We go now to the Moon, not as a destination, but as a proving ground for all the technology, science, and human exploration efforts that will be critical for missions to Mars. On the lunar surface we will pursue water ice and other natural resources that will further enable deep space travel. From the Moon, humanity will take the next giant leap to Mars.
NASA has led the charge in space exploration for 60 years, and as we mark the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, the agency is preparing for its next giant leap with the Artemis program.
Artemis, named after the twin sister of Apollo who is also the Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, encompasses all of our efforts to return humans to the Moon – which will prepare us and propel us on to Mars. Through the Artemis program, we will see the first woman and the next man walk on the surface of the Moon. As the “torch bringer,” literally and figuratively, Artemis will light our way to Mars.
With this in mind, NASA is unveiling the new Artemis program identity, a bold look that embodies the determination of the men and women who will carry our missions forward. They will explore regions of the Moon never visited before, unlock mysteries of the Universe and test the technology that will extend the bounds of humanity farther into the Solar System.
This new identity draws inspiration from the Apollo program logo and mission patch. Using an “A” as the primary visual and a trajectory from Earth to the Moon, we honor all that the Apollo program achieved. However, through Artemis we will forge our own path, pursue lunar exploration like never before, and pave the way to Mars.
With Earth Blue, Rocket Red and Lunar Silver for colors, every part of the identity has meaning:
THE A: The A symbolizes an arrowhead from Artemis’ quiver and represents launch.
TIP OF THE A: The tip of the A of Artemis points beyond the Moon and signifies that our efforts at the Moon are not the conclusion, but rather the preparation for all that lies beyond.
EARTH CRESCENT: The crescent of the Earth at the bottom shows missions from humanity’s perspective. From Earth we go. Back to Earth all that we learn and develop will return. This crescent also visualizes Artemis’ bow as the source from which all energy and effort is sent.
TRAJECTORY: The trajectory moves from left to right through the crossbar of the “A” opposite that of Apollo. Thus highlighting the distinct differences in our return to the Moon. The trajectory is red to symbolize our path to Mars.
MOON: The Moon is our next destination and a stepping stone for Mars. It is the focus of all Artemis efforts.
February 12, 2019 — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.
The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – “Perseverance Valley.”
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
Note: This post will be updated with additional photos and narrative as provided by CAA members.
The 2018 occurrence of the annual Perseids meteor shower was not particularly outstanding but among sky watchers the event’s timing offered some promise; it peaked on a weekend and Earth’s Moon offered no interference! Overall, members enjoyed the experience but were not impressed by the Perseids’ performance!
A few intrepid members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) spent late nights into early mornings at darker sites around the area ranging from Observatory Park in Geauga County, to Letha House Park in Medina County, Findley State Park in Lorain County, and Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County.
Saturday night observers were largely frustrated by clouds moving over the Northern Ohio area though some did report seeing meteors. The passing clouds were illuminated not only by city light pollution but also by flashes of lightning from thunderstorms over Lake Erie!
Member Lonnie Dittrick, out Saturday night, reported, “Spent about 2.5 hours out near Wellington and snagged 23 meteors (about 1 every 9.6 minutes). Conditions fair with lots of high clouds and a cloud-out for 30 minutes. Reoccurring lighting north over the lake. Three very bright shooters that left trails. 11:10 to 1:40 AM.”
Joining the crowd at Observatory Park, Nancy Whisler wrote, “We counted 34 up until midnight, then we left because it was getting so cloudy and moist. We had a great time!”
Some folks tried watching from their own back yards. “Stayed home in Brunswick on my backyard patio Saturday night and Sunday,” wrote Jon Salontay. “Saturday started out with promising skies and weather but the sky got very hazy and smoky early and cloudy later. Saw only one sporadic meteor around midnight and didn’t catch any with my camera. Limiting magnitude was at best 3rd magnitude, probably 2nd. Sunday night saw better conditions; much darker and clearer.”
“Saw only two Perseids though: one early at 11:30 PM, and another around 4 AM, in an early and later session. Three meteors, in two days, in five hours observing.” Reflecting the feelings of many observers, Salontay concluded, “I’ve had better nights.”
