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Feb. 15 Webinar - Characterization of Mars Analogs from Speaker Dr. Janice Bishop

In this webinar you will learn about:

Performing lab and field analyses that provide ground truthing for orbital remote sensing
Specifically for VNIR/SWIR spectra collected by CRISM on-board MRO
Analog sites: alteration of volcanic material, hot springs, deserts
Lab samples: pure minerals with varying chemistry; mineral mixtures

Carrying out the spectral identification tasks related to hydrated minerals and surface alteration
Band position and shape
Multiple bands improves accuracy

Characterization of the Martian surface via spectroscopic investigations
Orbit: CRISM at Mawrth Vallis, Juventae Chasma, Libya Montes

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A Piece of Mars: Mars’ yin-yangs | Lori Fenton's Blog

Is this 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) scene showing a 150 m (492 ft) wide yin-yang symbol on Mars? Sort of, maybe, if you blur your eyes and lend me artistic license, but it’s not doing so intentionally. One side of the crater is dark and the other is light. Both have their tone because of windblown material blown from the same direction, but the different materials collected where they did for different reasons. The dark material is probably mafic sand (iron and magnesium-rich, like what’s found near many volcanoes), which was bounced along the ground from the lower right, and collected in the lee of the crater rim. The bright material is much finer-grained, dust carried aloft, and it probably settled down on the far side of the crater, and outside as well, as the crater rim poked into the wind and provided enough shelter to let some of the bright material settle out as airfall.

Image credit: HiRISE ESP_016496_2000, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

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Cassini Reveals Breathtaking New Views of Saturn's Beautifully Complex Rings

In a new series of breathtaking photographs returned by Cassini, the delicate detail in Saturn's rings have popped into view once more, revealing extremely thin grooves in the icy debris and pressure waves caused by the motion of the planet's moons. Currently in its "ring-grazing" series of orbits, these images were captured when the spacecraft came within 34,000 miles of the ring plane on Dec. 18, giving it the ability to resolve features that are the equivalent size as large buildings on Earth.

In these new images, bright streaks and dots litter the scene. Many of these are not real objects, they are in fact noise created by impacts of cosmic rays (high-energy particles) on the camera's sensors — the noise hasn't been removed via image processing to avoid accidentally deleting any real features that may look like noise.

"These close views represent the opening of an entirely new window onto Saturn's rings, and over the next few months we look forward to even more exciting data as we train our cameras on other parts of the rings closer to the planet," said Cassini scientist Matthew Tiscareno, of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

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NASA Panel Supports Life-Detecting Lander for Europa

It has been four long decades since NASA has sent an officially-designated life detection mission into space. The confused results of the Viking missions to Mars in the mid 1970s were so controversial and contradictory that scientists — or the agency at least — concluded that the knowledge needed to convincingly search for extraterrestrial life wasn’t available yet.

But now, a panel of scientists and engineers brought together by NASA has studied a proposal to send a lander to Jupiter’s moon Europa and, among other tasks, return to the effort of life-detection.

In their recommendation, in fact, the NASA-appointed Science Definition Team said that the primary goal of the mission would be “to search for evidence of life on Europa.”

The other goals are to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analyzing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean.

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A Piece of Mars: The two-faced dunes of Mars

The focus of this 0.96×0.96 km (0.6×0.6 mi) scene is one of many two-faced dunes on Mars. The bright sunlit slope is one face, formed recently by wind blowing from the upper right. The dark shaded slope is the other face – it’s a little older, formed by wind blowing from the left. Together these two winds alternate, probably in different seasons, forcing the sand into a needle-shaped point that carries sand in a direction that is, give or take, the sum of those two winds. Two-faced dunes like this are rare on Earth, as winds here typically quickly erase older crestlines.

