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Australia’s newest telescopes – bird’s eye view

Artist's impression of ASKAP dishes

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (artist's impression) is under construction in a remote part of Western Australia.

A NEW WEB FEATURE makes it possible to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ over the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) and see the construction progress of CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope.

ASKAP Live is an interactive map of the 36 antennae that will make up the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). In addition to showing the location of each antenna, ASKAP Live gives pictures and status reports on the construction of each antenna.

Colour coding provides, at a glance, the construction status of each antenna: antennae indicated by green icons have already been completed, those currently being constructed are in blue, and the six antennae that will make up the Boolardy Engineering Test Array, or BETA, are marked with yellow or purple icons.

A screenshot from the ASKAP Live web site.

A screenshot from the ASKAP Live web site.

All 36 ASKAP antennae are being constructed at the MRO by their manufacturer, the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (known as CETC54), with the assistance of CSIRO’s ASKAP team and local contractors.

The antennae are first built and tested in China by CETC54, with the antenna sections then disassembled and shipped to Australia. The antennae are then reassembled on site at the MRO, approximately 315 kilometres north east of Geraldton in the Mid West region of Western Australia.

Once built, ASKAP will operate as part of CSIRO’s radio astronomy facility for use by Australian and international scientists.

As well as being a world-leading telescope in its own right, ASKAP will be an important test-bed for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a future international radio telescope that will be the world’s largest and most sensitive.

Take a look at ASKAP Live.

You can also view the ASKAP Webcam.

Adapted from information issued by CSIRO.

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Red Planet goes with the flow

Dark flows on Mars

Dark streaks that come and go on some Martian slopes, could be evidence for flows of salty water.

  • Dark, narrow features seen on Martian slopes
  • They come and go with the seasons
  • Could be caused by flows of salty water

DARK, FINGER-LIKE FEATURES that appear and extend down some Martian slopes during the warmest months of the Mars year may show activity of salty water on Mars. They fade in winter, then recur the next spring.

Repeated observations by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have tracked seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.

Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers.

“The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and the lead author of a report about the recurring flows published on August 5 by the journal Science.

Other explanations remain possible, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternative hypotheses.

More than 1,000 flows seen

Saltiness lowers the temperature at which water freezes. Some sites with the dark flows get warm enough to keep water liquid if it is about as salty as Earth’s oceans, but temperatures in those areas would not melt pure water ice.

Sites with liquid brines could be important to future studies of whether life exists on Marsand to understanding the history of water.

Dark flows on Mars

Dark streaks change with the seasons on Mars.

The features are only about 0.5 to 5 metres wide, with lengths up to hundreds of metres. That’s much narrower than previously reported gullies on Martian slopes.

They have been seen in only about one percent as many locations as larger Mars gullies, but some of those locations display more than 1,000 individual flows. Also, while gullies are abundant on cold, pole-facing slopes, these dark flows are not.

Highly seasonal

The team first discovered the strange features after University of Arizona student Lujendra Ojha, at the time a junior majoring in geophysics, used a change detection algorithm capable of identifying subtle changes occurring on the Martian surface over time in image pairs during an independent study project.

“I was baffled when I first saw those features in the images after I had run them through my algorithm,” said Ojha, who is a co-author on the Science publication. “We soon realised they were different from slope streaks that had been observed before.

“These are highly seasonal, and we observed some of them had grown by more than 200 metres in a matter of just two Earth months.”

“By comparison with Earth, it’s hard to imagine they are formed by anything other than fluid seeping down slopes,” said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The question is whether this is happening on Mars and, if so, why just in these particular places.”

More clues

Other clues help, too. The flows lengthen and darken on rocky equator-facing slopes from late spring to early autumn. Favouring warm areas and times suggests a ‘volatile’ material is involved, but which volatile? The settings are too warm for carbon-dioxide frost and, at some sites, too cold for pure water.

This suggests the action of brines with their lower freezing points. Salt deposits indicate brines have been abundant in Mars’ past. These recent observations suggest they may form near the surface today in rare times and places.

Artist's impression of MRO

The streaks were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft (artist's impression).

Still a mystery

However, when researchers checked some flow-marked slopes with the orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), no sign of water appeared. The features may quickly dry on the surface, or be mainly shallow subsurface flows.

