Tag Archives: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Farewell to Cassini, which found wondrous worlds not so far away

I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the discoveries of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft — including the finding of water on Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus.

Water vapor escapes from geothermal vents on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. // Photo: NASA

The 13-year mission ended Friday when Cassini, running out of fuel, was directed to self-destruct by burning up in the atmosphere of the ringed planet.

“This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a story on NASA’s website. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.”

Cassini was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in 1997 and reached Saturn in 2004. NASA extended the mission for two years and then again for seven years, as new findings continued to emerge, with a later focus on Saturn’s moons. An amazing surprise came when a subsurface ocean was found on Enceladus.

“Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime.”

The video on this page reveals some of the feelings that welled up and lingered among the Cassini team after the spacecraft came to its fiery end on Friday.

If you are interested in space discoveries, I recommend a glance at the text, photos and videos shared on NASA’s website. I also enjoyed the “most inspiring, beautiful, and historic” photos taken during the mission and pulled together by Brian Resnick for Vox Media’s website.

As Linda Spilker aptly described it, “Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying. But we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too.”

Amusing Monday: Satellite captures images that could pass for art

Landsat 8, an American observation satellite, was launched four years ago. Since May of this year, the satellite has recorded more than a million images.

Puget Sound, Aug. 27
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

As one might expect, satellite images of the same place vary over time, considering that clouds, smoke, vegetation and geological phenomena alter the appearance of the Earth’s surface. You can see some differences in the pictures of Puget Sound on this page. The first was taken on Aug. 27 and the second on Sept. 7. The third picture, taken on Dec. 18, 2016, shows Mount Rainier in the lower portion of the photo with Puget Sound in the upper part.

Puget Sound, Sept. 7
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

In some areas, the Landsat photos are so intriguing that they have been compared to works of art. Staffers at Live Science, an online magazine, chose 73 images to share with their readers. See their full collection of “Artistic Views of Earth from Above” at Live Science. I’ve picked some of my favorites and shown them below.

Mount Rainier, Dec. 18, 2016
Photo: U.S, Geological Survey

If you are interested, you can go to the source of the Landsat images, managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. I used a program called EarthExplorer to find the images of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. Another search engine, LandsatLook Viewer, lets you zoom in on an area of North America or other continents to obtain satellite images. A third approach is GloVis, with its multiple filters to narrow your search.

The datasets are a collaboration between NASA, which developed and launched the satellite, and the USGS, which developed the ground systems for processing and sharing the data.

Following are four of the “artistic views” researched and provided by Live Science, which today is offering 73 fascinating photos of Hurricane Irma.

Putrid Sea // Photo: USGS

Putrid Sea: The various colors formed in a cluster of lagoons on the Crimean Peninsula provides an interesting painting, but the area has a reputation for foul odors caused by the algae that gives the water its color. The proper name of the area is Syvash, but some call it the Putrid Sea. The Syvash is part of the disputed area controlled by Ukraine until Russia sent in troops to annex the area in 2014.

Canyonlands // Photo: USGS

Canyonlands: Yellows, browns and blue characterize Canyonlands National Park in Utah, where the Green and Colorado rivers come together. The rocky and dry area of the park features unique geologic features, including steep canyons, eroded arches and interesting rock formations as well as ancient Native American rock paintings. The blue area in the photo is the peak of Mount Waas. Author Edward Abbey called the Canyonlands “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on Earth — there is nothing else like it anywhere.”

Eye of Quebec // Photo: USGS

Eye of Quebec: One of the Earth’s largest and oldest known craters was formed by the impact of a three-mile-wide meteor some 214 million years ago, experts say. The resulting Canadian lake, Lake Manicouagan, has been called the Eye of Quebec. The original crater was about 62 miles across, but erosion and deposition of sediments has reduced that to about 45 miles today. The island in the center of the lake is known as René-Levasseur Island. I suspect the purple image is produced by selecting one region of the light spectrum.

Green on Blue // Photo: USGS

Green on blue: The swirls of green and blue in the picture are largely phytoplankton floating in the Bering Sea, the body of water that separates Alaska from Russia. The plankton typically grow when there is an abundance of sun and nutrients, often reaching their peak at the end of summer. This photo, taken on Sept. 22, 2014, shows a few scattered white clouds dotting the sky.

Amusing Monday: Playing with water in the weightlessness of space

Since the beginning of the manned space program, astronauts have been playing with water in microgravity conditions. The result has been a large assortment of videos demonstrating the unique and amusing properties of water.

In the first video on this page, Chris Hadfield, an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency demonstrates what happens aboard the International Space Station when you ring out a soaked wash cloth in the weightlessness of space.

