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NASA’s InSight Collecting Sunlight on The Martian Surface

InSight will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020. The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs which relayed InSight's telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby

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NASA to use Blockchain technology for air traffic management. Pixabay

After the successful launch of NASA’s InSight on Mars on Monday, the spacecraft has sent signals to Earth indicating that its solar panels are open and collecting sunlight on the Martian surface.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, that is currently orbiting the Red Planet, relayed the signals. It was received on Earth at about 5.30 p.m. PST (8.30 p.m. EST), the US space agency said in a statement.

Solar array deployment ensures the spacecraft can recharge its batteries each day. Odyssey also relayed a pair of images showing InSight’s landing site.

“The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It’s been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase,” Hoffman added.

On Monday, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an almost seven-month, 300-million-mile (458-million-kilometre) journey from Earth.

InSight was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5. The lander touched down on Monday, near Mars’ equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia, with a signal affirming a completed landing sequence at approximately noon PST (3 p.m. EST).

The spacecraft’s two-year mission will be to study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed, NASA said.

InSight’s twin solar arrays are each seven feet (2.2 meters) wide when they’re open, the entire lander is about the size of a big 1960s convertible. Mars has weaker sunlight than Earth because it’s much farther away from the Sun.

But the lander doesn’t need much to operate: The panels provide 600 to 700 watts on a clear day, enough to power a household blender and plenty to keep its instruments conducting science on the Red Planet. Even when dust covers the panels — what is likely to be a common occurrence on Mars — they should be able to provide at least 200 to 300 watts.

NASA, tissue
NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, that is currently orbiting the Red Planet, relayed the signals. It was received on Earth at about 5.30 p.m. PST (8.30 p.m. EST), the US space agency said in a statement. Flcikr

“We are solar powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal. With the arrays providing the energy we need to start the cool science operations, we are well on our way to thoroughly investigate what’s inside of Mars for the very first time,” Hoffman said.

The panels are modelled on those used with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, though InSight’s are slightly larger in order to provide more power output and to increase their structural strength. These changes were necessary to support operations for one full Mars year (two Earth years).

In the coming days, the mission team will unstow InSight’s robotic arm and use the attached camera to snap photos of the ground so that engineers can decide where to place the spacecraft’s scientific instruments. It will take two to three months before those instruments are fully deployed and send back data, NASA said.

In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia — its new home on Mars.

With InSight landing successfully on Mars on Monday, NASA has successfully soft-landed a vehicle on the Red Planet eight times, the statement noted.

“Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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“InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon,” he added.

InSight will begin to collect science data within the first week after landing, though the teams will focus mainly on preparing to set InSight’s instruments on the Martian ground. At least two days after touchdown, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight’s 5.9-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) robotic arm so that it can take images of the landscape.

InSight will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020. The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs which relayed InSight’s telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby. (IANS)

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Mars Once had Salt Lakes Similar to the Ones on Earth

Since then, its geological terrains have recorded the history of Mars, and studies have shown Gale Crater reveals signs that liquid water was present

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Mars, Salt, Lakes
Gale Crater was formed about 3.6 billion years ago when a meteor hit Mars. Pixabay

Mars once had salt lakes similar to the ones on Earth and has gone through wet and dry periods, according to a new study.

The researchers from Texas A&M University College in the US examined Mars’ geological terrains from Gale Crater, an immense 95-mile-wide rocky basin that is being explored by the NASA Curiosity rover since 2012 as part of the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) mission, according to the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The results show that the lake, which was present in Gale Crater over three billion years ago underwent a drying episode, potentially linked to the global drying of Mars.

Gale Crater was formed about 3.6 billion years ago when a meteor hit Mars.

Mars, Salt, Lakes

The researchers from Texas A&M University College in the US examined Mars’ geological terrains from Gale Crater, an immense 95-mile-wide rocky basin that is being explored by the NASA Curiosity rover since 2012. Pixabay

“Since then, its geological terrains have recorded the history of Mars, and studies have shown Gale Crater reveals signs that liquid water was present over its history, which is a key ingredient of microbial life as we know it,” said study co-author Marion Nachon from Texas A&M University.

“During these drying periods, salt ponds eventually formed. It is difficult to say exactly how large these ponds were, but the lake in Gale Crater was present for long periods of time – from at least hundreds of years to perhaps tens of thousands of years,” Nachon said.

According to the researchers, Mars probably became drier over time, and the planet lost its planetary magnetic field, which left the atmosphere exposed to be stripped by solar wind and radiation over millions of years.

“With the atmosphere becoming thinner, the pressure at the surface became lesser, and the conditions for liquid water to be stable at the surface were not fulfilled anymore, so liquid water became unsustainable and evaporated,” Nachon said.

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The salt ponds on Mars are believed to be similar to some found on Earth, especially those in a region called Altiplano, which is near the Bolivia-Peru border.

Nachon said that the Altiplano is an arid, high-altitude plateau where rivers and streams from mountain ranges “do not flow to the sea but lead to closed basins, similar to what used to happen at Gale Crater on Mars.

“This hydrology creates lakes with water levels heavily influenced by climate. During the arid periods Altiplano lakes become shallow due to evaporation, and some even dry up entirely,” she said.

Nachon added that the study shows that the ancient lake in Gale Crater underwent at least one episode of drying before “recovering.”

Mars, Salt, Lakes
The results show that the lake, which was present in Gale Crater over three billion years ago underwent a drying episode, potentially linked to the global drying of Mars. Pixabay

It’s also possible that the lake was segmented into separate ponds, where some of the ponds could have undergone more evaporation.

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These results indicate a past Mars climate that fluctuated between wetter and drier periods, the researchers said. (IANS)