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Mapping the ice on Mars that could support future missions – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / While we know of locations with ice on Mars, not all of them are in places we’d want to land.

Over the past couple decades, plans to go to Mars or return to the Moon for longer stays have gradually moved away from sci-fi tinged “what if” scenarios and shifted to something that resembles actual planning. And those plans invariably include extracting water from local ice deposits. This water would help support any astronauts during their stay, cutting down on the weight we’d have to shift out of Earth orbit. But it could also be a source of hydrogen that helps power the astronaut’s return trip to Earth.

That obviously means we want to land where the water is. On the Moon, this has meant focusing on the lunar poles, where deep craters create permanent shadows that can hold ice at temperatures where it’s stable. On Mars, the situation is considerably more complicated. In response to some NASA pilot funding, a team of scientists set up the SWIM projectM, for Subsurface Water Ice Mapping on Mars, to analyze the data. The project has now published a progress report showing a lot of ice deposits in areas we might want to land.

No poles, please

Whether or not water ice is stable on the Moon is determined entirely by sunlight exposure. As long as the Sun is never visible in a location, ice can survive. Mars is substantially more complicated, with an atmosphere that distributes heat and makes the temperature extremes far more moderate, plus orbital wobbles that ensure seasonal changes in temperature.

Mars does have polar ice, but the number of these deposits changes with the seasons (and a lot of it is frozen carbon dioxide). Further from the poles, there’s a region where temperatures would allow water ice to be stable, should it form there. But that region’s still far from the equator, which means more extreme cold and less solar energy for any photovoltaic equipment we might bring with us. Ideally, it would be nice to find some ice in temperate regions, and some reports have suggested locations where it might reside.

The SWIM team decided to take a far more comprehensive approach, using data from multiple instruments to try to establish a degree of confidence in the presence of water. To do so, the team developed its own ice scoring system.

That data comes from a number of instruments we’ve put in orbit above Mars. These include a neutron counter (neutrons scatter differently in ice than in rock) and two forms of radar that register the presence and depth of ice deposits. In addition, water tends to transmit heat poorly, so measurements of thermal flux can be indicative of its presence. Finally, by comparing them to glacial features on Earth, we can infer the presence of ice sheets from photographs of the terrain.

The authors created a scale for each of these five measurements that ranged from -1 (ice extremely unlikely) to 1 (ice almost certainly present). They then averaged the five, creating an overall score for the possible presence of ice. This allowed some methods to compensate for the shortcomings of others. For example, neutron scattering is extremely sensitive but could be blocked by a layer of dust less than a half-meter thick. Radar is less sensitive but can pick up material much further below the surface.

Given the researchers’ averaging technique, having one decisive reading would create a score of 0.2 if all the others methods were ambiguous. A score of 0.5 would mean that at least three of the methods strongly indicated the likely presence of water.

Go north, but not too far north

The first survey, reported here, has analyzed Mars’ northern hemisphere, from the equator up to 60º in latitude. There’s a small region along the east-west axis that’s not included, but otherwise, the data includes most of the area where we might reasonably expect to land. Adding to the appeal, the area includes a lot of open plains with suitable terrain for dropping something out of orbit.

To an extent, the data is consistent with what we already had suspected. Modeling of temperature profiles had identified the northern areas within this region as likely to be able to support ice, and the readings go up as you move north. An examination of some of the regions that the mapping project identified show that impacts in the area tend to expose ice (all 13 of the ice-exposing impacts that the researcher looked at were within one pixel of an area scored as likely to contain ice). Finally, a few of the areas identified by the mapping correspond to regions where the geography had already been interpreted as indicating a glacial history.

But the key finding is that some apparently ice-rich areas are further south than we’d have predicted based on temperature modeling alone. There were areas that scored above 0.5 at about 35º north of the martian equator, well into Mars’ relatively temperate zones (for comparison, it’s roughly where you’d find Morocco on Earth). One of the strongest signals is in an area called Arcadia Planitia, a very flat region covered by recent volcanic flows.

