaph Hall, an American astronomer working at the US Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. The existence of two Martian moons was predicted around 1610 by Johannes Kepler, the astronomer who derived the laws of planetary motion. In this case, Kepler's prediction was not based on scientific principles, but his writings and ideas were so influential that the two Martian moons are discussed in works of fiction such as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, written in 1726, over 150 years before their actual discovery.


Sandtrapped Rover Makes a Big Discovery



December 2, 2009: Homer's Iliad tells the story of Troy, a city besieged by the Greeks in the Trojan War. Today, a lone robot sits besieged in the sands of Troy while engineers and scientists plot its escape.

Welcome to "Troy" – Mars style. NASA's robotic rover Spirit is bogged down on the Red Planet in a place the rover team named after the ancient city.

So why aren't scientists lamenting?

see caption"The rover's spinning wheels have broken through a crust, and we've found something supremely interesting in the disturbed soil," says Ray Arvidson of the Washington University in St. Louis.

Spirit, like its twin rover Opportunity, has roamed the Red Planet for nearly 6 years. During that time, the rover has had some close calls and come out fighting from each. In fact, it's been driving backwards since one of its wheels jammed in 2006.

Right: Spirit surveys its own predicament. The bright soil pictured left is loose, fluffy material churned by the rover's left-front wheel as Spirit, driving backwards, broke through a darker, crusty surface. At right is the least-embedded of the rover's six wheels. [larger image]

From the beginning, the rovers' motto has been "follow the water." Both rovers have been searching Mars for minerals formed in the presence of H2O. Mars appears dry today, but minerals can provide clues that water was once there.

"It's been easy for Opportunity to find such minerals," explains Arvidson. "Opportunity landed in an ancient lake bed. Spirit has had to work much harder. Spirit landed in basaltic plains formed by lava flows chewed up by repeated meteoroid impacts. There's been little evidence of anything that was ever very wet."

But when Spirit reached an area of Mars called the "Columbia Hills," the whole complexion of the mission changed. "Spirit came across iron hydroxide, a mineral that forms in the presence of water. That alerted us to the change. We started coming across more and more rocks formed in the presence of water."

Then Spirit got stuck in a patch of loose soil on the edge of a small crater. Heavy sigh. Stuck again.

But wait!

"Spirit had to get stuck to make its next discovery," says Arvidson.

As the rover tried to break free, its wheels began to churn up the soil, uncovering sulfates underneath.

"Sulfates are minerals just beneath the surface that shout to us that they were formed in steam vents, since steam has sulfur in it. Steam is associated with hydrothermal activity – evidence of water-charged explosive volcanism. Such areas could have once supported life."

"And most amazingly, the boundary between the sulfate-rich soil and the soil with just the generic concentration of sulfates runs right down the middle of the stranded rover. Spirit is lodged on the edge of a crater -- sitting astride the boundary!"

see caption

Above: A topographic map of Spirit's surroundings at Troy. Spirit is straddling the edge of a small crater. Sulfate materials are located in the crater (from the middle of the rover and extending to the left). The topo map was generated from stereo images taken by Spirit's navigation camera when it was approaching the area in April 7, 2009.

"Also, the robot found that the top of the sulfate material is crusty. Ancient sulfates probably formed this crust as they were processed by variations in climate associated with changes in Mars' orbit over millions of years."

Here's what the scientists think: When a Martian pole faces the sun in Martian summer, it gets warmer at that pole and the water ice shifts to the equator. It even snows there! Warm dark soil under the snow causes the bottom layer of snow to melt. The water trickles into the sulfates, dissolving the water-soluble iron sulfates and forming a crust with the calcium sulfates remaining.

"By being stuck at Troy, Spirit has been able to teach us about the modern water cycle on Mars." Indeed, Spirit's saga at Troy has given scientists material evidence of past water on Mars on two time scales: ancient volcanic times, and cycles ongoing to the present day.

"We've sat here for more than 6 months. That's a long time to take measurements. We've learned a lot. Troy is a good place to be under siege, but we’re ready to leave."

Will Spirit break free to continue its incredible journey? Tune in to Science@NASA to find out if the escape plan works.