The experiment was suggested by students Kendra Lemke and Meredith Faulkner of Lockview High School in Fall River, Nova Scotia. It was posted on YouTube in 2013.

The video shows that the surface tension of water is great enough that the water keeps clinging when Hadfield rings out the cloth. If you watch closely, however, you can see a few droplets fly off when he starts to ring out the cloth.

Continue reading

Hood Canal changes color from growth of white plankton

Hood Canal cloaked in light green from heavy plankton growth. NASA image: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response
Hood Canal cloaked in light green from heavy plankton growth.
NASA image: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

From space, Hood Canal is easily recognized by its new shade of bimini green, a color that stands out clearly from the rest of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, as shown in the photo above.

The color is caused by a large bloom of coccolithophore, a single-celled phytoplankton bearing a shell made of white calcium carbonate.

A more detailed image of the plankton bloom. NASA image: Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from USGS
A more detailed image of the plankton bloom.
NASA image: Jesse Allen, with Landsat data from USGS

Teri King of Washington Sea Grant spotted the unusual color more than a week ago from the ground while driving along Hood Canal.

“I thought to myself, ‘Am I dreaming of the Cayman Islands?’” she reported on her Facebook page. “I pulled over to the side and took a few photos to document my observations. I then had an opportunity to grab a water sample. Yep, a Coccolithophore bloom from Quilcene to Lilliwaup.

“It is hard to miss a bloom of this color,” Teri continued on Facebook. “We don’t see them often, but when we do it is remarkable. The water takes on a tropical blue green appearance with white speckles.”

Scanning electron micrograph of plankton Emiliania huxleyi
Scanning electron micrograph of plankton Emiliania huxleyi
Image: Alison R. Taylor, U. of North Carolina Wilmington

The photo from space (top) was taken last Sunday from NASA’s Aqua satellite with equipment used to capture the natural color. On Wednesday, a more detailed image (second photo) was taken from the Landsat 8 satellite.

Reporter Tristan Baurick describes the phenomenon in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. The single-celled plankton are not harmful to people or animals, so the bloom won’t affect shellfish harvesting. Hood Canal, as we’ve discussed many times, is prone to low-oxygen conditions, often exacerbated by massive blooms of plankton, which reduce oxygen through the process of decay.

The last major bloom of this kind in Hood Canal was noted in northern Hood Canal during the summer of 2007. Samples taken at that time showed the species of coccolithophorid to be Emiliania huxleyi, according to a report for the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program.

NASA’s photos and description of the latest bloom can be found on the Earth Observatory website, which also includes just about all you need to know about coccolithophores.

Hood Canal is green alright, up close and far away. Photo: Meegan M. Reid, Kitsap Sun
Hood Canal is green alright, up close and far away.
Photo: Meegan M. Reid, Kitsap Sun

Amusing Monday: I’m learning my ABCs and something about Earth

Adam Volland of NASA’s Earth Observatory program came up with an interesting idea. Looking over satellite images, Adam has found every letter of the alphabet formed by Earthly features, mostly land-based formations.

Letter B

He calls it “Reading the ABCs from Space.”

Whoever knew that Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas forms the letter “B” if you include a nearby section of the Arkansas River?

He found the letter “C” in a man-made island in the southern part of Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf.

What I also like about Adam’s project is the narrative he has written about each letter, describing the names of relevant features, animals and objects that start with the particular letter, including links to learn more about those features.

Letter C

Here’s what he wrote for the letter “Z”: “What begins with Z? Zenith and zooplankton. Zillions of smoke particles zipping, zooming and zigzagging above Canada!”

And it all ties together, since Adam’s Z is an image of wildfire smoke over Canada. As the caption explains (and all images are explained), the image for “Z” was captured with a “moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer” (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Letter Z

Considering all the associated links, this was a big project to create. It is also a great way to organize a lot of educational material. It reminds me of when I was in junior high school and decided to read the entire “World Book Encyclopedia.” I started at the beginning of the first book, a thick one that contained all the “A” words. I read for an hour or two each night after doing my regular homework. After many weeks, I was about halfway through the “A” words before I shifted my attention to other reading materials.

I’m sure it won’t take nearly as long to read through Adam’s letters and all the linked materials. I’ve begun reading “The ABCs from space” with the letter “A” and expect to learn a lot about things on Earth.

A unique view of Earth, as seen from the moon

Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

When I saw this amazing photo of our water planet, I knew I had to share it with readers of this blog. NASA is offering a high-resolution image (click to enlarge) on its website.

