The Occupy Mars Learning Adventure

Training Jr. Astronauts, Scientists & Engineers

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NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars


NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Sep 29, 2015

Dark, narrow streaks on Martian slopes such as these at Hale Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on contemporary Mars. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona 

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water – albeit briny – is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features.

The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren’t as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate.

Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA’s Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet’s soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.

MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.
“The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are,” said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.

“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” he said. “Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”

The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA’s Mars missions.
“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

There are eight co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Others are at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de Planetologie et Geodynamique in Nantes, France.

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Our students are taking their iPhones to Mars.

Communication with Mars and Earth


I am taking my iPhone with me to Mars.


The students working on the Occupy Mars Learning Adventures are coming up with creative ways to simulate how we will communicate with each other on Mars. We are experimenting with custom software and the iPhone 6. Bob Barboza has written custom software taking advantage of artificial intelligence.

Our simulated Mars communication software has to include humanoid robots and students located in different countries from around the world. Microsoft is looking at letting on have some Skype telephone here on Earth. We will take full advance of the new iPad Professional. This is only the beginning. We welcome your comments and suggestions. and

Communications with Earth is relatively straightforward during the half-sol when Earth is above the Martian horizon. NASA and ESA included communications relay equipment in several of the Mars orbiters, so Mars already has communications satellites. While these will eventually wear out, additional orbiters with communication relay capability are likely to be launched before any colonization expeditions are mounted.

The one-way communication delay due to the speed of light ranges from about 3 minutes at closest approach (approximated by perihelion of Mars minus aphelion of Earth) to 22 minutes at the largest possible superior conjunction (approximated by aphelion of Mars plus aphelion of Earth). Real-time communication, such as telephone conversations or Internet Relay Chat, between Earth and Mars would be highly impractical due to the long time lags involved. NASA has found that direct communication can be blocked for about two weeks every synodic period, around the time of superior conjunction when the Sun is directly between Mars and Earth, although the actual duration of the communications blackout varies from mission to mission depending on various factors—such as the amount of link margin designed into the communications system, and the minimum data rate that is acceptable from a mission standpoint. In reality most missions at Mars have had communications blackout periods of the order of a month.

A satellite at the L4 or L5 Earth–Sun Lagrangian point could serve as a relay during this period to solve the problem; even a constellation of communications satellites would be a minor expense in the context of a full colonization program. However, the size and power of the equipment needed for these distances make the L4 and L5 locations unrealistic for relay stations, and the inherent stability of these regions, although beneficial in terms of station-keeping, also attracts dust and asteroids, which could pose a risk. Despite that concern, the STEREO probes passed through the L4 and L5 regions without damage in late 2009.

Recent work by the University of Strathclyde‘s Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, has suggested an alternative relay architecture based on highly non-Keplerian orbits. These are a special kind of orbit produced when continuous low-thrust propulsion, such as that produced from an ion engine or solar sail, modifies the natural trajectory of a spacecraft. Such an orbit would enable continuous communications during solar conjunction by allowing a relay spacecraft to “hover” above Mars, out of the orbital plane of the two planets. Such a relay avoids the problems of satellites stationed at either L4 or L5 by being significantly closer to the surface of Mars while still maintaining continuous communication between the two planets.

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Who is going to see the movie “The Martian ” ?

Kids Talk Radio is hosting a Martian Party at the movies in Long Beach, California.  We are not going to miss this move.   There is lots of buzz all over the USA about this great film.  I know for sure my buddies at the Robotic Society of Southern California will be in attendance at the movies.

We are getting ready for "The Martian."

And now for the news:

MDRS Hosts Bloggers Covering 20th Cen. Fox’s “The Martian”

The Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), the world’s longest-serving Mars surface simulation habitat located in southern Utah, played host to a group of nine international entertainment and science bloggers last weekend. Organized by 20th Century Fox, one of the largest U.S. film studios, the media visit to MDRS was set up as part of the company’s ongoing effort to promote the Ridley Scott-directed film, “The Martian”, which is due out in theaters October 2nd.

During the two-day visit, members of the online media toured the Mars Society facility and learned from MDRS staff about the crew simulations that take place at the habitat every year from October through May. To help the bloggers gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by Matt Damon’s character, astronaut ‘Mark Watney’, in “The Martian”, a set of Mars-oriented challenges was organized by the Mars Society and 20th Century Fox.

Visiting bloggers were put through a series of tests and experiments at MDRS and in the surrounding area that recreated survival situation scenes from “The Martian” movie. These included:

  • Creating water from hydrogen and oxygen,
  • Repairing a radio and using a solar panel to communicate with Earth,
  • Cooking a Martian meal using space food and potatoes,
  • Holding a scavenger hunt among spacecraft wreckage to find missing equipment.

