There's a formation on Mars that's been enticing scientists since it was first observed in the 1970s: Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater. If Gale Crater sounds familiar, it's because that's where the Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - is slated to land in August of this year.
Curiosity is the first Mars rover to even attempt to land on the narrow strip of flatter ground at the foot of Mount Sharp, thanks to precision-landing technology on the one-ton rover.
So why is Mount Sharp such an interesting target? Scientists hope that by studying the roughly 5-kilometer-high formation, (3.1 miles) Curiosity will be able to shed more light on whether conditions were ever favorable for life on Mars. Just to give you an idea how tall this thing is, the Grand Canyon is only a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep according to the National Park Service.
Georgia Tech's James Wray, a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission, tells us that Mount Sharp has kilometers of sedimentary layers that could reveal clues to millions of years of Martian geologic history. As on Earth, where geologists study formations to understand how they fit into the stratigraphic - that is, chronologic - history of the planet, Mount Sharp presents an opportunity to do the same on Mars.
"Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence," said Caltech's John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, in a statement. Wray likens it to "reading thousands of successive pages from an encyclopedia of Martian history."
Mount Sharp is an apt name - in the tradition of naming Martian features after scientists (Gale Crater was named for Australian astronomer Walter Gale), the mountain is named after a geologist, Robert P. Sharp, who was at the forefront of planetary science and a member of NASA's first few Mars missions.
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"The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the "UFO Galaxy." NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship. This is why the astronomers at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory, Cocoa, Fla., gave it this attention-grabbing nickname.
While a bird's eye view lets us see the detailed structure of a galaxy (such as this Hubble image of a barred spiral), a side-on view has its own perks. In particular, it gives astronomers a great opportunity to see the delicate dusty lanes of the spiral arms silhouetted against the golden haze of the galaxy’s core. In addition, brilliant clusters of young blue stars shine scattered throughout the disc, mapping the galaxy’s star-forming regions.
Perhaps surprisingly, side-on views of galaxies like this one do not prevent astronomers from deducing their structures. Studies of the properties of the light coming from NGC 2683 suggest that this is a barred spiral galaxy, even though the angle we see it at does not let us see this directly.
This image is produced from two adjacent fields observed in visible and infrared light by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. A narrow strip which appears slightly blurred and crosses most the image horizontally is a result of a gap between Hubble’s detectors. This strip has been patched using images from observations of the galaxy made by ground-based telescopes, which show significantly less detail. The field of view is approximately 6.5 by 3.3 arcminutes."Source: NASA
By Pamela Greyer, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Pamela Greyer is a K-12 science educator, STEM education consultant and NASA solar system ambassador. She is the former site director of NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy Chicago Program and continues to mentor and engage youths in NASA engineering competitions and contests.
This is her second post about leading a team through the process of competing in NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race. Catch up on her story here.
"Ms. G, How are we supposed to build this?"
If anybody ever said building a moonbuggy for NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race was an easy task, they were definitely not telling the whole story.
The team is excited by the idea of going to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to race their moonbuggy. But before that can happen, they have to design and build the buggy.
This project presents as many challenges to the students today as it did for the NASA engineers who designed the first lunar vehicle. My students have discovered the art of innovation while designing their moonbuggy.
"This is more than a challenge in engineering design," said one of my students. "Where are the directions?"
After thousands of trips around the Earth, Buzz Lightyear has landed at the Smithsonian.
The foot-high plastic toy, representing the character from Disney's "Toy Story" franchise, flew to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery on May 31, 2008.
Once aboard, the toy was part of interactive games and special messages designed by NASA and Disney to encourage children to pursue careers in science.
The action figure was brought to NASA ahead of his journey to make him lighter and safer for the voyage.FULL STORY
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
CNN's Light Years blog always seems to be addressing some of life's biggest, most perplexing and indeed thorniest questions. Our readers often go there to debate grand themes and ponder the meaning of the universe.