Watching from his home’s deck in Brunswick Hills, Matt Franduto wrote, “The last two nights (2 – 3:00 AM) have been awful. Zero on Friday. Three (Saturday) night.”
Sunday night, inconvenient for many due to Monday work schedules, offered better skies and a nice selection of fireballs (exceptionally bright meteors) in addition to more ordinary “shooting stars.”
Watching the sky from “the lovely skies of North Olmsted,” was Steve Korylak. “I took about 200 15-second exposures covering Cygnus and Cassiopeia starting at 1:30 AM and caught not 0ne. However the next half-hour I saw three Perseids and four sporadics. Some shower, more like a drizzle!”
From Findley State Park, James Guilford watched and photographed from twilight until 1:30 AM Saturday to Sunday. He did not keep count as photography was his main interest. “I saw a few dim Perseids and several fireballs and captured one as it passed Mars,” he wrote. “The main problem became dew; one after another the camera lenses fogged up and I had to keep swapping them out. The camera and tripod were dripping wet by the time I had to call it quits!”
Dark skies matter when it comes to spotting meteors. Member Frank Shoemaker, who went to Salt Fork, reported, “My daughter and I went down to Salt Fork state park and were out from 11:30 PM to 4:30 AM on Sunday night/Monday morning. The clouds completely cleared out about 1:30 AM and we eventually lost count of Perseids in the 70s. I think we saw at least 80 of them.” That was a good night! See his composite photo at top of this story.
Member John Burkett took a different approach in making his meteoric image: as an experiment he attached cameras to a CGEM which tracked with background stars. The image above was produced from a Nikon D810, Nikon 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4, ISO-200, single-frame 76-Seconds, cropped. It was just below and to the right of the big “W”. He was three miles out of Seville, time stamp is 5:29 AM.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.
The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.
Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.
“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”
Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.
“The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space. Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter,” said Eigenbrode. “Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper.”
Seasonal Methane Releases
In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. This variation was detected by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.
Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars’ atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.
“This is the first time we’ve seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it,” said Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper. “This is all possible because of Curiosity’s longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal ‘breathing.'”
Finding Organic Molecules
To identify organic material in the Martian soil, Curiosity drilled into sedimentary rocks known as mudstone from four areas in Gale Crater. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake. The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock.
SAM measured small organic molecules that came off the mudstone sample – fragments of larger organic molecules that don’t vaporize easily. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make car tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.
The results also indicate organic carbon concentrations on the order of 10 parts per million or more. This is close to the amount observed in Martian meteorites and about 100 times greater than prior detections of organic carbon on Mars’ surface. Some of the molecules identified include thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, such as propane or butene.
In 2013, SAM detected some organic molecules containing chlorine in rocks at the deepest point in the crater. This new discovery builds on the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments on Mars and helps explains why they were preserved.
Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.
These results also inform scientists’ decisions as they work to find answers to questions concerning the possibility of life on Mars.
“Are there signs of life on Mars?” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters. “We don’t know, but these results tell us we are on the right track.”
This work was funded by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. Goddard provided the SAM instrument. JPL built the rover and manages the project for SMD.
The regular monthly membership meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association will take place Monday, April 10, beginning at 7:30. Meetings take place at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.
“The Martians are Coming! – Astronomical Hoaxes and Panics.” CAA member Steve Gallant will discuss some of the great astronomical hoaxes, including the famous Orson Welles “WAR OF THE WORLDS” radio broadcast of 1938!
Following the presentation, the business portion of the meeting will convene. If Martians have not overrun the auditorium, inciting panic by then.
The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association’s (CAA’s) observatory at Letha House Park will be open for public observing Saturday, August 6, from 8:30 to 11:00 PM. Visitors will be treated to telescopic views of the Moon (early), Saturn, and as the sky darkens, deep sky objects such as star clusters. Mars may also be viewed but is becoming more distant from Earth and offers less detail to viewers. Click here for our observatory’s web page for information on how to get to the observatory and advice on attending a star party.
The observatory is operated in cooperation with the Medina County Park District (which owns the property). Restroom facilities are available at the park and, in the event of cloudy or inclement weather, an indoor astronomy program will be offered in place of outdoor observing.