Commenting on the visit to MDRS, Shannon Rupert, MDRS Director, said, “This was a unique opportunity for us to share with a much broader audience the type of Mars simulation training and research that is being carried out at our Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. It was an exciting weekend for us.”

Don’t forget to see “The Martian” next week! (October 2, 2015).

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Kids get to study with real geologists.

I want to learn how to be a geologist working on the Occupy Mars Learning Adventures

Geo Book Project

Geologist’s Toolkits

Our students are getting excited about studying geology, astronomy and chemistry. We are learning how to become geologists on a simulated Mars mission. One of our projects involves putting our geologist’s lab kits together. Students are getting individualized help by working with three professional geologists. Each student will have access to our new geologist’s library, STEM Lab software and the Geologist Toolkit with “The Geoscience Handbook.”

One of our goals is to provide fifty geologists tool kits to the students that are recruited into the 2015-2016 Occupy Mars Learning Adventure’s programs. We want to do what we can to get students excited about studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).   Consider sponsoring a STEM Geologist Toolkit.   Contact:

Did you know?

Planetary science is a dynamic and diverse discipline. Typically, research scientists earn a PhD in a field such as geology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc. while focusing their research in that area to planetary or solar system oriented topics.

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What are geologists doing when they work for NASA?

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit investigates the rock nicknamed Adirondack

Who wants to become a geologists?

The geologists working for Kids Talk Radio Science are study the work of NASA and relating the information to students in grades 5 through 12.  They are role playing what it would like to be a real geologist on the planet Mars.  Our Kids Talk Radio Mars team had the opportunity to study the Infrared photography used on the SOFIA project.

Geophysics & Planetary Geosciences

NASA News Report:

This group studies the solid bodies in the solar system, with particular emphasis on planets and major satellites. Our research topics include:

  • tectonics,
  • volcanology,
  • impact processes,
  • geologic mapping,
  • surface geochemistry, mineralogy, and morphology,
  • interior structure,
  • lithosphere and mantle dynamics, and
  • gravity and magnetic field interpretation.

The bodies we study include Mars, Earth, Venus, Moon, Io, Europa, Titan, Vesta and Ceres, and our methods include image interpretation (visible, infrared, radar), laboratory work, field work, infrared spectroscopy, geophysical data interpretation, modeling, and laboratory work. Our research funding comes from a variety of NASA and JPL programs, including Planetary Geology and Geophysics, Mars Data Analysis Program, Mars Fundamental Research Program, Mars Instrument Development Program, Mars Critical Data Products Initiative, flight instrument teams, and JPL Research and Technology Development.The thrust of our group is twofold: we do independent research but are also heavily involved in flight projects, with scientists holding key positions in the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Science Laboratory, Dawn, and Cassini. Our scientists are also involved in missions currently under development and various competed mission proposals (e.g., in the Discovery, Mars Scout, and New Frontiers programs), and in the analysis of the rich data sets provided by current and past missions, including Galileo, Mars Pathfinder, and Magellan. Our expertise in geology and geophysics provides core science support for numerous current flight projects at JPL and for studies of future missions. We propose missions and instruments that will bring new understanding to the interiors and surfaces of solid bodies in the solar system.

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Antarctic Expedition Prepared Researchers for Mars Project

Four of the expedition members scout out field sites in Antarctica’s Beacon Valley, one of the most Mars-like places on Earth. From left: Aaron Zent, of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; Chris McKay, also of NASA Ames; Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona, Tucson; and Doug Ming, of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston. Image credit: NASA
About half a year before the robotic arm on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander began digging into soil and subsurface ice of an arctic plain of Mars, six scientists traveled to one of the coldest, driest places on Earth for soil-and-ice studies that would end up aiding analysis of the Mars data.

They used duplicates of some of the Phoenix spacecraft’s instruments, plus other methods, in the Antarctic Dry Valleys where breaks in the south polar ice sheet leave windswept rocky terrain exposed. Their two-week expedition, overlapping New Year’s Day 2008, was part of the International Polar Year, a multipronged scientific program focused on the Arctic and Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009.

“We wanted to gain experience with our Phoenix instruments in one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth,” said Leslie Tamppari of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. She is the project scientist for Phoenix and principal investigator for the Antarctic Dry Valleys expedition, though pregnancy kept her from making the trip to Antarctica.

Like the Martian plain where Phoenix landed, the Antarctic Dry Valleys have permafrost and experience cycles of expansion and contraction that have formed the terrain into a pattern of polygons slightly higher at the centers than at the edges. Some of the valleys visited by the expedition, such as University Valley, even have Mars-like “dry” permafrost, where the soil above the ice table never warms above freezing. This makes it even more Mars-like than “wet” permafrost in Earth’s Arctic and in lower-elevation dry valleys in Antarctica, where ice in the upper layer of soil thaws in the summer.

