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    • By NASA
      3 min read
      NASA Delivers Science Instrument to JAXA’s Martian Moons Mission
      On March 14, NASA delivered its gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer instrument to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) for integration onto JAXA’s MMX (Martian Moons eXploration) mission spacecraft and final system-level testing.  
      U.S. and Japanese team members gather around and discuss the gamma-ray spectrometer portion of the MEGANE instrument during its development at Johns Hopkins APL. NASA/JAXA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman NASA’s Mars-moon Exploration with Gamma Ray and Neutrons (MEGANE) instrument, developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, will play a major role in the MMX mission, which aims to characterize and determine the origin of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos and deliver a sample from Phobos to Earth. 
      Scientists suspect the asteroid-sized bodies either are remnants of an ancient collision between Mars and a large impactor or are themselves asteroids captured by Mars’ gravity. By measuring the energies of neutrons and gamma rays emitted from the surface of Phobos, MEGANE will let MMX “see” the elemental composition of the moon’s surface and help peg the likely origin of the moon. 
      “MEGANE will be a key instrument on MMX, making a big contribution toward the goal of understanding the origin of the Martian moons,” said Thomas Statler, MEGANE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “NASA is glad to see MEGANE ready for integration, another step in NASA’s continuing collaboration with JAXA on this groundbreaking mission.”
      The instrument team received the green light last fall to ship MEGANE (pronounced meh-GAH-nay, the Japanese word for “eyeglasses”) after the project’s standing review board evaluated the device’s readiness. That milestone marked the end of a demanding 6-year design and development process, which met NASA’s cost and schedule constraints. 
      “Passing the pre-ship review and delivering the hardware are significant steps for all those working on MEGANE,” said APL’s David Lawrence, the instrument’s principal investigator. “Like all spaceflight builds, we have had challenges getting to this point, but we are excited to see how MEGANE works with all the other spacecraft components for this exciting MMX mission.”    
      With MEGANE now in Japan, the MMX team will begin integrating the scientific instruments, including MEGANE, with other spacecraft components, before putting the entire system through a series of tests in preparation for launch, which is scheduled for fiscal year 2026, aboard a JAXA H3 rocket. 
      “For me personally, I’m looking forward to all the integration and test operations that are to come,” said Sarah Bucior, a space systems engineer in SES and the MEGANE I&T Lead Engineer. “I love rockets, so I’m really interested to see how they build their spacecraft and then follow it along to launch operations and liftoff.”
      MEGANE was developed under NASA’s Discovery Program, which provides low-cost access to space. The Discovery Program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The instrument science team includes investigators from APL, LLNL, Marietta College, NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and JAXA. 
      To learn more about MEGANE and the MMX mission, visit http://megane.jhuapl.edu.
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    • By NASA
      NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona On Jan. 16, 2020, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured this image of two types of sand dunes on Mars: barchan and linear dunes.
      The small dots are called barchan dunes, and from their shape we can tell that they are upwind. The downwind dunes are long and linear. These two types of dune each show the wind direction in different ways: the barchans have a steep slope and crescent-shaped “horns” that point downwind, while the linear dunes are stretched out along the primary wind direction. Linear dunes, however, typically indicate at least two different prevailing winds, which stretch out the sand along their average direction.
      Barchan and linear dunes aren’t just a Martian phenomenon – we can also see them on Earth. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have snapped photos of them occurring in Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
      Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      While stationary for two weeks during Mars solar conjunction in November 2023, NASA’s Curiosity rover used its front and rear black-and-white Hazcams to capture 12 hours of a Martian day. The rover’s shadow is visible on the surface in these images taken by the front Hazcam. Videos from the rover show its shadow moving across the Martian surface during a 12-hour sequence while Curiosity remained parked.
      When NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover isn’t on the move, it works pretty well as a sundial, as seen in two black-and-white videos recorded on Nov. 8, the 4,002nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The rover captured its own shadow shifting across the surface of Mars using its black-and-white Hazard-Avoidance Cameras, or Hazcams.
      Instructions to record the videos were part of the last set of commands beamed up to Curiosity just before the start of Mars solar conjunction, a period when the Sun is between Earth and Mars. Because plasma from the Sun can interfere with radio communications, missions hold off on sending commands to Mars spacecraft for several weeks during this time. (The missions weren’t totally out of contact: They still radioed back regular health check-ins throughout conjunction.)