The composite photo was taken from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which orbits the moon and can see the Earth rising and setting above the moon’s horizon.

“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous ‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture.”

His comments and other information are provided in a NASA news release.

LRO experiences 12 Earthrises every day, but its instruments are normally focused on the lunar surface. Images of Earth are captured rarely when LRO’s camera is turned away from the moon to study the extremely thin lunar atmosphere or to make calibration adjustments, according to the news release, which explains the entire process.

The image above was composed from a series of photos taken Oct. 12, when the spacecraft was about 83 miles above the farside of the moon.

Astronauts on the moon can never see the Earth rise or set. Since the moon revolves around its axis at the same rate as its rotation around the Earth, it always appears in the same spot in the moon’s sky. That location varies by where the observer is standing on the moon’s surface, and there is no Earth visible from the farside of the moon. Where the Earth is visible, the view of the planet is constantly changing, as continents rotate into view — unlike the view of the moon’s surface from Earth, which never changes.

NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. Perhaps NASA’s most iconic Earthrise, according to NASA, was taken by the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve in 1968.

NASA researchers measure sea levels, predict faster rise

A new worldwide map of sea level rise, plotted with precision satellite instruments, shows that the Earth’s oceans are rising faster with no end in sight.

Sea levels have gone up an average of 3 inches since 1992, with some locations rising as much as 9 inches. Meanwhile, some limited areas — including the West Coast — have experienced declining sea levels for various reasons.

Sea level change over 22 years. Map: NASA
Sea level change over 22 years. (Click to enlarge) // Map: NASA

Two years ago, climatologists released an international consensus, which predicted a sea-level rise of between 1 and 3 feet by the end of this century. It was a conservative estimate, and new evidence suggests that ocean waters are likely to meet or exceed the top of that range, possibly going much higher, according to four leading researchers speaking at a news conference yesterday.

The implications are huge and growing more important all the time. At a minimum, waterfront property owners and shoreline planners need to begin taking this into consideration. It doesn’t make sense to build close to the shoreline if extreme high tides will bring seawater to one’s doorstep.

If we hope to avoid local extinctions of key intertidal species, we must start thinking about how high the waters will be in 50 to 100 years.

For clues to the future, we can watch Florida, where vast areas stand at low elevations. Even now, during high tides, Miami is beginning to see regular flooding in areas that never got wet before. This is the future of low-lying areas in Puget Sound, such as estuaries. In the Pacific ocean, the threat of inundating complete islands is becoming very real.

Along the West Coast, sea levels have actually declined over the past 20 years, largely because of the cooling effect of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a warming/cooling cycle that can remain in one phase for decades. The cycle appears to be shifting, with the likely effect that sea levels on the West Coast will soon rise as fast or faster than the worldwide average, according to Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993. Graphic: Steve Nerem, University of Colorado
Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993.
Graphic: Steve Nerem, University of Colorado

The cause of sea level rise is attributed to three factors. Scientists estimate that roughly one-third of the rise is caused by thermal expansion of ocean waters, which absorb much of the energy from global warming. Another third comes from the melting of the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The remaining third comes from the melting of mountain glaciers throughout the world. Researchers at yesterday’s news conference said they expect the melting to accelerate.

Measuring the change in sea-level rise has become possible thanks to advanced technology built into altimeters carried aboard satellites. The instruments can distinguish changes in elevation as small as one part in 100 million.

“The instruments are so sensitive that if they were mounted on a commercial jetliner flying at 40,000 feet, they could detect the bump caused by a dime lying flat on the ground,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.

While sea level rise can now be measured, predicting the rate of future rise is difficult, because much of the melting by ice sheets occurs out of sight under the water.

The Greenland ice sheet covers 660,000 miles — nearly the size of Alaska. Satellite measurements have shown that an average of 303 gigatons of ice have melted each year over the past decade. The Antarctic ice sheet has lost an average of 118 gigatons per year, but some new studies suggest it could begin to melt much faster.

In Greenland, researchers are reporting that one of the largest chunks of ice ever to break away from land cleaved from the Jakobshavn glacier in a “calving” event that left researchers awestruck. More than 4 cubic miles of ice was loosed quickly into the sea. Check out the news release by the European Space Agency.

“This is a continuing and evolving story,” glaciologist Eric Rignot said during yesterday’s news conference. “We are moving into a set of processes where we have very tall calving cliffs that are unstable and start fracturing and break up into icebergs …

“We have never seen something like this on that scale before,” said Rignot, associated with JPL and the University of California at Irvine. “Personally, I am in awe at seeing how fast the icefall, the calving part of the glacier, is retreating inland year by year.”

Other new information from NASA, including lots of graphics:

The following video tells the basic story about sea level rise.

Mountains of Pluto
may be formed on ‘bedrock’ of water-ice

Finding “youthful” mountains on the surface of Pluto has come as a great surprise to the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team studying the distant body since the New Horizons spacecraft flew past.

This image of mountains was taken by New Horizons just 1.5 hours before the spacecraft's closest approach to Pluto. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
This image of mountains was taken by New Horizons just 1.5 hours before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto. // Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

I was not planning to write anything about Pluto. After all, this blog is about water. Water on Mars is one thing. I did not expect to find relevance to a dwarf planet covered in frozen methane and frozen nitrogen.

But I can’t ignore the findings of scientists who studied images from New Horizons to announce a discovery of mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet and a region near Pluto’s equator that may still be geologically active. This conclusion comes from a lack of craters on the surface, said GGI team leader Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

One would expect that Pluto would be scarred from all the space debris falling to the surface over billions of years — unless recent geologic activity had erased the pockmarks, according to a report posted today by NASA.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” Moore said.

Pluto has practically no gravitational interaction with another planetary body, which is believed to be why mountains have risen on the moons of giant planets. On Pluto, other forces must be at play.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” said GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

The mountains are likely made of a water-ice “bedrock,” because frozen methane and frozen nitrogen are not strong enough to form mountains, the researchers say.

“At Pluto’s temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock,” said deputy GGI lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis.

The scientists have been waiting nine years for New Horizons to reach Pluto, and now it is over. Yesterday, the spacecraft zoomed by at 30,800 miles per hour while seven instruments collected all sorts of information. Now all those data will be analyzed and discussed, adding to our knowledge of the solar system and beyond.

One mystery solved is the Pluto’s actual size — 1,473 miles in diameter — somewhat smaller than many earlier estimates. Pluto’s atmosphere complicated the estimates.

“The size of Pluto has been debated since its discovery in 1930,” McKinnon said in a report from NASA. “We are excited to finally lay this question to rest.”

The size revision means that Pluto is less dense than presumed earlier. The amount of ice in the interior is greater, and the lowest layer of the atmosphere — the troposphere — is shallower that once believed.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, lacks a significant atmosphere, so observations from New Horizons confirms previous estimates of 751 miles across.

The next two smaller moons were too small for researchers to estimate their size until now. Hydra appears to be about 30 miles in diameter, and Nix is about 20 miles across. Mission scientists believe that ice may be making their surfaces extra bright.

Pluto’s two smallest moons, Kerberos and Styx, are harder to measure but researchers expect to make estimates later.

Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, shown just above the Earth's surface in this graphic. Graphic: John Hopkins University APL
Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, placed just above the Earth’s surface in this graphic to show their relative sizes.
John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Clouds at edge of space have been showing up more frequently

These noctilucent, or “night shining,” clouds over the Arctic June 10 are shown as a composite image taken by the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft. The mysterious clouds have been showing up with more frequency in recent years, and some scientists speculate that they may be connected to climate change. NASA Earth Observatory map by Joshua Stevens
These noctilucent clouds over the Arctic are a composite image from the AIM spacecraft on June 10. The clouds’ more frequent appearance could relate to climate change. (Click to enlarge)
NASA Earth Observatory map by Joshua Stevens

Unique clouds at the edge of space appear to be showing up in spring and summer more often than ever before, according to NASA scientists, who speculate that climate change could be playing a role in cloud formation.

I like the term “noctilucent clouds” for these night-shining clouds glowing with a tint of blue — although NASA researchers formally call them “polar mesospheric clouds.” That’s because they show up at the poles in the mesosphere at about 50 miles up — the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere. If you are a scientist with a perspective from satellites, you don’t really think about day or night.

Researchers have learned a great deal about these clouds since the 2007 launch of the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft, but they still seem distant and mysterious.

A notilucent cloud photographed on July 2, 2011, near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo: NASA/Dave Hughes
A notilucent cloud photographed after midnight on July 2, 2011, near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Photo: NASA/Dave Hughes

The clouds are actually ice crystals about the size of particles in cigarette smoke, according to an interesting article by NASA’s Tony Phillips, who interviewed cloud-researcher and astronaut Don Pettit in 2003. Because the clouds are so high up, they are seen shortly after the sky turns dark at sunset, a time when sunlight can still bounce off the crystals. Years ago, they were seen only in the far-north latitudes in our part of the world, but more recently they have been seen as far south as Colorado and Utah.

The temperature in the mesosphere is about -125 degrees Celsius, or nearly 200 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Conditions up there are extremely dry — far dryer than any place on Earth.