Credit: HiRISE ESP_021716_1685, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

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A Piece of Mars: Dunes + Craters = Mars | Lori Fenton's Blog

How do you tell when a planetary landscape shows Mars, instead of Mercury or the Moon or Europa? The easiest way to tell is to look for both craters and dunes, like what’s shown here in this 640×360 m (0.4×0.22 mi) scene. Not all martian landscapes have either feature, and there are some other worlds that do have both (Earth, Titan, maybe Pluto, and probably Venus but we need better data…), but it’s a pretty good bet that if you see both features together, you’re looking at Mars. Anyway, in this lovely view, the dark gray terrain (you’ll see boulders if you look closely enough!) is being eroded away slowly, revealing a much older, brighter surface beneath it. Unfortunately for those who would study ancient terrains on Mars, much of that older, lower surface is covered in dunes. But I like the dunes – they give us information about surface erosion rates and wind patterns. One person’s signal is another person’s noise.

Image credit: HiRISE ESP_047762_1585, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

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Passage to Mars (2016) now out on DVD! Watch the film plus 90 minutes of extras.

Directed by 
Jean-Christophe Jeauffre
Zachary Quinto | 
Charlotte Rampling | 
Buzz Aldrin | 
Pascal Lee (SETI Institute)

A NASA arctic expedition becomes a 2-year odyssey that tests human adventure and survival.

Available here:

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Probing the Surface of Ceres

It doesn’t stretch credulity to hypothesize that the early Earth benefited from an influx of comet and asteroid material that contributed water and organic compounds to its composition. The surface of a world can clearly be affected by materials from other bodies in the Solar System. Now we’re learning that the dwarf planet Ceres may have a surface dusted by material from asteroid impacts. The findings come from a team of astronomers investigating Ceres with SOFIA, the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. The observatory is a highly modified 747SP aircraft carrying a 2.5m reflecting telescope.

The study shows that not just Ceres but other asteroids and dwarf planets may be coated with asteroid fragments, a result that adjusts our view of Ceres’ surface composition. After all, what we’re looking at may simply be the result of asteroid impacts in the early days of the Solar System’s formation. Three quarters of all asteroids, including Ceres, have been classified as type C (carbonaceous) on the basis of their colors, but the SOFIA infrared data show a substantial difference between the dwarf planet and C-type asteroids in nearby orbits.

“The bottom line is that seeing is not believing when it comes to asteroids,” says Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute, a researcher who collaborated in this project. “We shouldn’t judge these objects by their covers, as it were.”

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A Piece of Mars: Mars’ giant sweaters | Lori Fenton's Blog

Sometimes in the floors of small craters, the wind blows in from several directions to produce odd polygon-shaped dunes that look like crochet (maybe Mars is making sweaters for its craters – it is, after all, a cold place). This “sweater” segment is 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) in size (the “stitches” are ~20 m, or 66 ft, across). The smaller interior lines are younger windblown features, that are superposed on the larger structures – their alignment is strongly controlled by the topography of the larger polygonal “stitches”.

Credit: HiRISE ESP_017833_1975, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

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ICYMI: Mid-infrared light reveals a contaminated crust around Ceres

Using a combination of space telescope data, as well as recent data acquired with the SOFIA Airborne telescope and lab experiments, a team of astronomers including researchers from the SETI Institute and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have revealed the presence of dust of exogenic origin at the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. This contamination likely stems from a dust cloud formed in the outer part of the main belt of asteroids following a collision in recent times. That study challenges the relationship proposed between Ceres and asteroids in the C spectral class and instead suggests an origin of this dwarf planet in the transneptunian region. This study was published on January 19 2017 in Astronomical Journal.

Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), which form meteors when they cross Earth’s atmosphere, represent the largest fraction of extraterrestrial material accreted on Earth. A team led by Pierre Vernazza, research scientist CNRS in the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM – CNRS/AMU), have shown that IDPs are also an important and continuous source of material captured on the surface of asteroids.

Pierre Vernazza explains that « by analyzing the spectral properties of Ceres we have detected material made up of fine particles of dry silicate called pyroxene. However, thermal evolution models proposed for Ceres have predicted a surface composed of aqueously alterated (e.g., clays, carbonates) which was confirmed from recent observations collected by the NASA Dawn mission. Hence the researchers concluded that it is unlikely that those fine grains of dry material could still be preserved in Ceres’ interior.

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