Nasa / Space

NASA isn't resting on its laurels

Nicole Bremer Nash discusses the news that water may flow on Mars and some of NASA's future plans, which include the Juno solar powered space probe and the GRAIL mission.

Though NASA's space shuttle program is no more, NASA is still actively exploring the solar system. Robots and satellites send hundreds of images to researchers on the ground, and NASA has exciting new information about the galaxy around us.

New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate a possibility of flowing salt water in the Newton Crater. Mars is pretty cold most of the time, with equitorial summer temperatures only reaching around 70°F (20°C) in the heat of the day during summer months. Researchers think it must be brine water because salt lowers the freezing temperature of water. A collection of images shows dark lines that appear to be some type of flow, that lengthen and darken over the course of Mars' summer months. The water is believed to be from underground springs, and the flow itself looks to be under the surface, rather than on top. The current theory is that the underground water flow is creating changes on the surface that show up as changing, dark striations on the images. With water comes the possibility of life existing on the planet. Perhaps Earthlings should start baking cookies to welcome our Martian neighbors after all. Check out the gallery to see the images that led researchers to believe water can flow on Mars.

Martian water isn't the only big news out of NASA since the shuttle program closed down. On August 5, 2011, NASA launched a cutting-edge solar powered space probe called Juno. The probe is headed to Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. It will take Juno five years to reach Jupiter. The project is particularly exciting for many reasons: Jupiter is thought to be the oldest planet; Jupiter is so large that the entire rest of the solar system sans the Sun could fit inside it, and Jupiter is hidden by a dense cloud cover. Researchers hope that Jupiter holds the secrets to the galaxy's beginnings. Juno has eight scientific instruments that it will use to peer beneath Jupiter's cloud cover during 33 orbits of the planet's poles. Topping the list of intended discoveries is whether or not Jupiter has a solid planetary core. You can see images of Juno and the solar system's most interesting planet in this gallery.

There is still so much to learn closer to home. NASA plans to launch twin spacecraft in September 2011 that will orbit the moon and map its gravity field. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission will create the map from 30 miles above the moon's surface. The intention is to discover information that will tell researchers about the moon's interior core. To celebrate the GRAIL launch, NASA will host 150 Twitter followers on September 7 and 8, for a massive Tweetup that will include tours of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and culminate in the mission launch. What better way for an organization that loves Twitter to launch an exciting new mission?

Visit the NASA site for more information about NASA's future projects.

About

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...

8 comments
skyeenter
skyeenter

What a dumb species we humans are. We continue to destroy our water supply on the only place we can survive. In our unfathomable wisdom we use this Mars diversion to ignore the fact our home is running out of useable water. 70 % of the Earth is water, but only 2.5% is fresh water. http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthwherewater.html Of that fresh water supply, 84% is in the Great Lakes of North America http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/basicinfo.html So why are we going to Mars to find water? We have met the enemy, and he is us. Pogo circa 1971

JJMach
JJMach

Not sure where you got the idea, but the idea has never been to go to Mars to bring its water back to Earth. There are only two real reasons why we are looking for water on Mars: 1) Since all life on Earth requires liquid water, it stands to reason the best chance we have of finding life on Mars is to look where liquid water still exists. If we discover life on Mars, that would be a fundamental world-view changing event greater than figuring out the Earth revolved around the Sun. 2) If (when, I hope) we send explorers to Mars, they are going to need water, and if we could get the water they need on Mars, we wouldn't have to spend the money and effort of sending the extra water along with the astronauts. Ask any long-range hiker which is easier to carry: a small filter-pump or a jug of water. I agree that acquiring potable water is an increasingly difficult issue around the world (not so sure about the U.S., particularly because are waterways are getting cleaner, not dirtier than they were in decades past). Working on that with the EPA, NOAA, (insert alphabet soup of other environmental agencies here and around the world), is important, but there is already a lot of research and effort already being directed towards the problem. The FY'11 budget of the EPA alone is roughly the same magnitude as the combined Space Operations and Exploration budgets. It is also worth mentioning that a large portion of NASA's Earth Science budget ($1.8 B) is directed at studying the Earth's climate and oceans. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/earth/index.cfm it is hard for me to understand the reasoning that because X is important, we shouldn't do Y, particularly when you see how little, as a percentage of the budget, is being spent on them. It is also worth pointing out that NASA spin-off technologies continue to make our lives better in ways that the original space-exploration driven inventors never dreamed. If you are concerned about potable water, how's this for a problem: You and a team of explorers are going to be sealed in a can for the next several months. You can't afford to bring all the water you'd need if you were going to dump the waste, so you have to recycle every last drop with systems that are completely fool-proof and reliable, because if they break, you'll die. Your only hope of resupply is when you finally get to your destination, where the water is hard to get and what little is there is more salty than sea-water and potentially toxic. You are going to need a system to extract potable water that is compact, lightweight, and energy-efficient. Care to ponder where else you might want a system like that? P.S. I liked the (un?)intentional pun of using the word "unfathomable" when discussing water issues, but I think you are a bit out of your depth.

