Category Archives: Technology

Drones on Mars? small ‘helicopter-like’ scout could be added to Mars 2020 rover mission

Artist’s conception of the helicopter-like drone which could accompany the Mars 2020 Rover. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of the helicopter-like drone which could accompany the Mars 2020 rover. Image Credit: NASA

Over the past few years, numerous orbiters, landers, and rovers have been sent to Mars, revealing the world as never before. There is, however, something else which hasn’t been done yet: a helicopter, airplane, or balloon. An airborne probe could provide stunning views of the Martian surface between those of a lander/rover and an orbiter at much higher altitude. The concept has been considered and tested to some degree, and now it may be moving closer to becoming a reality. The latest studies involve the possibility of sending a small helicopter-like drone along with the Mars 2020 Mission rover.

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NASA developing new ‘Chemical Laptop’ to search for evidence of alien life

The “Chemical Laptop” being designed by NASA to help search for evidence of alien life elsewhere in the Solar System. Photo Credit: NASA

The “Chemical Laptop” being designed by NASA to help search for evidence of alien life elsewhere in the Solar System. Photo Credit: NASA

One of NASA’s primary objectives, and the one which most excites the general public, is the search for evidence of life elsewhere, whether in our own Solar System or on some distant exoplanet. However, the best way to go about that is a subject of much debate. Now, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come up with a new proposal: a “Chemical Laptop,” a miniaturized portable laboratory which would look for signs of materials associated with life (at least as we know it), such as amino acids.

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Gemini Planet Imager finds its first exoplanet, a methane-rich ‘young Jupiter’

Discovery near-infrared image of the exoplanet 51 Eridani b taken by the Gemini Planet Imager on Dec. 21, 2014. The relative size of Saturn’s orbit is also shown for comparison. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/J. Rameau (UdeM)/C. Marois (NRC Herzberg)

Discovery near-infrared image of the exoplanet 51 Eridani b taken by the Gemini Planet Imager on Dec. 21, 2014. The relative size of Saturn’s orbit is also shown for comparison. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/J. Rameau (UdeM)/C. Marois (NRC Herzberg)

The Gemini Planet Imager, a new telescopic instrument designed to find, image, and study faint, young planets orbiting bright stars, has discovered its first exoplanet: a young Jupiter-like planet called 51 Eridani b which orbits the star 51 Eridani, about 100 light-years away. Thought to be similar to a younger version of Jupiter, it should help astronomers learn more about how planetary systems form.

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NASA awards grants to Ozark IC to create circuits for proposed Venus rover

Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC

Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC

In what may be a significant step toward the seemingly far-off goal of sending a rover to the surface of Venus, NASA has awarded two grants totalling $245,000 to a semiconductor technology firm to design complex integrated circuits which could withstand the extremely harsh environment on this neighboring world.

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Flying the friendly Martian skies: NASA to test Mars airplane prototype

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

For several decades, Mars has been a busy place, with orbiters, landers, and rovers providing unprecedented views of the Red Planet. Another exciting possibility which has yet to be realized is an airplane, which could soar through the atmosphere, showing Mars in a way not possible before – closer than an orbiter, but unique from a lander or rover stuck on the surface. NASA is now testing just such a concept, the first Mars airplane which could fly in the Martian skies in the 2020s.

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Mars Cube One: new deep-space CubeSats will travel to Mars along with InSight lander

Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next NASA mission to Mars, the InSight lander, will include some additional experimental technology: the first deep-space CubeSats. Two small CubeSats will fly past the planet as the lander is descending through the atmosphere; this will be the first time CubeSats have been used in an interplanetary mission.

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Flying (mostly) friendly skies: Northrop Grumman developing airplane to cruise atmosphere of Venus

Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept

Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept

With so much attention now on the rovers and spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Ceres, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and, soon, Pluto, it may seem like Earth’s closest planetary neighbor Venus has been forgotten again. But no, Venus is still very much on the minds of researchers who are busy developing a concept airplane which could cruise for years in the hellish planet’s atmosphere.

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Orbiting Rainbows: using ‘glitter clouds’ to search for and image exoplanets

YouTube Preview ImageThe search for exoplanets may one day get a lot more glittery. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but a new NASA proposal called Orbiting Rainbows would use glitter-like materials to help image some of those far-away worlds, which could enable high-resolution imaging at a fraction of the cost.

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Exploring an alien sea: NASA designs submarine to send to Titan

Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA

Who wouldn’t want to go explore an alien sea? It seems that NASA would certainly like to, and the agency has unveiled a new submarine design to hopefully do just that one day. The submarine would be sent to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to dive into one of the large liquid methane seas on the moon’s frigid surface; such a mission idea may sound like science fiction, but it’s not, and would be the first ever to explore a sea on another world which is both Earth-like in some ways, yet utterly alien in others.

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Curiosity takes first nighttime and ‘black light’ photos

Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) "glows" in the UV images. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) “glows” in the UV images. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Addendum: press release is now available here.

The images being taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars have been amazing enough so far, but with one thing in common – they are all daytime images. Now, though, Curiosity has taken its first nighttime photos! These initial images were taken a couple of days ago, on sol 165. This is also the location where Curiosity will soon do its first drilling.

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