Volcanism, but not as we know it #MarsRock

A new rock in Algeria sheds light on the history of our little brother, Mars.

As announced on


“An unusual meteorite found in Algeria in 2012 has given scientists information about volcanic activity on Mars, and it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen on Earth. Analysis of the 6.9-ounce meteorite by an international team of scientists, has helped determine that sometime in its 4.5 billion-year history, Mars had a single volcano that erupted continuously for more than 2 billion years.”

Earth has plate tectonics, which constantly shuffle the Earths surface, like pieces of jigsaw being moved around a table. This regenerates the surface of the Earth every few thousand years of so, and so Earth volcanoes can’t get much older than that. But on Mars there is very little tectonics, and probably none at all. So a volcano can just keep going and going. The mystery of the Mars rock, solved by old volcanism





Here’s looking at you, from @HiRISE


“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes”. That way you get to see things from their perspective. Well, so much more so then when you travel over 100 million miles. Here is us, taken from Mars. Reminds us what we look like, and how fragile we are.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was 127 million miles away from Earth when the picture was taken on November 20 using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and principal investigator for the HiRISE camera, said “The Moon is much darker than Earth and would barely be visible at the same brightness scale as Earth,” McEwen said. “The combined view retains the correct sizes and positions of the two bodies relative to each other.”

Mars Invasion #wateronmars #amacrojot @profmcateer

Great video from the Guardian newspaper in UK.

Guardian video on water on Mars
Not for the first time, NASA have announced they have found water on Mars. The difference this time is that this water must have flowed recently, within days to months of this image being taken. The evidence is piling up – it now looks very likely that Mars has some sort of the surface for at least part of year. And where water flows, life is. 

The idea that there may be some sort of life somewhere beyond Earth scares some people. It upsets some people. It suggests that we were are not created in some special way. This makes the journey to confirming life fraught with problems, not the least of which is how to protect this Exo-life. As a species we don’t have a stellar record in protecting native life while we explore. We have generally accepted that exploration requires a certain amount of collateral damage.  There is an international treaty on space exploration that all space – exploring countries have signed up to. The question is how we will adhere to this as the search for life progresses. In the end, the only way of confirming life might be send such an experiment that disobeys this treaty. The science and moral dilemma will only become harder to adress as we get closer to the moment that we’ve been waiting on since we started looking up.

Watch the video – what do you think?

Welcome to Mars, Hawaii #HI-SEAS #MarsOnEarth #profmcateer


The big problem with traveling to Mars is not actually getting there. We’ve had that technology for ages. We could even put together a living quarters. But getting home is a nuisance. Most likely the first people there would have to stay for quite a while. It might even be a one way trip, and so we need to know how such an emotional  will play on the human mind.

On Friday last week, the newest experiment to test this out got underway. Six scientists left our earthly comforts behind and entered an isolation chamber in a 36-foot-wide and 20-foot-high solar-powered dome in a remote location on the island of Hawaii. The team will have to live for a full year with no contact with the outside world. No email, no Facebook, no tv, nothing. “We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration,” Kim Binsted, principal investigator for HI-SEAS, said in a statement from the University of Hawaii. A sort of scientific Big Brother, maybe?

On previous shorter trips, the crew members were allowed to leave the dome in spacesuits to do experiments, but this time it is purely human emotions under the spotlight. The crew of consists of three women and three men; four American, one French and one German. They have a yearlong supply of food and water. The cuisine, which the team must be able to store for months at a time, is similar to what astronauts eat. They have lab, a kitchen, workspace, dining area, bedrooms and a bathroom. That’s it.

Not my idea of a holiday in paradise.

water, water everywhere… #curiosity #WaterOnMars

.. But no one to drink it.

The temperature is actually just right. But the lack of an atmosphere on Mars means they water boils ten degrees above the freezing point. However if it could be protected, say by existing below ground, or by adding some chemicals, then water could be abundant on our little brother planet.

New research show that Mars may have ample liquid water just below its surface, according to new measurements by Nasa’s Curiosity rover.

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.”

The latest findings suggest that Martian soil is damp with liquid brine. The presence of a salt significantly lowers the freezing point of water to around -70C, and the salt also soaks up water vapour from the atmosphere.

Plenty of water then, but no one around to drink?

Do we have a Curiosity smell-o-meter? #MarsFlatulence, #MethaneOnMars


Methane is a tantalizing sign of life. It is easily broke up in the presence of the gases, the carbon part turning into carbon dioxide, the hydrogen part into water. As it breaks down so easily, it needs a good source on the surface of any planet in order to then be present in the atmosphere. On earth, our Methane mostly comes from our vast numbers of cows. And in general, it is considered a good sign of some sort of life.

