Curiosity getting ready to drill into Martian rock
A view of the Martian rock selected for Curiosity's first-time drilling.
January 15th, 2013
04:41 PM ET

Curiosity getting ready to drill into Martian rock

Curiosity has identified an area of diverse rocks, which add to the body of evidence that there was once water on Mars, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in an update on the rover's progress given at a press briefing on Tuesday.

These rocks are the first target for Curiosity's drill. The area is named "John Klein," after a Curiosity project manager and longtime Jet Propulsion Laboratory veteran who died in 2011.

Michael Malin, the principal investigator for Mastcam, the two cameras on the rover's mast, said at the briefing that "diversity is always a measure of the number of processes and types of materials" in an area.

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Filed under: Mars
Mars rover landing engineer looks back
January 11th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Mars rover landing engineer looks back

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Miguel San Martin, chief engineer for Guidance, Navigation, and Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has worked on four Mars spacecraft. On Twitter he's @MigOnMars.

In case you're just tuning in: On August 6 (it was still August 5 on the West Coast), the Mars rover Curiosity landed on Mars amid enormous celebration among space enthusiasts. The one-ton rover put its wheels on Mars through a complicated process known as "seven minutes of terror." A supersonic parachute and a sky crane had to be utilized in order to safely get Curiosity there. The mission cost $2.5 billion.

San Martin, who worked on Curiosity's landing system, spoke in November at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta at a special Holy Innocents' Episcopal School event called "Pushing Boundaries." We caught up with him before he gave an inspiring talk to students, parents and faculty about his career. Here is an edited transcript:

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Filed under: In Space • Mars • Voices
January 10th, 2013
12:03 PM ET

Cameras crash from 65,000 feet, videos survive

By Chris Erickson, CNN

I didn't set out to crash three GoPro cameras and another $1,000 worth of electronics from more than 65,000 feet.

I simply wanted to organize a visual story for 12 international journalists who were visiting CNN headquarters in Atlanta in June. Getting video from the "edge of space" seemed like an easy idea that would make for great television and a great story.

In the past few years, low-orbit photography - that is, taking photos and videos from high up in the atmosphere - has been growing as a hobby. As cameras and GPS devices become cheaper and more reliable, just about anyone can do it, not just tech geeks.

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Filed under: News
January 9th, 2013
01:07 PM ET

Astronaut tweets photos from space

Every child has likely grown up with the dream of traveling into space and exploring the universe. Even a few adults have imagined taking a break from the rat race to see the Earth and the stars the way the astronauts do.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is making those dreams a reality, thanks to Twitter.

Hadfield is currently beginning a stay on the International Space Station, and will be in command of the station in March. But before taking charge, Hadfield is taking to Twitter to show some amazing pictures of Earth from the ISS, as the module orbits the planet.

Click on the above video to see some of Hadfield’s photos.

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Filed under: In Space
Sizzling Remains of a Dead Star
January 9th, 2013
11:54 AM ET

Sizzling Remains of a Dead Star

"This new view of the historical supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, located 11,000 light-years away, was taken by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. Blue indicates the highest energy X-ray light, where NuSTAR has made the first resolved image ever of this source. Red and green show the lower end of NuSTAR's energy range, which overlaps with NASA's high-resolution Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A is thought to have reached Earth about 300 years ago, after traveling 11,000 years to get here. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. The outer blue ring is where the shock wave from the supernova blast is slamming into surrounding material, whipping particles up to within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light. NuSTAR observations should help solve the riddle of how these particles are accelerated to such high energies

X-ray light with energies between 10 and 20 kiloelectron volts are blue; X-rays of 8 to 10 kiloelectron volts are green; and X-rays of 4.5 to 5.5 kiloelectron volts are red.

The starry background picture is from the Digitized Sky Survey."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Planets, planets, planets!
An artist's rendering of a view of an unusual planet orbiting the star Kepler-36, identified by the Kepler mission.
January 8th, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Planets, planets, planets!

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

We still don't know if Earth, as a planet that currently harbors life, is alone in the universe. But scientists are actively searching for clues about other potential habitable worlds outside our solar system.

Astronomers are presenting their latest findings at the American Astronomical Society annual conference in Long Beach, California, this week. The word on the cosmic street is that Earth-sized planets are relatively common and that hundreds of new planet candidates have been identified.

"We have begun to truly map the planets in our galaxy akin to the way that early explorers mapped the Earth," said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who works with data from the NASA Kepler mission, which aims to identify planets outside of Earth's solar system.

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Filed under: In Space • Kepler
Robonaut Operates Task Board in Space
January 7th, 2013
10:26 AM ET

Robonaut Operates Task Board in Space

"In the International Space Station's Destiny laboratory, Robonaut 2 is pictured on Jan. 2, during a round of testing for the first humanoid robot in space. Ground teams put Robonaut through its paces as they remotely commanded it to operate valves on a task board.

Robonaut is a testbed for exploring new robotic capabilities in space, and its form and dexterity allow it to use the same tools and control panels as its human counterparts do aboard the station."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
January 4th, 2013
11:07 AM ET

Asteroid to fly between Earth, moon

CNN's Chad Myers has the details of an asteroid scientists say will narrowly miss hitting Earth in February.


Filed under: In Space • the Moon
Looking for life on Mars: What's next
The Opportunity Rover's dusty self-portrait.
January 4th, 2013
10:52 AM ET

Looking for life on Mars: What's next

James Wray is an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He is a collaborator on the Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science teams. His research explores the chemistry, mineralogy and geology of Martian rocks as records of environmental conditions throughout the planet’s history.

In less than a month, the Opportunity rover will begin her 10th year on the surface of Mars. She has already outlived her 90-day warranty 35 times over, like a human living 2,500 years instead of 70 – an astonishing engineering achievement.

But how has Mars science advanced during this period?

Opportunity and her twin sister, Spirit, went to Mars to determine whether, where, and how liquid water ever flowed across the Martian surface. Before their missions, we knew Mars had dry river valleys, but how could we be sure that water carved them? Where were the minerals that liquid water leaves behind: the clays that dominate our tropical soils on Earth, or salts deposited after evaporation?

Opportunity landed on Mars and opened her robotic eyes to a paradise of salt-rich rocks, with the frozen ripples of 3-billion-year-old ponds confirming that water once was there. But as the years passed on, like any Eden, the paradise felt more like a prison, and a heretical plan emerged to journey a seemingly impossible distance in pursuit of new knowledge.
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Filed under: In Space • Mars • Robots
Meteorite has highest water content of any from Mars, scientists say
These three pieces are from the same meteorite. Scientists say they are rare specimens from the crust of Mars.
January 3rd, 2013
02:20 PM ET

Meteorite has highest water content of any from Mars, scientists say

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

A team of scientists has established a whole new class of meteorites that seems to have come from Mars' crust, based on a rare sample from 2.1 billion years ago.

The newly analyzed meteorite has more water than any other Martian meteorite that we know of, by a magnitude of more than 10, said Carl Agee, lead study author and director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico. Agee and colleagues published their analysis of the meteorite in the journal Science Express.

"There are thousands and thousands of meteorites, and so far this is the only one like it," Agee said.

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