Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Earth is off to find life on Mars as rover launches today

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Posted at 17:4817:48
‘Perfect launch’
Lori Glaze, Nasa’s Planetary Science Division director, shares a video of children around the world who helped with Nasa’s “countdown to Mars” campaign.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace is next. He describes today, like Bridenstine, as a “perfect launch”, and then explains more about the signal issues.

“The one problem we had is the terminology we use- we couldn’t lock up our telemetry,” he says.

“Basically it allows us to read the information and the data coming from the spacecraft. It turns out the Deep Space Network is really designed to talk to spacecraft that are a long, long way away…they have very sensitive receivers, very big antennas, and to configure them in fact to talk to a spacecraft that is this close to the earth is a little out of the ordinary.”

For the last hour or so, he says, scientists have been working on configuring the ground station to get this signal. He adds that he just got a text during the conference that the team will start to get more information soon.

Posted at 17:3717:37
‘Couldn’t have gone any better’
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks first, and says everything is still going to plan.

Addressing the communications issues with Perseverance, Bridenstine says: “We do need to fine tune our receiving stations on the ground and do some things to capture that signal and lock down but I think we’re in great shape.”

He adds that “it couldn’t have gone any better from a launch perspective”.

Posted at 17:3517:35
Post-launch news conference begins
Nasa officials are hosting the post-launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.

We’re hearing from Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science, Lori Glaze of the planetary science division, Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at JPL, Omar Baez, launch director, and Tory Bruno, president of United Launch Alliance.

Nasa’s rover missions have detailed extensive evidence pointing to Mars being hospitable to life billions of years ago. But there’s an intriguing phenomenon on Mars that could point to possible life today.Earth is off to find life on Mars as rover launches today

In 2004, the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Mars Express spacecraft detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars in the parts per billion range. Nasa scientist Michael Mumma also presented evidence from ground telescopes of the gas in Mars’ thin air.

The finding was of interest because the vast majority of methane on Earth is produced by life.

But it’s not the only way methane can be produced, and so the methane can’t be taken as solid evidence of microbial life. There are many ways it could be produced without biology, including a series of chemical reactions called serpentinisation, which could be taking place below the Martian surface.Earth is off to find life on Mars as rover launches today

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has detected irregular “burps” of atmospheric methane from its landing site at Gale Crater.

Esa’s Trace Gas Orbiter has been gathering long-term observations of gases such as methane in the Martian atmosphere. The results could provide a better idea of what’s going on.

Could Martian bugs be eking out an existence deep beneath the Martian surface, producing methane as a by-product of their life cycle? It’s a possibility, but not the only one.


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