“The flows are not dark because of being wet,” McEwen said.

A flow initiated by briny water could rearrange grains or change surface roughness in a way that darkens the appearance. How the features brighten again when temperatures drop is harder to explain.

“It’s a mystery now, but I think it’s a solvable mystery with further observations and experiments,” he said.

Adapted from information issued by the University of Arizona. Images courtesy NASA / JPL / University of Arizona.

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Radio astronomy protected in Western Australia

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope.

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope.

ENHANCED PROTECTIONS are now in place for the Mid West Radio Quiet Zone (RQZ) in remote Western Australia (near Boolardy Station), around 200 kilometres east of Meekatharra…a candidate site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The RQZ was established in 2005 to provide an environment that protects highly sensitive equipment used for radio astronomy from unwanted radio communications signals.

These arrangements protect the radio telescopes currently in place at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory—such as the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Wide-field Array (MWA)—as well as those proposed in the Australian-New Zealand bid to host the SKA.

ASKAP dish

One of the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) dishes.

“A clear regulatory framework to support radio quiet arrangements will further assist Australia to create the world’s best radioastronomy facility,” said Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Chairman, Chris Chapman.

“This will provide a platform that should be ideal for future radioastronomy projects, including the €1.5 billion SKA project.”

Mr Chapman said the new protection measures provide greater clarity and certainty to the arrangements that protect radio astronomy services in the RQZ.

‘The new measures continue to provide for radio quiet while supporting the use of spectrum by other users and placing the lowest feasible burden on industry in the region,’ said Mr Chapman.

The introduction of the enhanced protections for the RQZ follows a very extensive consultation process in which the ACMA sought the views of interested stakeholders.

More information: ACMA Planning for the radio astronomy service

Adapted from information issued by ACMA. Images courtesy SPDO / Swinburne Astronomy Productions / CASS / Terrace Photographers.

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Supercomputer boosts SKA chances

Artist's impression of the central part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Artist's impression of the central part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

RESEARCHERS IN AUSTRALIA and New Zealand have been donated a high performance computing facility by IBM, boosting their chances of a successful bid for the $3 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at Curtin University researchers and counterparts at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand will use the computing facility to process data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope, a precursor instrument for the SKA telescope.

Victoria University radio astronomer Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt who chairs the New Zealand SKA Research & Development Consortium says the supercomputer is a massive boost for the MWA.

“New Zealand researchers and students will have the opportunity to contribute directly to the Murchison Widefield Array, the first time we’ve been involved in an official SKA ‘precursor’,” says Dr Johnston-Hollitt.

“This is a significant step forward in New Zealand’s engagement in both radio astronomy and the SKA project and we are grateful to IBM for their support.”

Real-time view of the early cosmos

The SKA will be a new generation radio telescope 50 times more powerful than current instruments. It will be built in the Southern Hemisphere, either in Africa or Australia-New Zealand where the view of the Galaxy is the best and there is little radio interference.

The decision on whether the joint Australia-New Zealand bid will host the SKA is expected in 2012.

Part of the Murchison Wide-field Array

A small part of the Murchison Wide-field Array, which will comprise over 500 separate antennae…most of them located in a cluster 1.5km wide. The antennae are of an advanced new type, with no moving parts.

The MWA is one of three official SKA ‘precursors’, medium scale instruments that will be used to explore and prove important technologies for the SKA. The MWA is the only SKA Precursor that operates at low radio frequencies.

The $30m MWA radio telescope—currently under construction at the heart of the Australia-New Zealand SKA site in Western Australia, the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory—is designed to probe the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe, looking back billions of years in time to the so-called Epoch of Reionisation.

The IBM facility will help the MWA process data in real-time, forming images of the sky that will be used to measure the signals of interest.

Tasman ties in astronomy

Professor Steven Tingay, ICRAR Deputy Director, sees the links between Australia and New Zealand getting stronger in radio astronomy.

“This work builds on existing links between Australia and New Zealand in radio astronomy and the IBM facility will be a vital component of the MWA system. It will allow data from MWA to be processed which in turn will allow us to make new discoveries about the Universe. We’re delighted to be working with colleagues in New Zealand and IBM on this critical sub-system for the MWA.”