JFM
JFM

I watched, again, the Nasa Plan to get to Mars on Science over the weekend. The plan, IMHO, is yet another bureaucratic mess. Imagine you are a team ready to climb the Transantarctic mountains. Would you establish a single base camp in Anchorage, Alaska to climb this range? NO! Any sensible climbing group would build a base camp AT THE BASE OF THE MOUNTAIN, and then ferry in all the equipment and personnel, plus additional to deal with any unforseen consequences. We are going a heck of a lot farther than that when we go to Mars, but where is our base camp? At Earth, either in orbit, or at NASA Florida. Really handy for quick response (since the message delay time from the surface is close to 1/2 an hour, and any help is between 100days to 2 years away). What sense does that make? Secondly, our results in entry into Mars atmosphere are dismal at best. Why not do something we know how to do? Like create a Martian Orbital Platform. Then we can ferry all the gear, and even people to there in advance, replacing any feet to meters problems that cause a spectacular crater in either Mars or Jupiter. We can stockpile all that we need, and when we are ready to start we can place the packages we need on the surface, replacing any that crack up or burn BEFORE we send in an exploration team! Blowing the landing on a Freight package then becomes an "Oh Bother!" rather than an National Funeral for the exploration team. NASA is really showing that it is "out of German Scientists". Werner Von Braun must be rotating at 2000 RPM in his grave about now. Can someone please send NASA a care package of common sense? My $0.02.

greggwon
greggwon

@JJMach: 5C * 9 / 5 + 32 does not make 23F. That should be -5C == 23F.

JJMach
JJMach

You're right. Should have caught that, given that 23 deg.F is less than freezing (32 deg.F / 0 deg.C). My main point is still valid in that I am encouraged by the fact that there's enough water coming out of those seeps to allow the damp marks to remain and grow as summer progresses even though the water should be evaporating very quickly.

dave
dave

Interesting to know what the freeze/melt point of brine water is. If it turns out to be that, then that might give a better indication of what the real temperature is on the Martian surface during the day. I would think brine water would freeze very quickly at the current estimate.

JJMach
JJMach

I think the writer got their Celsius and Fahrenheit confused. The highest summer temperature on Mars is around 23 deg.F (5 deg.C). Even pure water could remain liquid at this temperature. Unfortunately at the low atmospheric pressure on Mars--at most only 1% of Earth's sea level atmosphere, water boils at 7 deg.C, so any water spilled on the ground will quickly evaporate. Salting the water explains both the chemical signatures the NASA probes are seeing and why the wet ground appears to remain wet for some period of time. That, or the water is flowing in sufficient quantity in order to keep the area moist, which would be exceptionally interesting. Here's to hoping that MSL can get a scoop of the wet stuff and tell us for sure.

The Flaming Maiden
The Flaming Maiden

The temperature information came from NASA, but we will clarify: equatorial summer temperatures get near 70 deg. F. Thanks for pointing it out; we are fixing the post for clarity. I was surprised at the temperature, and the idea that it would have to be brine water to run in 70 deg. F, but my reading on the subject indicates that the brine assumption is because the images were taken over multiple months (the summer months) and the temperature range is significant during that period. Interesting stuff, for sure!