“Those upper valleys are the best analog for the Phoenix site,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission. “The soil temperatures are always well below freezing, ice is stable about 15 inches below the surface, and the extreme conditions challenge life forms to the maximum. This is as close as we can get to Martian conditions.”

Sam Kounaves of Tufts University, Medford, Mass., took a working copy of the Phoenix lander’s wet chemistry laboratory experiment. He collected soil samples from different depths and used that instrument to assess the concentrations of many soluble nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. He also used other methods back at his lab to check for the same ingredients and found essentially the same concentrations. “This helps us validate the results from the wet chemistry laboratory, and gives us more confidence in the data we obtained from Mars,” Kounaves said.

The wet chemistry laboratory was one of the tools Phoenix carried for investigating whether the permafrost environment on Mars has ever offered a favorable chemical environment for microbial life. It found several soluble soil nutrients in concentrations comparable to fertile soils on Earth. That’s one plus for habitability. Other key factors in evaluating the site’s habitability include whether the water-ice ever thaws enough to become biologically available, whether the site has a supply of carbon-based chemicals that are building blocks for life, and whether the site has an energy source organisms could use.

Results from the Antarctic expedition are helping the Phoenix team interpret results from some of the spacecraft’s tools assessing those other factors, too.

Doug Ming of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, brought back to Houston soil samples from different depths of about a dozen trenches dug in Antarctic Dry Valleys. Some of the samples will be analyzed in an engineering model of the Mars lander’s oven instrument that heats samples and identifies the volatile gases driven off by the heating. This instrument on Phoenix served to study the minerals in the soil and check for carbon-containing organic compounds.

“We’ve kept the samples frozen and sterile since they were collected,” Ming said. The analysis continues.

Phoenix used a fork-like probe, inserted into Martian soil, to study changes in the soil’s humidity, electrical and thermal properties. Aaron Zent, of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., brought one of these thermal and electroconductivity probes to the Antarctic Dry Valleys.

“You have to use the probe in undisturbed soil, not a soil sample that you’ve dug up,” Zent said. “We got some measurements that demonstrated the functionality of the instrument.”

The instrument, which was operating at temperatures some 20 Celsius degrees (36 Fahrenheit degrees) warmer than the highest temperatures Phoenix experienced on Mars, also found changes in soil electrical properties that reflected small changes in soil water over the course of the Antarctic day.

Zent is using weather records from the dry valleys, similar to the temperature and humidity data from the conductivity probe, to refine models of the Antarctic and Martian climates and the presence of thin films of unfrozen water in the soil.

Soil adjacent to the ice table in the dry permafrost of University Valley does not get warmer than about minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). That is a warmer temperature than the soil at the Phoenix landing site reaches currently, but would be a closer match to conditions at the Phoenix site a few millions years ago, when the rotation axis of Mars had a greater tilt and the poles got warmer. At such orbital configurations, conditions in the Martian high arctic might closely parallel conditions in Earth’s Antarctica.

The expedition included two biologists — Chris McKay of NASA Ames Research Center, and Susanne Douglas of JPL. Among other studies in the Antarctic Valleys, the team checked whether any microbes live close to the ice in the dry permafrost of University Valley, which had never been done before. The results of these studies, still in review, could add new understanding of the Earth’s own extreme environments. If living microbes are found in the dry permafrost, this would bring us one step closer to understanding the potential habitability on Mars.

“There’s no other place on Earth that combines the dryness and the coldness of the Antarctic Dry Valleys, a combination that presents a difficult challenge to life,” Douglas said.

For a colder and drier place, see Mars.
Media Contact

Media contact: Guy Webster/JPL

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Getting Ready for a Trip to Mars

Astronaut Scott Kelly's Body (A)

NASA, the American space agency, has released an informative infographic, detailing what will happen to astronaut Scott Kelly’s body while he spends a record 12 months in space.

Kelly, along with Russian astronaut Mikhail Kornienko, reached the halfway point of their mission this week, prompting NASA to release the graphic in celebration of his milestone. The two men are to spend a total of 342 days on the International Space Station in order to explore the effects on a human body of spending an extended time in space.

As part of the “Year in Space” program, Kelly’s twin brother, retired astronaut Mike Kelly who has stayed firmly on the earth, is being tested alongside samples periodically gathered from Scott. One of the long-term aims of the experiment is to determine if humans would be able to travel to Mars, which would take approximately 260 days when Earth is at it’s closest approach to the Red Planet. The round trip would take around two and a half years because of the need to wait for the right orbital window for the return journey.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the space agency to step up its efforts to reach Earth’s neighbour. “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth,” Obama said during a 2010 speech at the Kennedy Space Center. “And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”

Among some of the more notable effects and events that Kelly will experience during his year in space include seeing almost 11,000 sunrises and sunsets—compared to the 684 we’ll see on Earth, and that as his discarded feces enter the atmosphere they’ll burn up and look like shooting stars.

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