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

footnotes and more information

Spirit and Opportunity home page -- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Can Spirit be Freed? -- (Science@NASA)

A Mars Rover Named "Curiosity" -- read about NASA's next Mars rover in a story from Science@NASA

A Tale of Planetary Woe -- (Science@NASA) Long ago, something calamitous happened to Mars, transforming a hospitable world into the apparently lifeless desert we see today. Many scientists believe the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere, but how? A new NASA mission named MAVEN is specifically designed to answer that question.



See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Bonestell Panorama from Mars
Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Cornell, JPL, NASA

Explanation: If you could stand on Mars -- what could you see? One memorable vista might be the above 360-degree panoramic image taken by the robotic Spirit rover over the last year. The above image involved over 200 exposures and was released as part of Spirit's five year anniversary of landing on the red planet. The image was taken from the spot that Spirit stopped to spend the winter, near an unusual plateau called Home Plate. Visible on the annotated image are rocks, hills, peaks, ridges, plains inside Gusev crater, and previous tracks of the rolling Spirit rover. The image color has been closely matched to what a human would see, and named for the famous space artist Chesley Bonestell.


Mars Gullies From Snow and Ice Melt "Relatively Recent"

Written by Nancy Atkinson

The gully system in the Promethei Terra region of Mars appears to have been carved by melt water and may be the most recent period when water was active on the planet.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
A new study of gullies seen on Mars provides evidence that water flowed recently on the Red Planet, at least in geologic terms. Planetary geologists at Brown University have found a gully fan system on Mars that formed only about 1.25 million years ago. The structure of this fan offers compelling evidence that it was formed by melt water that originated in nearby snow and ice deposits. This time frame may be the most recent period when water flowed on the planet. This most recent finding comes on the heels of discoveries of water-bearing minerals such as opals and carbonates, and together all these discoveries provide clues that Mars was, at least occasionally, wetter and warmer for far longer than previously thought.

While gullies are known to be young surface features, it's difficult to date them. But the Brown scientists were able to date the gully system because of craters in the area, and also hypothesize what water was doing there.

The gully system shows four intervals where water-borne sediments were carried down the steep slopes of nearby alcoves and deposited in alluvial fans, said Samuel Schon, a Brown graduate student and the paper's lead author.

"You never end up with a pond that you can put goldfish in," Schon said, "but you have transient melt water. You had ice that typically sublimates. But in these instances it melted, transported, and deposited sediment in the fan. It didn't last long, but it happened."

The gully system shows four distinct lobes.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The gully system shows four distinct lobes. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The gully system is located on the inside of a crater in Promethei Terra, an area of cratered highlands in the southern mid-latitudes. The eastern and western channels of the gully each run less than a kilometer from their alcove sources to the fan deposit.

Viewed from afar, the fan appears as one entity several hundred meters wide. But by zooming in with the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Schon was able to distinguish four individual lobes in the fan, and determine that each lobe was deposited separately. Moreover, Schon was able to identify the oldest lobe, because it was pockmarked with small craters, while the other lobes were unblemished, meaning they had to be younger.

Next came the task of trying to date the secondary craters in the fan. Schon linked the craters on the oldest lobe to a rayed crater more than 80 kilometers to the southwest. Using well-established techniques, Schon dated the rayed crater at about 1.25 million years, and so established a maximum age for the younger, superimposed lobes of the fan.

The team determined that ice and snow deposits formed in the alcoves at a time when Mars had a high obliquity (its most recent ice age) and ice was accumulating in the mid-latitude regions. Sometime around a half-million years ago, the planet's obliquity changed, and the ice in the mid-latitudes began to melt or, in most instances, changed directly to vapor. Mars has been in a low-obliquity cycle ever since, which explains why no exposed ice has been found beyond the poles.

The team tested other theories of what the water may have been doing in the gully system. The scientists ruled out groundwater bubbling to the surface, Schon said, because it seemed unlikely to have occurred multiple times in the planet's recent history. They also don't think the gullies were formed by dry mass wasting, a process by which a slope fails as in a rockslide. The best explanation, Schon said, was the melting of snow and ice deposits that created "modest" flows and formed the fan.

The team's findings appear in the March issue of Geology.


