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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot grows taller: NASA

Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which has been shrinking for a century and a half, seems to be growing taller as it gets smaller

NASA to release two missions focused on moon soon in 2022. Pixabay
NASA's reveals the change in size of Jupiter's red spot. Pixabay

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which has been shrinking for a century and a half, seems to be growing taller as it gets smaller, NASA scientists have found.

The Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anti-cyclonic storm 22 degree south of the planet’s equator.

Space playlist for Halloween
Jupiter’s red spot is becoming longer. Pixabay.

The findings, published in the Astronomical Journal, indicate that the Great Red Spot recently started to drift westward faster than before. Historically, it’s been assumed that this drift is more or less constant.

The study confirms that the storm has been decreasing in length overall since 1878 and is big enough to accommodate just over one Earth at this point. But the historical record indicates the area of the spot grew temporarily in the 1920s.

“Storms are dynamic, and that’s what we see with the Great Red Spot. It’s constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well,” said Amy Simon, an expert in planetary atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland.

Also Read: NASA Reveals Plans For Future Missions To Moon

“There is evidence in the archived observations that the Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time,” added Reta Beebe, Professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. “However, the storm is quite small now, and it’s been a long time since it last grew,” Beebe said.

Because the storm has been contracting, the researchers expected to find the already-powerful internal winds becoming even stronger. However, instead of spinning faster, the storm appears to be forced to stretch up. The change in height is small relative to the area that the storm covers, but it’s still noticeable.

Further, the Great Red Spot’s colour is also deepening, becoming intensely orange since 2014, the researchers observed. While the researchers are not sure why that’s happening, it’s possible that the chemicals which colour the storm are being carried higher into the atmosphere as the spot stretches up.

Jupiter’s red spot is decreasing in width. NASA

At higher altitudes, the chemicals would be subjected to more UltraViolet radiation and would take on a deeper colour. Once big enough to swallow three Earths with room to spare, the mystery surrounding Great Red Spot seems to deepen as the iconic storm contracts.

Researchers do not know whether the spot will shrink a bit more and then stabilise, or break apart completely. “If the trends we see in the Great Red Spot continue, the next five to 10 years could be very interesting from a dynamical point of view,” the researchers said.

“We could see rapid changes in the storm’s physical appearance and behaviour, and maybe the red spot will end up being not so great after all,” they added. IANS