Latest scientific findings from Curiosity

Papers published in the journal Science describe a number of findings by Curiosity during its first year on Mars. The press release below summarizes the findings.  (I notice that a lot of press articles about this are emphasizing the “water on Mars” angle from the measurement showing that about 2% by weight of the soil at Gail Crater consists of water molecules. That is definitely an interesting fact but it is not a discovery of water on Mars. It’s been known for decades that Mars has a lot of subsurface water ice. The Phoenix Lander, in fact, saw water ice first hand. For more about this topic, see Water on Mars – Wikipedia.)

Mars Science Laboratory: Science Gains From Diverse Landing Area of Curiosity

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Curiosity rover is revealing a great deal about Mars, from long-ago processes in its interior to the current interaction between the Martian surface and atmosphere.

This 360-degree scene shows the surroundings of the location where NASA Mars rover Curiosity arrived on the 59th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (Oct. 5, 2012).

Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust has provided new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover’s science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in five reports in the Sept. 27 edition of the journal Science.

A key finding is that water molecules are bound to fine-grained soil particles, accounting for about 2 percent of the particles’ weight at Gale Crater where Curiosity landed. This result has global implications, because these materials are likely distributed around the Red Planet.

Curiosity also has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using a standard laboratory method for identifying minerals on Earth. The findings about both crystalline and non-crystalline components in soil provide clues to the planet’s volcanic history.

Information about the evolution of the Martian crust and deeper regions within the planet comes from Curiosity’s mineralogical analysis of a football-size igneous rock called “Jake M.” Igneous rocks form by cooling molten material that originated well beneath the crust. The chemical compositions of the rocks can be used to infer the thermal, pressure and chemical conditions under which they crystallized.

This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.

“No other Martian rock is so similar to terrestrial igneous rocks,” said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology, lead author of a report about this analysis. “This is surprising because previously studied igneous rocks from Mars differ substantially from terrestrial rocks and from Jake M.”

The other four reports include analysis of the composition and formation process of a windblown drift of sand and dust, by David Blake of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and co-authors.

Curiosity examined this drift, called Rocknest, with five instruments, preforming an onboard laboratory analysis of samples scooped up from the Martian surface. The drift has a complex history and includes sand particles with local origins, as well as finer particles that sample windblown Martian dust distributed regionally or even globally.

The rover is equipped with a laser instrument to determine material compositions from some distance away. This instrument found that the fine-particle component in the Rocknest drift matches the composition of windblown dust and contains water molecules. The rover tested 139 soil targets at Rocknest and elsewhere during the mission’s first three months and detected hydrogen — which scientists interpret as water — every time the laser hit fine-particle material.

“The fine-grain component of the soil has a similar composition to the dust distributed all around Mars, and now we know more about its hydration and composition than ever before,” said Pierre-Yves Meslin of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie in Toulouse, France, lead author of a report about the laser instrument results.

A laboratory inside Curiosity used X-rays to determine the composition of Rocknest samples. This technique, discovered in 1912, is a laboratory standard for mineral identification on Earth. The equipment was miniaturized to fit on the spacecraft that carried Curiosity to Mars, and this has yielded spinoff benefits for similar portable devices used on Earth. David Bish of Indiana University in Bloomington co-authored a report about how this technique was used and its results at Rocknest.

X-ray analysis not only identified 10 distinct minerals, but also found an unexpectedly large portion of the Rocknest composition is amorphous ingredients, rather than crystalline minerals. Amorphous materials, similar to glassy substances, are a component of some volcanic deposits on Earth.

Another laboratory instrument identified chemicals and isotopes in gases released by heating the Rocknest soil in a tiny oven. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights. These tests found water makes up about 2 percent of the soil, and the water molecules are bound to the amorphous materials in the soil.

“The ratio of hydrogen isotopes in water released from baked samples of Rocknest soil indicates the water molecules attached to soil particles come from interaction with the modern atmosphere,” said Laurie Leshin of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., lead author of a report about analysis with the baking instrument.

Baking and analyzing the Rocknest sample also revealed a compound with chlorine and oxygen, likely chlorate or perchlorate, which previously was known to exist on Mars only at one high-latitude site. This finding at Curiosity’s equatorial site suggests more global distribution.