From for November 7th, 2009

One Strange Mars Rock

Written by Nancy Atkinson 

Marquette Island.  Credit: NASA/JPL color by Stu Atkinson
Opportunity has come upon another big rock on Mars. But what is it? Another meteorite? A big clump of ejecta from an old impact? There's lots of other debris scattered around this area as well. The rock has been named "Marquette Island," staying with the island theme for the other meteorites Oppy has come across, and the rover may take the "opportunity" to get closer to this rock and check it out, given the sand dunes surrounding it don't provide too much of an obstacle. So maybe next week we'll find out what it is. But in the meantime, enjoy these color and 3-D images (see more below) of the rock via Stu Atkinson from Check out more great looks at Marquette Island at Stu's blog about Oppy's travels, Road to Endeavour.

Oh, and rumor has it that the extrication process may have begun to free the Spirit rover. Latest images show she has moved every so slightly. More as it becomes available….

Marquette Island, from a distance. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stu Atkinson

Marquette Island, from a distance. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stu Atkinson

Marquette Island in 3-D. Credit: NASA/JPL, 3-D by Stu Atkinson

Marquette Island in 3-D. Credit: NASA/JPL, 3-D by Stu Atkinson



See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Methane Discovered in the Atmosphere of Mars
Credit: NASA

Explanation: Why is there methane on Mars? No one is sure. An important confirmation that methane exists in the atmosphere of Mars occurred last week, bolstering previous controversial claims made as early as 2003. The confirmation was made spectroscopically using large ground-based telescopes by finding precise colors absorbed on Mars that match those absorbed by methane on Earth. Given that methane is destroyed in the open martian air in a matter of years, the present existence of the fragile gas indicates that it is currently being released, somehow, from the surface of Mars. One prospect is that microbes living underground are creating it, or created in the past. If true, this opens the exciting possibility that life might be present under the surface of Mars even today. Given the present data, however, it is also possible that a purely geologic process, potentially involving volcanism or rust and not involving any life forms, is the methane creator. Pictured above is an image of Mars superposed with a map of the recent methane detection.


                                                     THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY for 2009 January 10 

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Martian Sunset
Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA

Explanation: This month, the Mars Exploration Rovers are celebrating their 5th anniversary of operations on the surface of the Red Planet. The serene sunset view, part of their extensive legacy of images from the martian surface, was recorded by the Spirit rover on May 19, 2005. Colors in the image have been slightly exaggerated but would likely be apparent to a human explorer's eye. Of course, fine martian dust particles suspended in the thin atmosphere lend the sky a reddish color, but the dust also scatters blue light in the forward direction, creating a bluish sky glow near the setting Sun. The Sun is setting behind the Gusev crater rim wall some 80 kilometers (50 miles) in the distance. Because Mars is farther away, the Sun is less bright and only about two thirds the diameter seen from planet Earth.

                           ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY for 2008 November 24 

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Radar Indicates Buried Glaciers on Mars
Data Reconstruction Credit : NASA/JPL-Caltech/UTA/UA/MSSS/ESA/DLR/JPL Solar System Visualization Project

Explanation: What created this unusual terrain on Mars? The floors of several mid-latitude craters in Hellas Basin on Mars appear unusually grooved, flat, and shallow. New radar images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter bolster an exciting hypothesis: huge glaciers of buried ice. Evidence indicates that such glaciers cover an area larger than a city and extend as much as a kilometer deep. The ice would have been kept from into the evaporating thin Martian air by a covering of dirt. If true, this would indicate the largest volume of water ice outside of the Martian poles, much larger than the frozen puddles recently discovered by the Phoenix lander. Such lake-sized ice blocks located so close to the Martian equator might make a good drinking reservoir for future astronauts exploring Mars. How the glaciers originally formed remains a mystery. In the meantime, before packing up to explore Mars, please take a moment to suggest a name for NASA's next Martian rover.

Artist's depiction of the spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars.
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NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander monitors the atmosphere overhead and reaches out to the soil below in this artist's depiction of the spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars.
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NASA Finishes Listening for Phoenix Mars Lander
December 01, 2008

PASADENA, Calif. -- After nearly a month of daily checks to determine whether Martian NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander would be able to communicate again, the agency has stopped using its Mars orbiters to hail the lander and listen for its beep.

As expected, reduced daily sunshine eventually left the solar-powered Phoenix craft without enough energy to keep its batteries charged.

The final communication from Phoenix remains a brief signal received via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter on Nov. 2. The Phoenix lander operated for two overtime months after achieving its science goals during its original three-month mission. It landed on a Martian arctic plain on May 25.

