NASA begins testing of InSight Mars lander for launch in 2016

Testing of the solar arrays on the InSight lander at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Testing of the solar arrays on the InSight lander at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

While Curiosity and Opportunity are still busy roving Mars, NASA has begun testing its next lander, InSight, scheduled to launch in March 2016. It will be the first mission devoted to studying the interior of the Red Planet, providing a unique and necessary addition to the Mars exploration program overall.

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Image Gallery: finely layered rocks near Jocko Butte

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some great new images of very finely layered rocks near Jocko Butte on sol 976, from Curiosity. The layers tell a geological story of alternating wet conditions in this area on Mars a long time ago. These thin, delicate layers are an amazing sight! All of the raw images from Curiosity can be seen here.

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Enceladus’ water geysers may be ‘curtain eruptions’ according to new study

The water vapor jets on Enceladus are now thought to mostly be more like diffuse “curtains” rather than separate plumes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/PSI
The water vapour jets on Enceladus are now thought to mostly be more like diffuse “curtains” rather than separate plumes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/PSI

The water vapour geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus are one of the most fascinating phenomena in the Solar System; the jets spray far out into space in a dazzling display unseen anywhere else. Known to emanate from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole, they were thought to be separate, distinct plumes erupting from the surface, but now scientists think that they might actually be mostly broader, more diffuse “curtains” of spray along the length of the fissures.

Read MoreEnceladus’ water geysers may be ‘curtain eruptions’ according to new study

Astronomers find first evidence of possible volcanic activity on a super-Earth exoplanet

Artist’s conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. The surface may be partially molten. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
Artist’s conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. The surface may be partially molten. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

Discovering new exoplanets has become rather routine in the last few years, but determining just what conditions exist on any of them is naturally more difficult, since they are so far away. But astronomers are making advances in this area as well, and now they have found the first evidence of changing temperatures – and possible volcanic activity – on a distant super-Earth exoplanet.

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Discovery of salty aquifer beneath Antarctica may have implications for life on Mars

The SkyTEM sensor suspended beneath a helicopter over Blood Falls and the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Photo Credit: L. Jansan
The SkyTEM sensor suspended beneath a helicopter over Blood Falls and the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Photo Credit: L. Jansan

Scientists have discovered a vast network of salty aquifers beneath the surface of Antarctica, thanks to an airborne imaging system used there for the first time. The finding may have interesting implications for the search for life elsewhere, such as Mars, since it is known that, at least on Earth, a large variety of microscopic life forms can thrive in those kinds of environments.

Read MoreDiscovery of salty aquifer beneath Antarctica may have implications for life on Mars