Chief Technologist of IBM New Zealand, and co-chair of the NZ SKA Industry Consortium (NZSKAIC) Dougal Watt, says, “This award is an important contribution by IBM towards research and development for SKA, one of the four biggest science projects of the century. IBM is excited to be working with the MWA project to understand and solve some key challenges these next-generation science instruments will generate.”

Dr Johnston-Hollitt sees the future of such collaborations between international researchers and industry to be fundamental to large international projects like the SKA.

“The way big research is being done is via collaboration between international teams of researchers from academia and industry and the SUR grant for New Zealand researchers for MWA epitomises this new approach. I hope this is the start of a fruitful collaboration between Victoria, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and IBM.”

ICRAR/Curtin University and Victoria University in Wellington were donated the facility as part of an IBM Shared University Research grant.

Artist's impression of an ASKAP dish

Artist's impression of an ASKAP dish

Australian-German collaboration

In other news, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to foster collaboration between the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy (Fraunhofer), Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) was signed on April 7, 2011.

The MoU was signed in Berlin, Germany during a workshop on “Renewable Energy Concepts for Mega-Science Projects demonstrated by the SKA and its Pathfinders”.

A key focus of the MoU is to promote scientific and research co-operation in renewable energy capture, storage and management for the SKA between Australia and experts from Germany and the rest of the world.

The MOU also looks to advance collaboration between Fraunhofer ISE, Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy and CSIRO on the development of renewable energy systems for the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) instrument as an SKA precursor facility.

MRO and ASKAP are located hundreds of kilometres inland from Geraldton in Western Australia. Consequently, access to reliable power is a major issue.

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR and CASS. MWA image courtesy Paul Bourke and Jonathan Knispel (supported by WASP (UWA), iVEC, ICRAR, and CSIRO). Other images courtesy CASS / Swinburne.

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Red rover’s Santa Maria visions

MRO image of Opportunity rover at Santa Maria crater

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this colour image on March 9, 2011, of the 90-metre-wide "Santa Maria" crater, showing the rover Opportunity (arrowed) perched on the southeast rim.

NASA’S MARS ROVER Opportunity has nearly completed its three-month examination of a crater informally named “Santa Maria”.

But before the rover resumes its overland trek, an orbiting camera has provided a colour image of the intrepid rover beside Santa Maria.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired the image on March 1, while Opportunity was extending its robotic arm to take close-up photos of a rock called “Ruiz Garcia.”

From orbit, the tracks Opportunity made as it approached the crater from the west are clearly visible. Santa Maria crater is about 90 metres in diameter.

March 1 corresponded to the 2,524th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars. A raw image (below) from Opportunity’s front hazard-avoidance camera from the same day shows the arm extended out to investigate a rock. And to complete the scale of imaging, another raw image (below)—taken by Opportunity’s microscopic imager on the same day—shows a close-up image of the rock’s surface.

View from Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera

The view from Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera, showing its robot arm extended to a nearby rock.

Opportunity close-up image of a rock

An imager on the end of Opportunity's robot arm took this close-up image of the rock seen in the other image.

Opportunity has been studying the relatively fresh Santa Maria crater to better understand how crater excavation occurred during the impact and how it has been modified by weathering and erosion since.

Visible in the overhead view are bright blocks and rays of ejecta surrounding the crater. (Ejecta is the debris thrown outwards by the force of the impact that formed the crater.)

Opportunity will soon resume a long-term trek toward a much larger crater, Endeavour, about six kilometres away.

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working in extended mission status since then. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars on March 10, 2006, has also completed its prime mission and is operating in an extended mission.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona.

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Aussies unite for outback astronomy

MWA antennae

A small part of the Murchison Wide-field Array, which will comprise over 500 separate antennae…most of them located in a cluster 1.5km wide. The antennae are of an advanced new type, with no moving parts.

A QUEST TO DISCOVER the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang is underway with the first major pieces of a revolutionary new radio telescope built in remote Western Australia.

The Murchison Wide-field Array (MWA) is being built by an Australian consortium led by The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia, in close collaboration with US and Indian partners.