"The variability of the Martian weather was a contributing factor to our loss of communications, and we were hoping that another variation in weather might give us an opportunity to contact the lander again," said Phoenix Mission Manager Chris Lewicki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The end of efforts to listen for Phoenix with Odyssey and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had been planned for the start of solar conjunction, when communications between Earth and Mars-orbiting spacecraft are minimized for a few weeks. That period, when the sun is close to the line between Earth and Mars, has begun and will last until mid-December.

The last attempt to listen for a signal from Phoenix was when Odyssey passed overhead at 3:49 p.m. PST Saturday, Nov. 29 (4:26 p.m. local Mars solar time on the 182nd Martian day, or sol, since Phoenix landed). Nov. 29 was selected weeks ago as the final date for relay monitoring of Phoenix because it provided several weeks to the chance to confirm the fate of the lander, and it coincided with the beginning of solar conjunction operations for the orbiters. When they come out of the conjunction period, weather on far-northern Mars will be far colder, and the declining sunshine will have ruled out any chance of hearing from Phoenix.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; the Finnish Meteorological Institute; and Imperial College, London. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Media contact: Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 2008-223

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Various schemes have been used or proposed to keep track of time and date on the planet Mars independently of Earth time and calendars.

Mars has an axial tilt and a rotation period similar to those of Earth. Thus it experiences seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter much like Earth, and its day is about the same length. Its year, however, is almost twice as long as Earth's, and its orbital eccentricity is considerably larger, which means among other things that the lengths of various Martian seasons differ considerably,

and sundial time can diverge from clock time much more than on Earth.



  Time of Day

The average length of a Martian sidereal day is 24h 37m 22.663s (based on SI units), and the length of its solar day (often called a sol) is 88,775.24409 seconds or 24h 39m 35.24409s. The corresponding values for Earth are 23h 56m 04.2s and 24h 00m 00.002s, respectively. This yields a conversion factor of 1.027491 days/sol. Thus Mars's solar day is only about 2.7% longer than Earth's.

A convention used by spacecraft lander projects to date has been to keep track of local solar time using a 24 hour "Mars clock" on which the hours, minutes and seconds are 2.7% longer than their standard (Earth) durations. For the Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rover, and Phoenix missions, the operations team has worked on "Mars time", with a work schedule synchronized to the local time

at the landing site on Mars, rather than the Earth day. This results in the crew's schedule sliding approximately 40 minutes later in Earth time each day. Wristwatches calibrated in Martian time, rather than Earth time, were used by many of the MER team members.[1]

Local solar time has a significant impact on planning the daily activities of Mars landers. Daylight is needed for the solar panels. Temperatures rise and fall rapidly at sunrise and sunset, because Mars lacks Earth's thick atmosphere and oceans which buffer such fluctuations.

Alternative clocks for Mars have been proposed, but no mission has chosen to use such. These include a metric time schema, with "millidays" and "centidays", and an extended day which uses standard units but which counts to 24hr 39m 35s before ticking over to the next day. Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction Mars Trilogy describes digital clocks that use standard minutes and hours but freeze for

a "timeslip" of roughly 39 minutes at midnight.

The Analemma for Mars

The Analemma on Mars is not a figure-8 shaped as it is on Earth.

  Source : Telling Time on Mars By Michael Allison — January 1998

As on Earth, on Mars there is also an equation of time that represents the difference between sundial time and uniform (clock) time. The equation of time is illustrated by an analemma. Because of orbital eccentricity, the length of the solar day is not quite constant. Because its orbital eccentricity is greater than that of Earth, the length of day varies from the average by a greater amount than that of Earth, and hence its equation of time shows greater variation than that of Earth: on Mars, the Sun can run 50 minutes slower or 40 minutes faster than a Martian clock (on Earth, the corresponding figures are 14min 22sec slower and 16min 23sec faster).

Mars has a prime meridian, defined as passing through the small crater Airy-0. However, Mars does not have time zones defined at regular intervals from the prime meridian, as on Earth. Each lander so far has used an approximation of local solar time as its frame of reference, as cities did on Earth before the introduction of standard time in the 19th century. (The two Mars Exploration Rovers happen to

be approximately 12 hours and one minute apart.)

