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?