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Mapping Mars: 7 graphics to help you understand the Red Planet – Al Jazeera English



On February 18 at approximately 20:55 GMT, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is expected to touch down on the Red Planet. The mission, which was launched seven months ago, has been travelling for nearly half a billion kilometres at more than fifteen times the speed of a bullet.

Equipped with 19 cameras and two microphones, the mission will be streamed on NASA’s YouTube page starting at 19:15 GMT. If the mission is successful, a few days later we will all be able to watch HD footage of the touchdown on Mars, which is more than 200 million kilometres away, from the comfort of our homes.

Missions to Mars

Perseverance is one of three separate missions arriving at Mars this month. On February 9, the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to send a probe around Mars to study its atmosphere. The next day, China’s Tianwen-1 mission completed its first successful journey to another planet in our solar system. The orbiter will spend a few months analysing the surface of the planet before deploying the first non-American rover on Mars, which is scheduled for May or June 2021.

The reason why these missions are back-to-back has to do with orbit trajectories. Every two years, the orbits of Mars and Earth come closer together, giving scientists a launch window that minimises cost, time and energy.

Humans have attempted to reach Mars since the 1960s. Since then, at least nine nations have attempted 49 missions to Mars which include orbiters (fly around the planet), landers (remain stationary on the Martian surface) and rovers (move around the surface).

How far away is Mars?

Mars, like the Earth, orbits the sun. This means that the distance between the two planets varies. At its closest, Mars and Earth are about 55 million km apart. The farthest they get is when the two planets are on opposite sides of the sun. At that distance, they are more than 400 million km apart. The current distance to Mars is about 200 million km.

Space is filled with a lot of emptiness. Just how much? In 2014, an image posted online showed that all the planets in the solar system can fit in the distance between the Earth and the Moon. To put that in perspective, right now, Mars is more than 500 times farther than that.

Mars compared with Earth

Mars is about half the size of Earth and the Moon is about half the size of Mars. Of all the planets in the solar system, Venus and Mars are the most like Earth. A Martian day is just over 24 hours, and because it’s tilted around its rotation axis, it has seasons like Earth does.

Your body on Mars

To have humans living on Mars has been the dream of many space explorers for years. The reality is that unless Mars’ atmosphere and radiation levels are drastically transformed, surviving on Mars is beyond the capacity of the human body. On the bright side, you would be nearly half your age and less than half your weight if you managed to get there. Your mass and Earth age would remain the same, however.

Where are the Mars rovers

NASA currently has four rovers on the surface of Mars. Each was specifically placed to study certain characteristics of the planet. The only active rover right now is Curiosity, which was deployed in 2012. It is roughly 3,700 km (2,300 miles) away from Perseverance’s planned landing site. To put the landing sites in perspective, here is where the four rovers would be if you could magically shrink down the Earth to fit on Mars.

Sojourner (1997) and Opportunity (2004) would be off the coast of Africa, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Spirit (2004) would be in the South Pacific Ocean, close to Fiji. Curiosity (2012) would be in the middle of the Papua jungles in Indonesia. Finally, Perseverance (2021) would be somewhere in Maharashtra State in India.

Earth overlaid on Mars

If you ever wondered how big your continent would be compared with Mars, take a look at the map below. Almost 70 percent of the Earth is covered with water. If you removed that area, Earth and Mars would have roughly equal surface areas.

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In Oregon, Scientists Find a Virus Variant With a Worrying Mutation – Yahoo News



Coronavirus testing at a Virginia Garcia clinic in Hillsboro, Ore., May 1, 2020. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Scientists in Oregon have spotted a homegrown version of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that first surfaced in Britain — but now it’s combined with a mutation that may make the variant less susceptible to vaccines.

The researchers have so far found just a single case of this formidable combination, but genetic analysis suggested that the variant had been acquired in the community and did not arise in the patient.

“We didn’t import this from elsewhere in the world — it occurred spontaneously,” said Brian O’Roak, a geneticist at Oregon Health and Science University who led the work. He and his colleagues participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to track variants, and they have deposited their results in databases shared by scientists.

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The variant originally identified in Britain, called B.1.1.7, has been spreading rapidly across the United States, and accounts for at least 2,500 cases in 46 states. This form of the virus is both more contagious and more deadly than the original version, and it is expected to account for most U.S. infections in a few weeks.