Note that the modern standard for measuring longitude on Mars is "planetocentric longitude", which is measured from 0°–360° East and measures angles from the center of Mars. The older "planetographic longitude" was measured from 0°–360° West and used coordinates mapped onto the surface.[2]

  Coordinated Mars Time (MTC)

MTC is a proposed Mars analog to Universal Time (UT) on Earth. It is defined as the mean solar time at Mars's prime meridian (i.e., at the centre of the crater Airy-0). The name "MTC" is intended to parallel the Terran Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), but this is somewhat misleading: what distinguishes UTC from other forms of UT is its leap seconds, but MTC does not use any such scheme. MTC is more closely analogous to UT1.

Use of the term "MTC" as the name of a planetary standard time for Mars first appeared in the Mars24[3] sunclock coded by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It replaced Mars24's previous use of the term "Airy Mean Time" (AMT), which was a direct parallel of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In an astronomical context, "GMT" is a deprecated name for Universal Time, or sometimes more specifically for UT1.

AMT has not yet been employed in official mission timekeeping. This is partially attributable to uncertainty regarding the position of Airy-0 (relative to other longitudes), which meant that AMT couldn't be realized as accurately as local time at points being studied. At the start of the Mars Exploration Rover missions, the positional uncertainty of Airy-0 corresponded to roughly a 20 second uncertainty in realizing AMT.


Each lander mission so far has used its own timezone, corresponding to average local solar time at the landing location. Of the six successful Mars landers to date, five employed offsets from local mean solar time (LMST) for the lander site while the sixth (Mars Pathfinder) used local true solar time (LTST).[4][5]

Mars Pathfinder used local apparent solar time at the landing location. Its timezone was AAT-02:13:01, where "AAT" is Airy Apparent Time, meaning apparent solar time at Airy-0.

The two Mars Exploration Rovers don't use precisely the LMST of the landing points. For mission operations purposes, they defined a time scale that would match the clock used for the mission to the apparent solar time about halfway through the nominal 90-sol prime mission. This is referred to in mission planning as "Hybrid Local Solar Time". The time scales are uniform in the sense of mean solar time (they are actually mean time of some longitude), and are not adjusted as the rovers travel. (The rovers have travelled distances that make a few seconds difference to local solar time.) Spirit uses AMT+11:00:04. Mean solar time at its landing site is AMT+11:41:55. Opportunity uses AMT-01:01:06. Mean solar time at its landing site is AMT-00:22:06. Neither rover is likely to ever reach the longitude at which its mission time scale matches local mean time. For science purposes, Local True Solar Time is used.

With the location of Airy-0 now known much more precisely than when these missions landed, it is technically feasible for future missions to use a convenient offset from Airy Mean Time, rather than completely non-standard timezones.


The term sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars.[6] A mean Martian solar day, or "sol", is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds.[5]

When a spacecraft lander begins operations on Mars, it keeps track of the passing Martian days (sols) by a simple numerical count. The two Viking missions and Mars Phoenix count the sol on which each lander touched down as "Sol 0"; Mars Pathfinder and the two Mars Exploration Rovers instead defined touchdown as "Sol 1".[7]

Although lander missions have twice occurred in pairs, no effort was made to synchronize the sol counts of the two landers within each pair. Thus, for example, although Spirit and Opportunity were sent to operate simultaneously on Mars, each counted its landing date as "Sol 1", putting their calendars approximately 21 sols out of synch. Spirit and Opportunity differ in longitude by 179 degrees, so when it is daylight for one it is night for the other, and they carry out activities independently.

On Earth, astronomers often use Julian dates – a simple sequential count of days – for timekeeping purposes. A proposed counterpart on Mars is the Mars Sol Date, or MSD, which is a running count of sols since approximately December 29, 1873. Some[who?] prefer a start date (or epoch) around the year 1608; either choice is intended to ensure that all historically recorded events related to Mars occur after it. The Mars Sol Date is defined mathematically as MSD = (Julian date using International Atomic Time - 51549.0 + k)/1.02749125 + 44796.0, where k is a small correction of approximately 0.00014 d (or 12 s) due to uncertainty in the exact geographical position of the prime meridian at Airy-0 crater.

The word "yestersol" was coined by the NASA Mars operations team early during the MER mission to refer to the previous sol (the Mars version of "yesterday") and came into fairly wide use within that organization during the Mars Exploration Rover Mission of 2003. It was even picked up and used by the press. Other neologisms such as "tosol" (for "today") and "nextersol" or "morrowsol" (for "tomorrow") were less successful.