Data obtained from Curiosity since the first four months of the rover’s mission on Mars are still being analyzed. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission draws upon international collaboration, including key instrument contributions from Canada, Spain, Russia and France.

This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic."

For more information about the mission, visit and .

Space Center Houston to unveil name selected for Space Shuttle replica

An announcement from with Space Center Houston:

Space Center Houston to unveil official name of Space Shuttle replica
Winning submission selected from more than 10,000 entries in Texas-wide naming contest

Officials with Space Center Houston, the visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC), will hold a public ceremony to announce the winning entry in the “Name the Shuttle” contest, a recent statewide challenge that gave Texans the chance to show their support for America’s space program. During the ceremony, the winner will help unveil the freshly-painted moniker on the full-scale Space Shuttle replica that will eventually sit atop the massive 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) as part of a new $12 million, six-story attraction currently under development. Additionally, the winner will have his/her name and hometown incorporated onto a placard at the new exhibit.

As part of the winner’s prize package, he/she will embark on a multi-day trip for four to Space Center Houston, which includes a VIP tour of the facility, a behind-the-scenes experience at NASA-JSC, hotel accommodations, meals and travel compensation.

Note: A b-roll package will be available to media by request. Footage of the winner’s tour of Space Center Houston and NASA-JSC will be included, along with material from the winner’s “Lunch with an Astronaut.”

Saturday, Oct. 5

  • 9:30 a.m. – Presentation
  • 10:00 a.m. – Name reveal
  • 10:15 a.m. – Photo and interview opportunities

Space Center Houston
1601 NASA Pkwy
Houston, Texas 77058

Speakers include:

  • Richard Allen, president & CEO, Space Center Houston (master of ceremonies)
  • Astronaut Chris Ferguson, STS-135 Shuttle Commander
  • Dr. Melanie Johnson, director of education, Space Center Houston



The state-of-the-art Space Shuttle attraction is slated to open in 2015 and will be unique to Space Center Houston. It will be the only place in the world where guests can climb aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and the Shuttle replica to experience the 30-year Space Shuttle program in the most dynamic, hands-on environment imaginable. The attraction will also expand Space Center Houston’s current educational programs, which aim to inspire students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Space Center Houston is the official visitor center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) education foundation with award-winning educational programs designed to inspire and encourage students to consider a career in math, science, engineering or technology. Space Center Houston features a multitude of permanent exhibits, attractions and theatres and is open every day with the exception of Christmas Day. Space Center Houston is located at 1601 NASA Parkway; Houston, TX 77058. Please visit

Vote for “Yogurt in Space” research project on the ISS

Vote for Doug Messier’s proposal entry “Yogurt in Space” in the Voting for Your Idea In Space National Contest. He explains how the project would be a tribute to his late sister who died of cancer:  Vote for “Yogurt in Space” Proposal in CASIS Send Your Experiment to Space Contest – Facebook.

CASIS is the organization in charge of running research on the International Space Station.

Select the “Vote” item in the top of the Contest page and then search on “Yogurt”.

  • Entry Title: Yogurt in Space: Investigating the Growth of Probiotics in Microgravity for Application in Cancer Treatments
  • Idea Description: Summary

This proposal proposed the study probiotic microbes on the International Space Station to determine how they grow in microgravity and whether they could be modified for the treatment of certain cancers. This would build upon work being led by Dr. Roger Strair at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

FISO: MSNW LLC and “the first realistic approach to fusion-based propulsion”

The latest presentation to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) study group is now posted in the FISO Working Group Presentations Archive. Both slides (pdf) and audio (mp3) are available for the talk, 90 Day Single Launch to Mars: A Case Study for The Fusion Driven Rocket, Anthony Pancotti, MSNW LLC. – September 25, 2013

This talk is about the fusion propulsion program at the company MSNW LLC, which is a spinoff of Prof. John Slough‘s research program at the Plasma Dynamics Lab at the University of Washington. In 2012 MSNW won a NASA NIAC 2012 Phase  II Award to develop this fusion propulsion concept:

Here are some slides from his FISO talk: