The best of 2014

Mars Science Laboratory

Self-portrait of the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The hunt for present or past life on Mars got a boost as NASA's Curiosity rover records spikes in atmospheric methane ten times greater than previously measured by the unmanned probe. Though the levels are far below those found on Earth, methane is a key indicator that life may be or may once have been present. In addition, the nuclear-powered explorer has also detected the first confirmed organic compounds in drill samples taken from Martian rocks.  Read More

Gale Crater may once have been a lake (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)

We tend to think that Mars is as dry as a Noel Coward comedy, but it wasn't always like that. At a press conference on Monday, NASA revealed that data from its Curiosity Mars rover indicates that the Gale Crater area that the robotic explorer has been traversing for over two years may once have been a circular lake that filled and refilled over a period of tens of millions of years.  Read More

NASA's MAVEN has acted as a data relay for the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is the latest link in the space agency's Martian communications network for keeping in touch with its surface rovers. Last week, the unmanned orbiter carried out a test using a special radio apparatus that allowed it to relay 550 megabits of data from the Curiosity rover to NASA’s Deep Space Network back on Earth.  Read More

Curiosity's old and new paths (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

After over two years on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has reached its primary objective, Mount Sharp. Located in the center of Gale Crater, where the unmanned explorer has been studying geology of the Red Planet, Mount Sharp will be the centerpiece of a new program of study to locate areas where could or once could have supported microbial life.  Read More

Curiosity looking up the ramp at the north-eastern end of 'Hidden Valley' (Image: NASA/JPL...

Very few road trips go exactly according to plan and that goes double for ones on Mars. At the start of its third year on the Red Planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover was slated to head for the "Pahrump Hills" for its fourth rock drilling exercise, but after encountering unexpectedly hazardous terrain, it’s making a detour to a similar site called "Bonanza King" to carry on its mission.  Read More

Artist's impression of Curiosity (Image: NASA)

Break out the party hats – NASA’s Curiosity rover is celebrating its second anniversary on Mars. On August 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm PDT (August 6, 05:31 GMT), the unmanned spacecraft touched down at Bradbury Landing in Gale Crater on the start of a multi-year mission to seek out areas where life could or may once have existed, and is now preparing to carry on for a third year.  Read More

Comet C/2013 A1 will pass Mars ten times closer than any observed comet has passed the Ear...

In October, Mars will encounter comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which will come closer to the Red Planet than any recorded comet has passed to Earth. This spectacular event isn't just an astronomical curiosity, it’s also a potential hazard to NASA’s armada of orbiting explorers, so the space agency is taking steps to protect them from damage by the cosmic visitor.  Read More

A view of the Martian dune, from Curiosity Rover (Photo: NASA)

Curiosity Rover has cleared a sand dune that has barred the mission's progress since January 30th. The dune, roughly three feet (one meter) in height, stood between two scarps. It effectively blocked the way forward to Dingo Gap, the Rover's next immediate destination before proceeding to the drill site designated KMS-9.  Read More

View of Yellowknife Bay formation with drilling sites (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The chances of life having once existed on Mars got a boost this week alongside good news for astronauts on any future expeditions to the Red Planet. Six papers from Curiosity team members presented to the autumn meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco revealed that they had directly dated their first Martian rock, gave details of an ancient lake where life may once of existed, and found new evidence about the radiation hazards that explorers and colonists may one day face.  Read More

View of 'Cooperstown' taken by Curiosity's navigational camera (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

After over a year on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has pretty much run through its list of firsts. As it continues its “long trek” to Mount Sharp, however, it’s still showing a few surprises. This week, NASA announced that Curiosity picked up the pace of its travels by completing its first two-day autonomous drive, in which the unmanned explorer did one leg of an autonomous drive on Sunday, then completed it on Monday.  Read More

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