NASA confirms: Liquid Water exists on Mars!

Water on Mars

Liquid water exists on the surface of Mars during the planet’s warmer seasons, according to new research published in Nature Geosciences. This revelation comes from new spectral data gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a spacecraft that studies the planet from orbit. The orbiter analyzed the chemistry of weird dark streaks that have been known to appear and disappear seasonally on the Martian surface. The analysis confirms that these streaks are formed by briny — or salty — water flowing downhill on Mars.

NASA has advertised these findings as the solution to a major Mars mystery: does the Red Planet truly have liquid water on its surface? Researchers have known that water exists in ice form on Mars, but it’s never been confirmed if water can remain in a liquid state. The space agency is claiming that we now have that answer.

This isn’t the first study to suggest liquid water is present in some form on Mars. Scientists have theorized for years that Mars was once home to a large ocean more than 4 billion years ago. And recent findings from the Mars Curiosity rover suggest that liquid water exists just underneath the Martian surface. The discovery of water on Mars has almost become a joke among planetary scientists. Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at Planetary Image Research Laboratory who also worked on this research, wrote in Scientific American that the studies have become extremely commonplace: “Congratulations — you’ve discovered water on Mars for the 1,000th time!” he joked.

Today’s findings seem to offer more direct evidence of liquid water than most, though the study only confirms what NASA has long suspected — that flowing liquid water forms the strange, dark streaks that have been observed on Mars. These streaks — called recurring slope lineae — were first observed by the MRO spacecraft in 2010. The lines are blackish and narrow at less than 16 feet across. During the warmer seasons, the streaks grow thicker and longer; they then fade and shrink at times when Mars is colder.

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Android-powered satellites headed to space!

Android-powered satellites headed to space

The Android ecosystem has been rapidly expanding beyond phones and tablets lately – just in the last week we saw the introduction of an Android-powered Wi-Ficamera by Nikon, and Panasonic is using Android apps and NFC-equipped devices to control and program smart appliances. NASA is one-upping them all with a use for Android that is truly out of this world. NASA’s new PhoneSat program is experimenting with using Android-powered miniature satellites.

As part of a program to explore how small cheap satellites can be made with off-the-shelf parts, engineers are NASA’s Ames Research Center have created 10cm square satellites that use Nexus phones as the computing brains that power the satellite. The four pound mini-satellites can be launched dozens or even hundreds at a time, bringing lots of aggregate observing power on the cheap.

Android-powered satellites headed to space

Two models are currently in development, dubbed PhoneSat 1.0 and PhoneSat 2.0. The 1.0 model runs on the inveterate Nexus One, while the 2.0 model sees an upgrade to the Nexus S. The circling of our planet should being later this year, as two PhoneSat 1.0s are planned to hitch a ride to orbit alongside a PhoneSat 2.0. The simpler spacecraft will come with an extra battery (it’s hard to plug in while in LEO) and mostly serve to collect data on how the phones perform in the hard vacuum of space. The 2.0 version gets tricked out with more options, like solar panels and reaction wheels, allowing for a longer duration mission that can include changes in orientation of the satellite.

Sending little green robots into space will pick up next year, and NASA has missions on the drawing boards that include low-cost moon missions, as well as Earth observation missions that would benefit from many having many eyes in the sky. Now if NASA can just manage to snag a Galaxy Nexus for the next gen satellites they’ll be able to play Angry Birds in HiDef!

NASA Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Mars

We now pause from reporting on Ryan Lochte’s abs and Michael Phelps’ girlfriend Megan Rossee to bring you some important news that should make any American proud:

Curiosity, NASA’s long-touted plutonium-powered rover, made a picture perfect landing on Mars today and etched its name in space exploration history.

Earlier Monday, the agency released a photograph taken by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the rover still encased in the descent capsule.

Shortly after, it touched down on the planet’s surface.

Curiosity Rover on Mars

During the early hours of the morning, the rover, about the size of a small car, was lowered at the end of 25-foot-long cables into a Martian crater.

Over the years, NASA’s orbiter taken about 120 photographs of the crater in preparation for the rover, with left Earth more than eight months ago.

“But I really think this is the coolest one,” Sarah Milkovich, a NASA scientist who works with the orbiter camera, said during a news conference.

Mars Crater

“What’s amazing about it is the miracle of this engineering,” said John P. Grotzinger, the scientist who spearheaded the groundbreaking project.

The rover ushers in a new era of exploration that could turn up evidence that Mars once boasted the ingredients for life – or might even still.

NASA and administration officials were also quick to laud the mission amid criticism that the agency has become a bureaucracy long past its prime.

“If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space,“ John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser, said. “There’s a one-ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.”