      Rover drivers normally rely on Curiosity’s Hazcams to spot rocks, slopes, and other hazards that may be risky to traverse. But because the rover’s other activities were intentionally scaled back just prior to conjunction, the team decided to use the Hazcams to record 12 hours of snapshots for the first time, hoping to capture clouds or dust devils that could reveal more about the Red Planet’s weather.
      When the images came down to Earth after conjunction, scientists didn’t see any weather of note, but the pair of 25-frame videos they put together do capture the passage of time. Extending from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time, the videos show Curiosity’s silhouette shifting as the day moves from morning to afternoon to evening.
      The first video, featuring images from the front Hazcam, looks southeast along Gediz Vallis, a valley found on Mount Sharp. Curiosity has been ascending the base of the 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain, which sits in Gale Crater, since 2014.
      As the sky brightens during sunrise, the shadow of the rover’s 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm moves to the left, and Curiosity’s front wheels emerge from the darkness on either side of the frame. Also becoming visible at left is a circular calibration target mounted on the shoulder of the robotic arm. Engineers use the target to test the accuracy of the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, an instrument that detects chemical elements on the Martian surface.
      In the middle of the day, the front Hazcam’s autoexposure algorithm settles on exposure times of around one-third of a second. By nightfall, that exposure time grows to more than a minute, causing the typical sensor noise known as “hot pixels” that appears as white snow across the final image.
      Curiosity’s rear Hazcam captured the shadow of the back of the rover in this 12-hour view looking toward the floor of Gale Crater. A variety of factors caused several image artifacts, including a black speck, the distorted appearance of the Sun, and the rows of white pixels that streak out from the Sun.NASA/JPL-Caltech The second video shows the view of the rear Hazcam as it looks northwest down the slopes of Mount Sharp to the floor of Gale Crater. The rover’s right rear wheel is visible, along with the shadow of Curiosity’s power system. A small black artifact that appears at the left midway through the video, during the 17th frame, resulted from a cosmic ray hitting the camera sensor. Likewise, the bright flashing and other noise at the end of the video are the result of heat from the spacecraft’s power system affecting the Hazcam’s image sensor.
      These images have been re-projected to correct the wide-angle lenses of the Hazcams. The speckled appearance of the images, especially prominent in the rear-camera video, is due to 11 years of Martian dust settling on the lenses.
      More About the Mission
      Curiosity was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
      For more about Curiosity, visit:
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov
      Last Updated Dec 28, 2023 Related Terms
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    • By USH
      Using just 20 watts of power, the human brain is capable of processing the equivalent of an exaflop — or a billion-billion mathematical operations per second. Now, researchers in Australia are building what will be the world's first supercomputer that can simulate networks at this scale. 

      DeepSouth supercomputer - the world's first computer designed to emulate the parallel biological neural networks of the human brain itself. Developed by scientists at Western Sydney University's International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems, DeepSouth utilizes breakthrough neuromorphic hardware and software that mimics neurons and synapses to achieve unprecedented efficiency. 
      The DeepSouth supercomputer distributes processing across a network of bespoke brain-inspired chips, unlike traditional supercomputers based on von Neumann designs. 
      This enables DeepSouth to carry out a staggering 228 trillion synaptic operations per second, rivaling estimates for the human brain's processing speed. Yet it requires far less space and power than conventional systems. 
      This new generation of brain-inspired supercomputing not only could make sci-fi applications an everyday reality but even more scary is the fact that they could someday create a cyborg brain vastly more powerful than our own. 
      The prospect of entities, whether humans or AI (robots), equipped with cyborg brains is becoming increasingly plausible, paving the way for a profound shift in the hierarchy of Earth's dominant species.
        View the full article
    • By NASA
      This 360-degree mosaic from the “Airey Hill” location inside Jezero Crater was generated using 993 individual images taken by the Perseverance Mars rover’s Mastcam-Z from Nov. 3-6. The rover remained parked at Airey Hill for several weeks during solar conjunction.NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS Now at 1,000 days on Mars, the mission has traversed an ancient river and lake system, collecting valuable samples along the way.
      Marking its 1,000th Martian day on the Red Planet, NASA’s Perseverance rover recently completed its exploration of the ancient river delta that holds evidence of a lake that filled Jezero Crater billions of years ago. The six-wheeled scientist has to date collected a total of 23 samples, revealing the geologic history of this region of Mars in the process.
      One sample called “Lefroy Bay” contains a large quantity of fine-grained silica, a material known to preserve ancient fossils on Earth. Another, “Otis Peak,” holds a significant amount of phosphate, which is often associated with life as we know it. Both of these samples are also rich in carbonate, which can preserve a record of the environmental conditions from when the rock was formed.