MWA industry partner and Fremantle-based high-technology company, Poseidon Scientific Instruments (PSI), recently succeeded in packaging sensitive electronics into environmentally controlled enclosures tough enough to withstand the harsh conditions of outback WA.

Professor Steven Tingay, ICRAR Deputy Director, said PSI’s delivery of this first electronics package was a critical milestone for the MWA project.

MWA receiver

The MWA Receiver with Professor Steven Tingay (ICRAR), Jesse H Searls (PSI), Derek Carroll (PSI), and Mark Waterson (ICRAR).

“This is the first of 64 such enclosures that will service a telescope made up of over 500 antennae, spread over a nine square-kilometre area of the remote Murchison region in WA,” said Professor Tingay.

Professor Tingay said the innovative enclosure would also prevent electronics from interfering with other equipment on the site, preserving the uniquely quiet environment of the Murchison.

“The combination of the MWA and the radio quiet environment of the Murchison will allow us to search for the incredibly weak signals that come from the early stages in the evolution of the Universe, some 13 billion years ago,” he said.

The MWA is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, a site operated by the CSIRO and a proposed core site for the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

It is one of only three official SKA Precursor telescopes, proving the technology and science on the path to the SKA.

One of ICRAR’s goals is to partner with Australian industries, helping position them to participate in future radio astronomy opportunities, such as the SKA. The MWA partnership with PSI is one such success story.

Breaking new ground

Meanwhile, work is gathering pace out in the Western Australian desert.

Following a tender evaluation process, McConnell Dowell Constructors (Aust) Pty Ltd. has been selected by CSIRO as the successful tender in the construction of support infrastructure at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO).

Artist's impression of the SKA

Artist's impression of the central part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The project commences immediately, has a 45-week schedule and is a significant milestone in the ongoing development of the site.

The scope of work involves the construction of several kilometres of access roads and tracks, power and data infrastructure, a central control building and 30 radio antenna concrete foundations, as well as ancillary works.

The MRO is located in the Mid West region of Western Australia, and will be home to world-class instruments including CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope. The MRO is also the Australia–New Zealand candidate core site for the future $2.5bn Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR / CSIRO. MWA image courtesy Paul Bourke and Jonathan Knispel (supported by WASP (UWA), iVEC, ICRAR, and CSIRO).

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Mars is the pits

Pits on Mars

An image taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft reveals two huge, dark caves or pits on the Martian surface.

ENORMOUS, ALMOST-VERTICAL caves have been spotted on Mars by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

The caves, or pits, measure 180 metres and 310 metres wide, and at first glance seem completely black.

But a closer inspection reveals details within. Scientists have enlarged the images and adjusted the contrast to bring out more details inside the pits.

Both pits shows boulders and sediments against the walls, with lighter-coloured wind-blown sand dunes on the floors.

Pit on Mars

An enhanced, enlarged view of the easternmost pit shows details within, including boulders and wind-blown sand dunes.

Pit on Mars

The westernmost pit is similar to its sibling. Both pits have steep eastern walls but more gently-sloped western walls.

In each case, the eastern walls of the pits are very steep while the western walls are more sloped, gradually merging into the floors.

Scientists will pour over these images to try to decipher the origin and geological history of the pits.

Images courtesy NASA / JPL / University of Arizona.

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Otherworldly artwork

Dust devil tracks on Mars

Tracks left by dust devils moving across the Martian dune plains.

These amazing patterns were spotted in the northern hemisphere of Mars on August 24, 2009 by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.

They are the tracks left by dust devils—mini tornadoes—moving across the Martian dunes.

Satellite image of a Martian dust devil

Looking down on a Martian dust devil...the small, round fuzz ball near the bottom left corner. The shadow cast by the devil can be seen to its left.

Take a look at the high-resolution version (will open in a new window or tab) of the image—it’s quite amazing.

Dust devils form when the Sun heats the surface so that the ground is warm to the touch, even though the atmosphere at 2 metres (6 feet) above the surface would be chilly. That temperature contrast causes convection (rising air) to where the wind speed is slightly higher. Mixing the dust, winds, and convection triggers the dust devils.