The team will presumably move on to the southern hemisphere next. And that’s going to be critical. While it’s great that we have a potential site well into the mid-latitudes of Mars, any landings there are going to be focused on the scientific case for exploring the area. Having multiple promising sites will give us the chance to pick and choose based on something beyond water availability.

Nature Astronomy, 2021. DOI: 10.1038/s41550-020-01290-z (About DOIs).

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Orbiting spacecraft spots Nasa’s Mars Rover in huge crater on planet surface – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The orbiting craft spotted Perseverance on the surface (ESA)

An orbiting European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft has spotted Nasa’s Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars – along with its parachute, heat shield and descent stage.

The rover was pictured in the Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing sediments of an ancient river delta.

It was spotted by the ESA-Roscosmos Trace Gas Orbiter, which captured the Rover and the components using its CaSSIS camera on 23 February.

The rover landed on Mars on 18 February.

Read more: What are fast radio bursts, and why do they look like aliens?

Perseverance will explore the Jezero Crater region of Mars, and will also collect and cache samples of Martian rocks and soil for subsequent missions to collect and return to Earth as part of the joint ESA-Nasa Mars Sample Return campaign.

The Trace Gas Orbiter helped to return the videos and imagery taken by the mission’s onboard cameras during the descent of the rover to the surface of Mars, by providing a data relay. 

Nasa’s rover blasted off from Earth last July.

The orbiter spotted components spread over the landscape (ESA)The orbiter spotted components spread over the landscape (ESA)

The orbiter spotted components spread over the Martian landscape. (ESA)

The rover – a scientific laboratory the size of a car – will spend the coming years scouring for signs of ancient microbial life in a mission that will prepare the way for future human visitors.

Scientists know that 3.5 billion years ago Jezero was the site of a large lake, complete with its own delta.

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

They believe that while the water may be long gone, somewhere within the crater, or maybe along its 2,000-foot-tall (610-metre) rim, there could be evidence that life once existed.

Last month, British astronaut Major Tim Peake urged Britons to apply for jobs as astronauts as the ESA recruits space explorers for the first time since 2008.

The new astronauts will first fly to the International Space Station – and are likely to be part of missions to the moon in the latter part of this decade.

Successful applicants will be subjected to intensive training, which includes a three-week course in caving and a course in geology (there are more details on how to apply here).

Major Peake said: “Over the next few years and decades, space exploration will become even more exciting as we travel back to the moon and even further to Mars.

“For space missions to succeed, they require highly motivated people from diverse backgrounds to combine their skills and work as a team.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

“The next generation of UK citizens have so much to offer the world, and so I would encourage anyone who has dreamt of pushing the boundaries of what is possible to take this opportunity to be part of ESA’s future cohort of space pioneers.”

British citizens of any age are invited to apply, and the ESA is also issuing a special call for candidates with physical disabilities to apply to its astronaut reserve.

The pilot project aims to open the astronaut career path to people who have previously been excluded from space flight.

Those with a lower-limb deficiency or who are considered to be of short stature and meet other recruitment criteria are invited to apply.

Watch: Perseverance Rover sends back first images

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Orbiting spacecraft spots Nasa’s Mars Rover in huge crater on planet surface – Yahoo Movies Canada

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The orbiting craft spotted Perseverance on the surface (ESA)

An orbiting European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft has spotted Nasa’s Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars – along with its parachute, heat shield and descent stage.

The rover was pictured in the Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide depression containing sediments of an ancient river delta.

It was spotted by the ESA-Roscosmos Trace Gas Orbiter, which captured the Rover and the components using its CaSSIS camera on 23 February.

The rover landed on Mars on 18 February.

Read more: What are fast radio bursts, and why do they look like aliens?

Perseverance will explore the Jezero Crater region of Mars, and will also collect and cache samples of Martian rocks and soil for subsequent missions to collect and return to Earth as part of the joint ESA-Nasa Mars Sample Return campaign.

The Trace Gas Orbiter helped to return the videos and imagery taken by the mission’s onboard cameras during the descent of the rover to the surface of Mars, by providing a data relay. 

