Label: Mars

January 28, 2016

Martian peaks with streaks running down slopes

Did you see the recent announcement from NASA (America’s space agency) about finding evidence of water on Mars? Scientists have long thought that there may have been water on this desert planet in the past, but these latest images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are extraordinary because they show evidence of water flowing today.

Do you see the dark streaks in this image? These streaks are from the minerals left behind when briny (salty) water flows down the slopes in the Martian "summer."

Why is this important for us? If there is liquid water on Mars, then it makes it much more possible that we can travel there to explore Mars ourselves. The rocket needed to carry astronauts on the year-long trip to Mars will be much lighter if it doesn’t have to carry water. There is currently no Mars mission planned…but I bet there will be soon.


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona    


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Mars, NASA   •  Permalink (link to this article)

September 22, 2014

Our newest Mars explorer, NASA’s Maven satellite, has successfully arrived at the red planet and begun its orbit!

It takes a very long time to travel from Earth to Mars, even at the speed that a rocket travels. We launched this satellite 10 months ago, and it has been hurtling toward Mars ever since. This weekend the satellite fired its thrusters——basically jamming on the brakes——so that it would be captured by the planet’s gravity and settle into orbit around Mars.

It all went flawlessly, and now the satellite will study Mars’ high atmosphere, collecting more data as we try to piece together the story of the history of the Martian environment—- what is there today, and how it has changed over time.

This story has captivated scientists for centuries, and I continue to be fascinated as we learn more and more about my favorite planet (other than Earth, of course!).....which reminds me of a funny story. 



My eBook PLANET MARS has been updated twice since 2010 because we are learning so much from the rovers that are studying its surface. The second update happened while our sound producer was in the studio, recording the narration for the book. My phone rang, and Dan, the producer, said: "The Curiosity Rover landed yesterday, and I’m just about to record your book. Don’t you want to add a page about Curiosity?" Of course I did. So I quickly did some research, wrote a page and found a photograph to illustrate it, and the new audio was recorded that same day. Now, THAT is what I call up-to-date!



These days I am working on a new book about Mars, which will be the third installment in my Shipmate’s Guide to Our Solar System series. It won’t be done til sometime next year, but I can give you a preview of the cover:













Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, space books, Space Travel, Mars   •  Permalink (link to this article)

September 11, 2012

You may have already seen this magnificent photograph of Mars, taken by the mast camera on the Curiosity rover. Everyone has marveled at how much it looks like Earth, with its gravely surface and sandy dunes.

Here is a cool fact that you may not have heard about this photograph. If you were standing on Mars, these are not the colors that you would see in front of you. The dust in the planet’s atmosphere makes everything look very red, including this sandy dune.

The reason this photograph isn’t red is that NASA’s engineers are doing something called "white balancing" - adjusting the colors to make the scene look the way it would with the kind of light we have here on Earth. They do this to help out a particular bunch of Earthlings - the geologists who are studying the images with eyes that are trained to recognize rocks, minerals and other substances in more familiar light.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(3) Comments  •   Labels: space, Cool Photo, Exploration, Mars   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 6, 2012

It’s finally happening! After 8 years of planning and a interplanetary journey from Earth to Mars that took eight months, the one-ton Curiosity rover came down for a soft landing on the surface of Mars.  


The landing spot was in the middle of  96-mile-wide Gale Crater. Curiosity immediately sent back this photo of its own shadow on the Martian soil. 

Curiosity will soon be sending back many full-color photos of Mars. After a number of weeks of tests, the rover will be rolling up the sides of a nearby mountain looking for traces of water and carbon in Mar’s history. Why water and carbon? Because the presence of water and carbon are good indicators that life may have once existed on Mars. 

Stay tuned for new developments about Mars and look forward to a new book on Mars that I’m writing now. Is there (or was there ever?) life on Mars? We’re going to find out soon!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(3) Comments  •   Labels: Solar System, Exploration, Mars, NASA   •  Permalink (link to this article)

December 6, 2011

Sunset colors on Mars are the opposite of what we see here on earth. When the fading sunlight filters through Earth’s atmosphere, the yellow sunlight gradually appears to be various shades of red and orange. When the Martian atmosphere filters the sunlight, the sunset glows blue. The rest of the sky looks red because Mars’ atmosphere is full of powdery dust that reflects the sun’s light, giving the planet the distinctive red color that we see from here on Earth.

Isn’t this a magnificent image? It is the work of multimedia artist Michael Benson, who takes images captured in deep-space by NASA and the European Space Agency, and digitally processes them to create beautiful pictures like this one. 

He is going to publish a book of all his work next year, called PLANETFALL. I can’t wait to see it!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(6) Comments  •   Labels: space, Cool Photo, Mars   •  Permalink (link to this article)

November 29, 2011

For today’s Cool Photo of the Week, Seymour Simon chose this photograph taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, an unmanned satellite that has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2005. The orbiter is searching for evidence that water was once present on the surface of Mars. NASA scientists also want to know whether water was present long enough to support life at some time in the past. 

Look at the deep ditches and trails criss-crossing the sand dunes in an area of Mars known as the Russell Crater. These trails were carved into the landscape by "dust devils," mini-tornadoes that whip across the Martian landscape. The ditches are formed when chunks of frozen carbon dioxide slide down the face of steep dunes.

When I speak at schools, I often tell students about an astronomer named Percival Lowell, who thought he spotted Martian "canals" through his small telescope back in the early 1900s. Do you think it’s possible that he saw these deep trails, leading him to the mistaken idea that the canals must have been dug by intelligent life, or Martians?!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, School Visits, Cool Photo, planets, Mars   •  Permalink (link to this article)