Scientists use images of dust devils to study several things. Tracking the devils shows which way the wind blows at different times of day. Statistics on the size of typical dust devils will help with estimates of how much dust they pump into the atmosphere every day. And by watching individual devils change as they go over more-dusty and less-dusty terrain, researchers can learn about the turbulent motion near the surface. Ultimately, that motion of wind and dust near the surface relates these small dust devils with Mars’ much larger dust storms.

MRO was 285 kilometres above the Martian surface at the time it took the image, which shows detail down to about 1.7 metres resolution.

The video below shows the progress of a dust devil moving across the plains in full view of the Spirit lander. The sequence of images spans a period of 9 minutes and 35 seconds, but has been speeded up for the purposes of the video.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell University / Texas A&M / University of Arizona.

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Mapping Mars from orbit

Five years ago, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched in search of evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars over a prolonged period of time. Previous Mars missions indicated that, at some point in the Red Planet’s history, water flowed across its surface. Throughout the years, MRO has continued to analyse minerals, look for water, trace the distribution of dust in the atmosphere and monitor Martian weather.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Mars lander doesn’t phone home

Two images of the Phoenix Mars lander taken from Martian orbit in 2008 and 2010

Two images of the Phoenix Mars lander taken from Martian orbit in 2008 and 2010. The 2008 lander image shows two relatively blue spots on either side corresponding to the spacecraft's clean circular solar panels. In the 2010 image scientists see a dark shadow that could be the lander body and eastern solar panel, but no shadow from the western solar panel.

  • No contact with Phoenix Mars Lander
  • Completed its mission in 2008
  • Solar panels appeared damaged from ice

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful. And new image transmitted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels.

“The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime,” said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix’s science activities will continue for some time to come.”

Last week, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site 61 times during a final attempt to communicate with the lander. No transmission from the lander was detected. Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights in three earlier listening campaigns this year.

Earth-based research continues on discoveries that Phoenix made during summer conditions at the far-northern site where it landed May 25, 2008. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later.

Phoenix was not designed to survive the dark, cold, icy winter. However, the slim possibility that Phoenix survived could not be eliminated without listening for the lander after abundant sunshine returned.

A view of one of Mars Phoenix Lander's two circular solar panels.

A view of one of Mars Phoenix Lander's two circular solar panels. Scientists think winter ice might have broken one of the panels.

Ice damage

The MRO image of Phoenix taken this month by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on board the spacecraft suggests the lander no longer casts shadows the way it did during its working lifetime.

“Before and after images are dramatically different,” said Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE.

“The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground.”

Apparent changes in the shadows cast by the lander are consistent with predictions of how Phoenix could be damaged by harsh winter conditions. It was anticipated that the weight of a carbon-dioxide ice build-up could bend or break the lander’s solar panels. Mellon calculated hundreds of kilograms of ice probably coated the lander in mid-winter.

A view of the Phoenix Mars Lander's arm and scoop

A view of the Phoenix Mars Lander's arm and scoop, with a solar panel in the foreground.

Interesting chemistry

During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water.

The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life, and observed falling snow.

The mission’s biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and potentially toxic for others.

“We found that the soil above the ice can act like a sponge, with perchlorate scavenging water from the atmosphere and holding on to it,” said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“You can have a thin film layer of water capable of being a habitable environment. A micro-world at the scale of grains of soil—that’s where the action is.”

The perchlorate results are shaping subsequent astrobiology research, as scientists investigate the implications of its antifreeze properties and potential use as an energy source by microbes. Discovery of the ice in the uppermost soil by Odyssey pointed the way for Phoenix.

Artist's impression of the MRO spacecraft in orbit around Mars

Artist's impression of the MRO spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

Ice deposits

More recently, the MRO detected numerous ice deposits in middle latitudes at greater depth using radar and exposed on the surface by fresh impact craters.

“Ice-rich environments are an even bigger part of the planet than we thought,” Smith said. “Somewhere in that vast region there are going to be places that are more habitable than others.”

NASA’s MRO reached the planet in 2006 to begin a two-year primary science mission. Its data show Mars had diverse wet environments at many locations for differing durations during the planet’s history, and climate-change cycles persist into the present era.

The mission has returned more planetary data than all other Mars missions combined.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. The mission also has played important roles by supporting the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University.