Like common clouds in the lower atmosphere, noctilucent clouds need water vapor and a “nucleus” upon which the water can attach. In the lower atmosphere, called the troposphere, ordinary dust and many other particles are common enough as a result of winds. Cirrus clouds can form in the highest layers of the troposphere, about 12 miles up. But until data came back from the AIM project, nobody was sure what was happening at 50 miles up. Now, researchers believe the nuclei are mostly space dust pulled in by Earth’s gravity.

The first reports of noctilucent clouds came in 1885 after the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa. Researchers aren’t sure if volcanic dust made it high enough into the atmosphere to form the clouds, but that potential source disappeared long ago.

Noctilucent clouds are observed in late spring and summer when upwelling winds carry water vapor up into the atmosphere. The increasing frequency of cloud formation may be the result of climate change. It turns out that when greenhouse gases warm the Earth’s surface, the upper atmosphere actually gets colder as heat escapes, helping the tiny crystals to form.

Another factor in climate change could be the increasing amount of methane gas in the atmosphere. A complex series of reactions can oxidize the methane to form water vapor, which can then form ice crystals.

One of the unexpected results of the AIM mission has been unusual “teleconnections” between the north and south poles via the mesosphere. It turns out that a slowing of stratospheric winds over the Arctic affects circulation in the mesosphere, causing a ripple effect around the globe. The southern mesosphere becomes warmer and drier, leading to fewer noctilucent clouds.

These high-level connections were not even suspected when the AIM spacecraft was launched, but they are revealing how weather on one part of the globe may be connected to relatively rapid changes in other far-flung regions. (Check out last year’s video below.) Further studies of the upper atmosphere can be expected to bring more surprises.

Water marks on Mars raise increasing hopes for life on the Red Planet

Notice the layers in rock photographed by Curiosity, NASA’s Mars rover. The formation leads scientists to believe the formation was formed by a series of sedimentary deposits laid down over millions of years. The color was white-balanced to approximate how the scene would look under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Layers in rock shown in this photograph taken by the Curiosity rover lead scientists to believe the Martian formation resulted from a series of sedimentary deposits laid down over millions of years.
Photo courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Photos taken recently on Mars are exciting, to say the least, as the Curiosity rover sends back pictures of layered canyon walls like you might see near a river or lake on planet Earth.

A leading interpretation is that a 3-mile-high mountain known as Mount Sharp was formed by sediments deposited in a massive lake over millions of years.

Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, suggested in a press release that this is a new way of thinking about the Martian landscape:

“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars. A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”

The rock layers likely were the result of repeated filling and evaporation of the lake in Gale Crater, nearly 100 miles across. As some sediments hardened into rock, winds carved away material between the edge of the crater and what is now the edge of the mountain, project scientists speculate.

How layers were formed from successive deposits of sediment.
How layers were formed from successive deposits of sediment.

Curiosity is exploring the lower portion of Mount Sharp, a 500-foot section of rock known as the Murray Formation. As Curiosity moves up the slope, it may seem as if the rover is traveling through time, observing changes in sediment composition and chemistry.

Already, on the five-mile journey from its landing site in Gale Crater, Curiosity has sent back data about how the crater floor was changed during its lake period. Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College in London, a member of Curiosity’s science team, noted:

“We found sedimentary rocks suggestive of small, ancient deltas stacked on top of one another. Curiosity crossed a boundary from an environment dominated by rivers to an environment dominated by lakes.”

Marc Kaufmann, author of the book “Mars Up Close,” pointed out that NASA scientists studying the Red Planet have now identified the key elements for life: standing water that persists; a continuing source of energy; the elements carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus and nitrogen; and lots of time. See article in the New York Times.

Orbiting satellites have found evidence of dried-up lakes, which certainly does not prove that life existed, but it suggests that the stage was set. Kaufmann quoted John Grotzinger of Caltech, the project scientist for Curiosity:

“As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a habitable planet. Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a handful of locations, but at different times around the globe.”

Curiosity is not equipped to discover life per se, but it was able to find some simple organic chemicals. A news conference has been scheduled for Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union to present some new information. Kaufman quoted Daniel P. Glavin of the Goddard Spaceflight Center, who has been studying the data:

“Our original interpretation — that there was a good chance the organics we were seeing are Martian — hasn’t changed. This interpretation will be expanded on at A.G.U.”

Curiosity, which landed on Mars Aug. 6, 2012, has been collecting data about climate and geology to better understand the natural history of the planet and help prepare for a human space mission to the planet.

Below is a video about these new findings by Newsy, a video news network.