Nasa’s rover blasted off from Earth last July.

The orbiter spotted components spread over the landscape (ESA)The orbiter spotted components spread over the landscape (ESA)

The orbiter spotted components spread over the Martian landscape. (ESA)

The rover – a scientific laboratory the size of a car – will spend the coming years scouring for signs of ancient microbial life in a mission that will prepare the way for future human visitors.

Scientists know that 3.5 billion years ago Jezero was the site of a large lake, complete with its own delta.

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

They believe that while the water may be long gone, somewhere within the crater, or maybe along its 2,000-foot-tall (610-metre) rim, there could be evidence that life once existed.

Last month, British astronaut Major Tim Peake urged Britons to apply for jobs as astronauts as the ESA recruits space explorers for the first time since 2008.

The new astronauts will first fly to the International Space Station – and are likely to be part of missions to the moon in the latter part of this decade.

Successful applicants will be subjected to intensive training, which includes a three-week course in caving and a course in geology (there are more details on how to apply here).

Major Peake said: “Over the next few years and decades, space exploration will become even more exciting as we travel back to the moon and even further to Mars.

“For space missions to succeed, they require highly motivated people from diverse backgrounds to combine their skills and work as a team.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

“The next generation of UK citizens have so much to offer the world, and so I would encourage anyone who has dreamt of pushing the boundaries of what is possible to take this opportunity to be part of ESA’s future cohort of space pioneers.”

British citizens of any age are invited to apply, and the ESA is also issuing a special call for candidates with physical disabilities to apply to its astronaut reserve.

The pilot project aims to open the astronaut career path to people who have previously been excluded from space flight.

Those with a lower-limb deficiency or who are considered to be of short stature and meet other recruitment criteria are invited to apply.

Watch: Perseverance Rover sends back first images

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Mission Successful: XOS Optics Land on Mars with NASA's 2020 Perseverance Rover – Stockhouse

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ALBANY, N.Y. , March 1, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — There was a sense of cheer in the air the afternoon of February 18 th , 2021, as a successful mission to Mars has just been accomplished by NASA’s Perseverance Rover. With millions watching the event via live stream, Perseverance touched down in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater at 3:56 pm Eastern Time .

XOS, a technology company based out of East Greenbush, New York , proudly plays a role in the mission, supplying the rover’s custom polycapillary X-ray focusing optics. A micro-XRF (micro-X-ray fluorescence) instrument on the Perseverance, called PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), is mounted at the end of the rover’s robotic arm and houses the XOS optic. This instrument will be used in conjunction with a camera system to measure compositions of various chemical elements in rocks, soils, and more on Mars, and along with six other scientific instruments on the rover, it will work to search for – and hopefully discover – evidence of past life on Mars.

In addition to the application of elemental mapping, as in the case of seeking evidence of past life on Mars, Micro-XRF is also used in applications such as plating thickness, forensics, and cultural heritage. Its non-destructive nature and minimal sample preparation make it ideal for sensitive elemental analysis applications. The use of polycapillary X-ray optics has dramatically changed the analytical speed of micro-XRF analysis, supplying accurate and reliable measurement results in hours, as compared to the days-long wait of more conventional approaches.

Visit xos.com/mars2020 for more information on micro-XRF, polycapillary optics, and XOS’ part in Perseverance’s mission.

About XOS

XOS is a global leading provider of advanced optics and OEM sub-systems that greatly improve the measurement speed, precision, and sensitivity of X-ray analytical instrumentation. XOS’ polycapillary optics can be used in many applications, including plating thickness, forensics, cultural heritage, and elemental mapping. fleX-Beam™, our latest compact X-ray generator solution, combines a low-powered X-ray source and precisely aligned polycapillary optic to deliver a bright X-ray beam for advanced material analysis. The innovative optic mounting and alignment design enables an easy X-ray tube and/or optic replacement, making it a user-friendly tool for both OEMs and end users.

www.xos.com

View original content: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mission-successful-xos-optics-land-on-mars-with-nasas-2020-perseverance-rover-301237525.html

SOURCE XOS

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