  Calendar Dates

Mars scientists typically keep track of the Martian year by use of the heliocentric longitude (or "seasonal longitude"), typically abbreviated Ls, the position of Mars in its orbit around the Sun.[8] Ls is defined as 0 degrees at the Martian northward equinox, and hence is 90 degrees at the Martian northern solstice, 180 at the Martian southward equinox, and 270 degrees at the Martian southern solstice.

For most day-to-day activities on Earth, people don't use Julian days, but the Gregorian calendar, which despite its various complications is quite useful. It allows for easy determination of whether one date is an anniversary of another, whether a date is in winter or spring, and what is the number of years between two dates. This is much less practical with Julian days count.

For similar reasons, if it is ever necessary to schedule and co-ordinate activities on a large scale across the surface of Mars it would be necessary to agree on a calendar. One proposed calendar is the Darian calendar. It has 24 "months", to accommodate the longer Martian year while keeping the notion of a "month" that is reasonably similar to the length of an Earth month. On Mars, a "month" would have no relation to the orbital period of any moon of Mars, since Phobos and Deimos orbit in about 7 hours and 30 hours respectively. However, Earth and Moon would generally be visible to the naked eye when they were above the horizon at night, and the time it takes for the Moon to move from maximum separation in one direction to the other and back as seen from Mars is close to a Lunar month. Neither the Darian calendar nor any other Martian calendar is currently in use.

  Martian Year

This length of time for Mars to complete one orbit around the Sun is its sidereal year, and is about 686.98 Earth solar days, or 668.5991 sols. Because of the eccentricity of Mars' orbit, the seasons are not of equal length. Assuming that seasons run from equinox to solstice or vice versa, the season Ls 0 to Ls 90 (northern-hemisphere spring / southern-hemisphere autumn) is the longest season lasting

194 Martian sols, and Ls 180 to Ls 270 (northern hemisphere autumn / southern-hemisphere spring) is the shortest season, lasting only 142 Martian sols.[9]

As on Earth, the sidereal year is not the quantity that is needed for calendar purposes. Rather, the tropical year would be likely to be used because it gives the best match to the progression of the seasons. It is slightly shorter than the sidereal year due to the precession of Mars' rotational axis. The precession cycle is 93,000 Martian years (175,000 Earth years), much longer than on Earth. Its length in tropical years can be computed by dividing the difference between the sidereal year and tropical year by the length of the tropical year.

Tropical year length depends on the starting point of measurement, due to the effects of Kepler's second law of planetary motion. It can be measured in relation to an equinox or solstice, or can be the mean of various possible years including the March (northward) equinox year, June (northern) solstice year, the September (southward) equinox year, the December (southern) solstice year, and other such years. The Gregorian calendar uses the March equinox year.

On Earth, the variation in the lengths of the tropical years is small, but on Mars it is much larger. The northward equinox year is 668.5907 sols, the northern solstice year is 668.5880 sols, the southward equinox year is 668.5940 sols, and the southern solstice year is 668.5958 sols. Averaging over an entire orbital period gives a tropical year of 668.5921 sols. (Since, like Earth, the northern and southern hemispheres of Mars have opposite seasons, equinoxes and solstices must be labelled by hemisphere to remove ambiguity.)


Any calendar must use intercalation (leap years) to make up for the fact that a year is not equivalent to an integer number of days. Without intercalation, the year will accumulate errors over time. Most designs for Martian calendars intercalate single days, but a few use an intercalary week. The time system currently used by Mars scientists, basing the seasonal date on Mars based on the heliocentric longitude, obviates the need for intercalation by not marking time in terms of days, but instead in terms of Mars' position in orbit.

For the Gregorian (Earth) calendar, the leap-year formula is every 4th year except for every 100th year except for every 400th year, which produces an average calendar year length of 365.2425 solar days, close to the Earth equinox year. On Mars, a similar intercalation scheme for leap years would be needed. If the calendar intercalates single days, the majority of years would be leap years because the fractional sol – the remainder of a sol left each year after a whole number of days has passed – is more than 0.5. This also happens to be true if the calendar is a leap-week calendar with weeks of seven days. One example intercalation, having a leap day every odd year or year ending in 0 except every 100th year, except every 500th year, would produce an average year of 668.592 sols:  1 - \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{10} - \frac{1}{100} + \frac{1}{500} = 0.592 , which would be nearly perfect for the mean tropical year (average of all seasons). The scheme, however, would depend slightly on exactly which year was adopted for calendar purposes: calendars based on the southern solstice year or on the northward equinox year would differ by one sol in as little as two hundred or so Martian years.

