Top 10 photos of Mars through the eyes of today’s missions

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Are we too late for the party?

NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrated its first Martian birthday last week, 686.98 days after successfully landing on Mars. (Remember: one Martian year = 686.98 Earth days) The Mini Cooper-sized rover, whose descent on Mars brought huge fanfare due to the infamous “7 minutes of terror,” has captured amazing photos during its journey. But Curiosity isn’t the only mission with its eyes set on the red planet.  Here’s 10 of our favorite photos taken through the lens of various missions investigating the spooky and oftentimes deadly planet.

10 – Rocknest

A beautiful mosaic of an area known as Rocknest. This composite image was taken in 2012.  (NOTE: The image has been white-balanced to show what the rocks and soils in it would look like if they were on Earth, according to NASA.) Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

A beautiful mosaic of an area known as Rocknest. This composite image was taken in 2012. (NOTE: The photo has been white-balanced to show what the rocks and soil would look like if they were on Earth, according to NASA.) Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

9 – An eye on its tracks

Curiosity snaps a picture of the marks made by its wheels as the one-ton rover heads toward Mount Sharp.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity snaps a picture of marks made by its own wheels as the rover heads toward Mount Sharp. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

8 – (Dry) ice melt

As the spring season begins, the red planet's dunes can be seen emerging from winter's cover. It's not snow; it's dry ice! This image was taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Obiter in January.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

As the spring season begins, the red planet’s dunes are shown peaking from winter’s cold embrace. It’s not snow, by the way. It’s dry ice! The photo was taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Obiter in January. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

7 – ‘Let me take a selfie’

In early 2014, during the time Curiosity drilled into an area called "Windjana," the vehicle-sized rover took dozens of pictures that were combined into  this selfie. Curiosity is looking good, no?

In early 2014, during the time Curiosity drilled into an area called “Windjana,” the one-ton rover took dozens of pictures that were combined into this selfie. Curiosity is looking good, no? Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

6 – Crystals found

This rock - dubbed Harrison - contains light and dark-colored crystals. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNa

This rock – dubbed Harrison – contains light and dark-colored crystals. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNa

5 – The most active dunes

The Mars Roconnaissance Obiter has its eye on these dunes, the most active on the red planet. The area, which is continually monitored to track changes in wind,  is known as Nili Patera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.

The Mars Reconnaissance Obiter has had its eye on these dunes, the most active on the red planet, for quite some time. This area, which is continually monitored to track changes in wind, is known as Nili Patera. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.

4 – A dust devil

This dust devil casts a shadow on Martian soil. The image was obtained by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

3 – Metallic rocks?

Curiosity exposed this rock’s shiny interior in 2013. “The inside of the rock … is much less red than typical Martian dust and rock surfaces, with a color verging on grayish to bluish,” according to NASA. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

2 – Where’d that rock come from?

Above is a before-and-after picture of an area of ground on Mars. You can see on the right that an object appears in view. (The pictures were taken 13 days apart by NASA's rover Opportunity.) How did the object, identified as a rock, get there?     NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Above is a before-and-after picture of an area of Martian ground. The pictures were taken 13 days apart by another NASA’s rover dubbed Opportunity. How did the object, identified as a rock, get there? You tell me. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

 

 

1 – Earth from Mars

Do you see the bright light a bit left of center? It's faint, but zoom in closer and you'll see a bright object in the sky. That's Earth as seen from Mars in January 2014.    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Do you see the faint dot above the horizon and a bit left of center? Zoom in closer and you’ll see a bright object in the sky. That’s Earth as seen from Mars in January. It’s so tiny! Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

New discoveries: Ringed asteroid surprises researchers; dwarf planet found in the outer Solar System

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This artist’s impression shows a close-up of what the rings might look like. Photo courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger

This artist’s impression shows a close-up of what the rings might look like.
Photo courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger

How well do we know our own backyard? A little better today.

This afternoon, Brazilian astronomers announced the discovery of a double ringed asteroid in the far reaches of our Solar System. While the news wasn’t officially released until today, Twitter was abuzz last evening with talk about what the major discovery could be. Unfortunately, the cat left the bag early. (Some people need to learn the definition of embargo!)