New results from Curiosity rover has now detected wafts of methane in the Martian air. The waft is the key here. Although Methane on Mars has been detected before, in 2009, it is the relative quick bursts that is so tantalizing this time around. There was nothing, then it was present at pretty high levels, and then gone within hours. This quite sudden release is possibly a sign of some sort of biological activity. No one is claiming anything definite yet regarding life on another planet, but this could be one of the best signs yet that we are not alone.

Smile for the ultimate 99 million mile selfie #amacrojot #curiosity #PaleBlueDot


Humans have reached a long way, but we can never resist the urge to look back. And this one is the ultimate look back. From 99million miles away, the Curiosity rover on Mars captured an image of the brightest object in its evening twilight sky, our own Earth and moon, on January 31, 2014. Everything on earth, everything good and bad, past and present is all inside that little dot. Kind of makes us feel small.

“A human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright ‘evening stars,'” NASA officials said in the image description. Aside from some processing to remove the effects of cosmic rays, the Curiosity photographs are unmodified, they added.

Mars, 4 billion years ago



It might be a dead planet now, but it was probably a lush and active planet in its infancy. Mars is well know now as the dry, cold, red planet, but back in the early solar system everything was different. It was probably wet, probably had an atmosphere. So, what would a habitable, watery Mars look like? Perhaps it looked like this cloud-covered lake scene.

Take a look as the movie soars across the ancient Martian, flying over lakes (which may have existed on a young, thick-atmosphered Mars) and mountainous canyons, and watch as it slowly transforms into the red, rocky planet today.

The big Mars hoax


Yep. It’s happening once more. By email, twitter, facebook. On August 27, 2013 – Mars will appear as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky.

SEE MARS AS LARGE AS THE FULL MOON ON 27TH AUGUST 2013. Should be spectacular! Truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Can it possibly be true?

No. It can’t. The email and photo are perpetuating a hoax that rears its crazy head every summer. The hoax has circulated every summer since 2003. Mars can never appear as large as a full moon as seen from Earth, and Mars will not even be at its brightest in August of 2013. In fact, right now, Mars is relatively faint and inconspicuous in the predawn sky, shortly before the sun comes up.

In August of 2013, Mars appears in the eastern sky during the wee hours before dawn. It’s not far from another planet, a brighter planet, Jupiter. Jupiter is the second-brightest planet; Venus is the brightest planet Mars sometimes achieves a brightness close to that of Jupiter, but, even so, Mars always looks like a star, with nowhere the size or brilliance of the full moon.

As seen from Earth, in months when Mars does appear side by side with a full moon (and, again, that’s not happening in August 0f 2013, or in any month this year), Mars’ diameter is about 1/140th the diameter of the full moon.

You would have had to line up 140 planet Mars – side by side – to equal the moon’s diameter.

So how did this rumor of Mars-as-big-and-bright-as-the-moon get started? It started with an actual event, in 2003. On August 27 of that year, Earth and Mars came very slightly closer than they’d been in nearly 60,000 years. Our two worlds, center-to-center, were less than 35 million miles apart – just over three light-minutes apart. The last people to come so close to Mars were Neanderthals. Astronomy writers like me had a field day that year, talking about Mars at its closest. Was it a spectacular sight? Yes! It looked like a dot of flame in the night sky.

Was Mars as big and bright as the moon, even at its closest in 2003? Never.
But the hoax sticks around.

Drill baby, drill



We came, we saw, we drill. Nasa’s Curiosity rover on Mars has drilled a second rock sample to deliver to its onboard laboratories. The powder was taken from the interior of a target called “Cumberland”, about 2.75m from the site where the rover acquired its first drill sample in February.

Analysis conducted on this earlier powder revealed details of a past environment on Mars that would have been favourable to microbial life. Curiosity’s instruments determined the rock to have been laid down billions of years ago in a benign water setting, possibly a lake, and to retain markers for key chemical and energy conditions required for biology. The new Cumberland sample, which will be delivered to the rover’s Sam and Chemin labs in the coming days, is expected to confirm this assessment.

Curiosity has now spent 280 Martian days in the planet’s equatorial Gale Crater. For most of this period, the robot has been investigating a small depression called Yellowknife Bay. The location is about 500m east of Curiosity’s August 2012 touchdown point. The mission team is keen to get the robot moving towards the main mission destination – the foothills of the big mountain that dominates the crater floor. It will likely take many months to get to Aeolus Mons (also known as Mount Sharp). When Curiosity does set out on this big drive, it will stop briefly to re-examine some rocks it saw on the way into Yellowknife Bay.