The new version that surfaced in Oregon has the same backbone, but also a mutation — E484K, or “Eek” — seen in variants of the virus circulating in South Africa, Brazil and New York City.

Lab studies and clinical trials in South Africa indicate that the Eek mutation renders the current vaccines less effective by blunting the body’s immune response. (The vaccines still work, but the findings are worrying enough that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have begun testing new versions of their vaccines designed to defeat the variant found in South Africa.)

The B.1.1.7 variant with Eek also has emerged in Britain, designated as a “variant of concern” by scientists. But the virus identified in Oregon seems to have evolved independently, O’Roak said.

O’Roak and his colleagues found the variant among coronavirus samples collected by the Oregon State Public Health Lab across the state, including some from an outbreak in a health care setting. Of the 13 test results they analyzed, 10 turned out to be B.1.1.7 alone, and one the combination.

Other experts said the discovery was not surprising, because the Eek mutation has arisen in forms of the virus all over the world. But the mutation’s occurrence in B.1.1.7 is worth watching, they said.

In Britain, this version of the variant accounts for a small number of cases. But by the time the combination evolved there, B.1.1.7 had already spread through the country.

“We’re at the point where B.1.1.7 is just being introduced” into the United States, said Stacia Wyman, an expert in computational genomics at the University of California, Berkeley. “As it evolves, and as it slowly becomes the dominant thing, it could accumulate more mutations.”

Viral mutations may enhance or weaken one another. For example, the variants identified in South Africa and Brazil contain many of the same mutations, including Eek. But the Brazilian version has a mutation, K417N, that is not present in the version from South Africa.

In a study published Thursday in Nature, researchers compared antibody responses to all three variants of concern — the ones identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. Consistent with other studies, they found that the variant that pummeled South Africa is most resistant to antibodies produced by the immune system.

But the variant circulating in Brazil was not as resistant, even though it carried the Eek mutation. “If you have the second mutation, you don’t see as bad an effect,” said Michael Diamond, a viral immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who led the study.

It’s too early to say whether the variant in Oregon will behave like the ones in South Africa or Brazil. But the idea that other mutations could weaken Eek’s effect is “excellent news,” Wyman said.

Overall, she said, the Oregon finding reinforces the need for people to continue to take precautions, including wearing a mask, until a substantial portion of the population is immunized.

“People need to not freak out but to continue to be vigilant,” she said. “We can’t let down our guard yet while there’s still these more transmissible variants circulating.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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NASA rover Perseverance takes first spin on surface of Mars – Global News



NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of a massive crater, mission managers said on Friday.

The six-wheeled, car-sized astrobiology probe put a total of 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) on its odometer on Thursday during a half-hour test spin within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.

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Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled 4 meters (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backward another 2.5 meters (8.2 feet).

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“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.

NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.

Click to play video 'Perseverance rover: Scientist on when we can expect samples back from Mars'

Perseverance rover: Scientist on when we can expect samples back from Mars

Perseverance rover: Scientist on when we can expect samples back from Mars – Feb 19, 2021

Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.

Some additional, short-distance test driving is planned for Friday. Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 meters of driving per day.

But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover‘s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilized microbial life.

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So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, said Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager. The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover‘s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.

NASA announced it has named the site of Perseverance’s Feb. 18 touchdown as the “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” in honor of the award-winning American science-fiction writer. Butler, a native of Pasadena, California, died in 2006 at age 58.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

© 2021 Reuters

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NASA's new Mars rover Perseverance hits dusty red road, ventures 21 feet in 1st trip – Chilliwack Progress – Chilliwack Progress



NASA’s newest Mars rover hit the dusty red road this week, putting 21 feet on the odometer in its first test drive.

The Perseverance rover ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the red planet to seek signs of past life.

The roundabout, back and forth drive lasted just 33 minutes and went so well that the six-wheeled rover was back on the move Friday.

During a news conference Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared photos of the tire tracks over and around small rocks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks and I’ve seen a lot of them, said engineer Anais Zarafian. ”This is just a huge milestone for the mission.”

As soon as the system checks on Perseverance are complete, the rover will head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for return to Earth a decade from now. Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time 3 billion to 4 billion years ago.


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