The proposed Darian calendar uses the northward equinox year length of 668.5907 sols as the basis of its intercalation scheme.

Other intercalation schemes are possible. For example, the Hebrew Calendar (a lunisolar calendar) uses a simple mathematical formula to intercalate seven extra months in a 19-year cycle: a month is inserted if the remainder of (Hebrew Year Number × 7 + 1) / 19 is less than 7. (The leap year rule is specified differently but is mathematically equivalent.) Such an intercalation scheme would insert the leap years in a more evenly-spaced pattern than Gregorian-based rules, and unlike Gregorian-based rules would have no exceptions. To create a similar intercalation scheme for a Martian calendar, one must find a fractional equivalent for the year length, often using continued fractions to reduce the size of the fractions. For example, an intercalation scheme that intercalates single days and is based on the mean Martian tropical year of 668.5921 days can be approximated closely with a cycle of 45 leap years in 76 years because 6684576 ≈ 668.592105 and 0.5921 × 76 = 44.9996.

  Martian Time in Fiction

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, clocks retain Earth-standard seconds, minutes and hours, but freeze at midnight for 39.5 minutes. As the fictional colonization of Mars progresses, this "timeslip" becomes a sort of witching hour, a time when inhibitions can be shed and the emerging identity of Mars as a separate entity from Earth is celebrated. (It is not said explicitly whether this occurs simultaneously all over Mars, or at local midnight in each longitude.) Philip K. Dick's much earlier Martian Time-Slip deals with the vagaries as well.[clarification needed]

Also in the Mars Trilogy, the calendar year is divided into twenty-four months. The names of the months are the same as the Gregorian calendar, except for a "1" or "2" in front to indicate the first or second occurrence of that month (e.g. 1 January, 2 January, 1 February, 2 February, etc.) In the manga and anime series Aria by Kozue Amano, set on a terraformed Mars, the calendar year is also divided into twenty-four months. Following modern Japanese practice, the months are not named but numbered sequentially, running from 1st Month to 24th Month.[10]

  Formula to Convert MJD/UTC to MSD/MTC

  • Modified Julian Date
    • MJD = JD − 2,400,000.5
  • Coordinated Universal Time
  • Mars Time Coordinated
    • MTC = (MSD mod 86400) * 24
  • Mars Solar Date
    • MSD = (seconds since January 6, 2000 00:00:00 UTC)/88775.244 + 44795.9998[5]

  See Also


  1. ^ "Watchmaker With Time to Lose," January 8, 2004, article on the MER page
  2. ^ ESA - Mars Express - Where is zero degrees longitude on Mars?
  3. ^ NASA GISS: Mars24 Sunclock - Time on Mars
  4. ^ Allison, M., and M. McEwen, 2000: A post-Pathfinder evaluation of aerocentric solar coordinates with improved timing recipes for Mars seasonal/diurnal climate studies. Planet. Space Sci., 48, 215-235, doi:10.1016/S0032-0633(99)00092-6.
  5. ^ a b c Technical Notes on Mars Solar Time
  6. ^ NASA - Opportunity's View, Sol 959 (Vertical)
  7. ^ Phoenix Mars Mission - Mission - Mission Phases - On Mars
  8. ^ H. H. Kieffer, B. M. Jakowsky and C. W. Snyder, "Mars' Orbit and Seasons," Mars, H. H. Kieffer, B. M. Jakowsky, C. W. Snyder and M. S. Matthews, eds., U. Arizona Press 1992, pp. 24-28.
  9. ^ J. Appelbaum and G. A. Landis, Solar Radiation on Mars-- Update 1991, NASA Technical Memorandum TM-105216, September 1991 (also published in Solar Energy, Vol. 50 No. 1 (1993)).
  10. ^ Amano, Kozue (February 2008). "Navigation 06: My First Customer". Aqua volume 2. Tokyopop. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4278-0313-9. 
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