Anyway, back to the news: The asteroid, dubbed Chariklo, is the smallest object in our Solar System known to have rings.

According to lead scientist Felipe Braga-Ribas:

We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!

Braga-Ribas also thinks a small moon could be orbiting the asteroid.

If that wasn’t cool enough for you, another big announcement relating to the outer Solar System was released today.

A dwarf-planet, called 2012 VP113, was found far beyond Pluto. In an interview with NewScientist, Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, said,

We thought Pluto was unique for over 70 years, but we now know that it shares its orbit with thousands of other objects … Sedna was unique for about 10 years but it’s now clear that Sedna and 2012 VP113 are just the tip of the iceberg.

The tip of the iceberg, indeed. Many say that this recent finding points to a massive planet beyond 2012 VP113. Why? The dwarf planet’s orbit tells scientists that something is going on.

While the latest news is fascinating, it also proves just how little we really know about our own Solar System. Here’s to many more discoveries ahead.

What you’ll be talking about tomorrow – Discovery in outer Solar System

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Photo of the week: Rocket launches straight into emerald aurora

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Image Credit: NASA/Christopher Perry

Image Credit: NASA/Christopher Perry

Isn’t she a beauty?!

NASA’s GREECE mission, which will study how the curls and swirls of an aurora forms, launched early last week.

“We can’t wait to dig into the data,” said one investigator on the project.

We can’t either!

Photo of the week: Martian dunes shaped in V formation

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

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

We have another Martian oddity on our hands.

In this late 2013 image of the red planet, a field of dunes appear in V-shaped formation. Located on a large crater in an old Martian valley, the dunes number in the dozens.

For dune fields, the spacing of individual dunes is a function of sand supply, wind speed, and topography,” according to NASA.

The formations have been likened to migratory bird formations and even a popular sci-fi show.

Ha!

A planet bonanza: Over 700 new exoplanets discovered

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The Kepler planet-hunting mission continues to rake in results.

Over 700 new planets have been discovered, Kepler researchers announced yesterday. A large majority of the planets – about 95 percent – are the size of Neptune, which is four times larger than Earth.

Kepler has been searching for planets outside of our Solar System for several years now. This discovery brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 1,700. That’s amazing! And, there are still over 3,000 potential planets that have not yet been confirmed.

This infographic explains how scientists have detected exoplanets and the small portion of sky Kepler has focused its attention.
Explanation of new exoplanets found by Kepler Space Telescope.

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Sun unleashes massive solar flare, the biggest in 2014

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The sun released a “significant” solar flare Monday – a monster in fact, according to some media reports. The powerful blast of radiation doesn’t seem to be headed our way, but if it were, NASA says not to worry. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from being harmed by radiation. However, we might have some problems tweeting.

… when intense enough [solar flares] can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

Not good. Here’s more about Monday’s flare:

Some believe a large enough flare could cause damage to the North American electrical grid, the effects of which could leave Western nations in the dark for months. But that’s for another time. If you’re interested in learning more about solar flares and the sun’s active cycle – which is happening right now!! – check out some of our past posts.

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When songs and science combine: A Vine about my new favorite exoplanet

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Photo of the week: A spectacular launch with a bird’s eye view

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The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 on Nov. 18, 2013.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

This photo is amazing! I can’t believe I didn’t see it make the rounds last November.

Here we see the spacecraft MAVEN launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at the tail end of 2013. NASA researchers hope to learn a bit more about Mars’ upper atmosphere, which disappeared millions of years ago. So far, everything is on track with MAVEN, which will begin orbiting the red planet in mid-September.

How far has the spacecraft traveled since this picture was taken? More than 137 million miles. Go, Maven!

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Space Travel: Then and now

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Much has changed since the beginning of space exploration. What better way to look back at all the advancements than by illustrating them with an infographic?

Thanks to Meilen L. for sending this my way.
Space Travel: Then and Now [Infographic]

Space Travel: Then and Now [Infographic] [Infographic] by the team at Wish.co.uk