      The discoveries were shared Tuesday, Dec. 12, at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.
      “We picked Jezero Crater as a landing site because orbital imagery showed a delta – clear evidence that a large lake once filled the crater. A lake is a potentially habitable environment, and delta rocks are a great environment for entombing signs of ancient life as fossils in the geologic record,” said Perseverance’s project scientist, Ken Farley of Caltech. “After thorough exploration, we’ve pieced together the crater’s geologic history, charting its lake and river phase from beginning to end.”
      This image of Mars’ Jezero Crater is overlaid with mineral data detected from orbit. The green color represents carbonates – minerals that form in watery environments with conditions that might be favorable for preserving signs of ancient life. NASA’s Perseverance is currently exploring the green area above Jezero’s fan (center).NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL Jezero formed from an asteroid impact almost 4 billion years ago. After Perseverance landed in February 2021, the mission team discovered the crater floor is made of igneous rock formed from magma underground or from volcanic activity at the surface. They have since found sandstone and mudstone, signaling the arrival of the first river in the crater hundreds of millions of years later. Above these rocks are salt-rich mudstones, signaling the presence of a shallow lake experiencing evaporation. The team thinks the lake eventually grew as wide as 22 miles (35 kilometers) in diameter and as deep as 100 feet (30 meters).
      Later, fast-flowing water carried in boulders from outside Jezero, distributing them atop of the delta and elsewhere in the crater.
      “We were able to see a broad outline of these chapters in Jezero’s history in orbital images, but it required getting up close with Perseverance to really understand the timeline in detail,” said Libby Ives, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission.
      Enticing Samples
      The samples Perseverance gathers are about as big as a piece of classroom chalk and are stored in special metal tubes as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign, a joint effort by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). Bringing the tubes to Earth would enable scientists to study the samples with powerful lab equipment too large to take to Mars.
      This animated artist’s concept depicts water breaking through the rim of Mars’ Jezero Crater, which NASA’s Perseverance rover is now exploring. Water entered the crater billions of years ago, forming a lake, delta, and rivers before the Red Planet dried up. NASA/JPL-Caltech To decide which samples to collect, Perseverance first uses an abrasion tool to wear away a patch of a prospective rock and then studies the rock’s chemistry using precision science instruments, including the JPL-built Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL.
      At a target the team calls “Bills Bay,” PIXL spotted carbonates – minerals that form in watery environments with conditions that might be favorable for preserving organic molecules. (Organic molecules form by both geological and biological processes.) These rocks were also abundant with silica, a material that’s excellent at preserving organic molecules, including those related to life.
      “On Earth, this fine-grained silica is what you often find in a location that was once sandy,” said JPL’s Morgan Cable, the deputy principal investigator of PIXL. “It’s the kind of environment where, on Earth, the remains of ancient life could be preserved and found later.”
      Perseverance’s instruments are capable of detecting both microscopic, fossil-like structures and chemical changes that may have been left by ancient microbes, but they have yet to see evidence for either.
      PIXL, one of the instruments aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, analyzed the chemical makeup of an area of abraded rock dubbed “Ouzel Falls,” finding it rich in minerals containing phosphate, a material found in the DNA and cell membranes of all known life.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Analyzing this abraded rock patch dubbed “Bills Bay,” the PIXL instrument on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover found it rich in carbonates (purple) and silica (green), both of which are good at preserving signs of ancient life. The image is overlaid with the instrument’s chemical data.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS At another target PIXL examined, called “Ouzel Falls,” the instrument detected the presence of iron associated with phosphate. Phosphate is a component of DNA and the cell membranes of all known terrestrial life and is part of a molecule that helps cells carry energy.
      After assessing PIXL’s findings on each of these abrasion patches, the team sent up commands for the rover to collect rock cores close by: Lefroy Bay was collected next to Bills Bay, and Otis Peak at Ouzel Falls.
      “We have ideal conditions for finding signs of ancient life where we find carbonates and phosphates, which point to a watery, habitable environment, as well as silica, which is great at preservation,” Cable said.
      Perseverance’s work is, of course, far from done. The mission’s ongoing fourth science campaign will explore Jezero Crater’s margin, near the canyon entrance where a river once flooded the crater floor. Rich carbonate deposits have been spotted along the margin, which stands out in orbital images like a ring within a bathtub.
      More About the Mission
      A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
      Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
      The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
      JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
      For more about Perseverance:
      Learn about all the samples collected by Perseverance Where is Perseverance right now? News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov
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