The app lets you browse the latest images from the Opportunity rover, on the planet since 2004. Take a cue from David Bowie and dream of life on Mars with daily refreshes on the rover's planetary explorations.
There may not have been any human exploration of Mars this year, but there certainly were plenty of galactic milestones in the last 12 months from NASA and international space programs. From the end of the space shuttle program that once had kids dreaming of becoming astronauts to the launch of a space robot to a possible planet twin, which of these 2011 headlines was your highlight of the year's space exploration?
- End of Shuttle Era — Over the Summer, NASA marked its 135th and final space shuttle mission. After a 30-year long program, the shuttle Atlantis was the last manned American spaceship of its kind to leave Earth. NASA is turning future missions to the exploration of other planets and deep space.
- Curiosity Mars Rover Takes Off — In hopes of learning more about the Red Planet, NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory, with a rover named Curiosity on board in November. It will take about nine months before the Rover descends on our neighbor planet, where its high-tech components will analyze the Martian terrain.
- Earth-Like Planet Confirmed in the Habitable Zone — The team of NASA scientists working with the Kepler satellite confirmed the sighting of a planet in the habitable zone of a distant star. Kepler-22b, is 600 light years away from Earth, is larger in size than our planet, and orbits its sun-like star in just 290 days.
- Voyager Enters Interstellar Space — After 30 years of travel, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the boundaries of our solar system, inching closer to interstellar space. Launched from the US in 1977, Voyager 1 is now about 11 billion miles away from the sun.
Reminisce back to two more 2011 space events after the break.
The space shuttle program may have come to an end, but NASA is moving forward with their quests for space exploration with this week's launch of the Mars rover, Curiosity. The rover, which measures 10 feet long, nine feet wide, and seven feet tall at its highest point is searching the planet for organic, carbon-containing compounds. With the equipment on board, Curiosity can break through the planet's rocks and analyze the soil for scientists back on Earth.
At a weight of one ton, Curiosity is twice the size of previous Mars rovers and requires a special landing procedure never before done by NASA. If all goes according to plan, Curiosity will be lowered to the Martian surface via what is essentially a rocket-powered crane.
Curiosity won't land on Mars until August 2012, after a 354-million mile trek that sees it touch down on the Gale Crater, which is believed to have similar properties to our Grand Canyon. The rover's findings will directly affect future human projects on the planet, as it will feed updates on Mars's temperature, humidity, wind, and radiation levels. If Curiosity is successful, the next step in Martian exploration is a mission to bring physical samples of the planet itself to Earth for research, though this future project may meet budget cuts in Congress.
With the weather in Curiosity's favor, takeoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. EST. You can follow along with Curiosity's mission on the NASA website.
The two-day Tweetup for 150 NASA Twitter followers is set to correspond with the expected launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover on Nov. 25 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As with all space launches, viewing the live launch is dependent on the day's weather. The actual Tweetup and socializing with other winners begins on Nov. 23 at the Kennedy Space Center, complete with a guided tour and the opportunity to speak to the scientists and engineers behind the space program.
Curiosity is expected to arrive on our galactic neighbor in August 2012 at the Gale crate for a two-year mission. The rover's main duties are to investigate "whether a selected area of Mars offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and for preserving evidence about life if it existed."
Registration for the Tweetup begins noon on Wednesday, Oct. 5, and closes at noon Friday, Oct. 7. The 150 participants will be randomly selected from the online registrations.
- There's water in them 'thar hills — Well, almost. The Spirit rover's right front wheel broke a few years into the project, which may have been devastating to the mission. The team learned how to drive the rover backwards, which led them to finding evidence of water thanks to salt deposits just below the surface.
- It could have harbored life at one point — The Marian soil consists of magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, which are also found in gardens here on Earth.
- Martian Winters are harsh — Mars has two permanent polar ice caps that consist of ice. During a pole's Winter (which lasts about twice as long as Earth's), when they are subjected to continuous darkness, the temperatures get so cold that a transparent one-meter thick layer of dry ice form above ground. The Spirit rover survived three of these Winters!
See a few more fun facts about Mars after the break.
Unlike the classic Milky Way, which contains a layer of nougat under a layer of caramel, the interior of the Milky Way Simply Caramel is — you guessed it — nothing but caramel. I was expecting it to taste a bit like Rolos, only in bar form. In the end, I wasn't too far off — compared to a Rolo, the Simply Caramel had a milder, less pronounced caramel flavor.
It's ironic that the Simply Caramel has 2 grams more fat and 25 more calories than its original counterpart, because it seems to be skimpier on the flavor (and is actually 0.14 ounces lighter than its original counterpart). The original has an added textural component with the nougat, and more of a fudgey chocolate flavor. In the end, I'll stick to what I know best — a classic Milky Way.
Have you tried the new candy bar? What were your thoughts?
The project, which sounds like a perfect premise for a reality show, will investigate the psychological and medical implication of such a long journey. It will include the full round-trip to Mars, and a 30-day stay on the planet. Just think, it takes almost a year to get there, and then you just get to stay for 30 days! Bummer! The hope is that the findings can be used to actually send humans to Mars sometime in the future.
The simulation begins in 2010. Would you ever consider signing up?
If you've got a sweet tooth, you may be forced to reckon with a bitter truth. In a letter sent to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, several of the country's largest food companies, including General Mills, Kraft, Hershey, and Mars, said the United States could "virtually run out of sugar" if the government doesn't let up on sugar import limits.
To keep prices within reason for domestic sugar farmers, the government only allows unlimited sugar imports from the Mexican market without paying tariffs. Global shortages of the commodity have led to a skyrocket in price, culminating in a 28-year high this week.
Sugar purchased from other countries, such as Brazil, is limited by a quota. If those restrictions aren't eased, food manufacturers say they'd be forced to hike prices, slash jobs — and run out of sugar to make items such as cereal, cookies, and chocolate. However, the USDA appears to be taking this plea with a grain of sugar, claiming early this week that domestic supplies were increasing.
With opposing interests, it's hard to know what to think. Who do you believe — and would America be better off with less sugar?
Your Fridays just got a little sweeter. Mars Snackfood is giving away a quarter of a million full-size packages of chocolate on its Free Chocolate Fridays. As part of the brand's Real Chocolate Relief Act, customers are encouraged to visit RealChocolate.com, where, every Friday through the end of September, the first 250,000 consumers can download a coupon for a full-size package of Twix, Dove, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Milky Way, or M&Ms.
In response to overwhelming demand the first week, today the company is making an exception to give away free chocolate to the first 500,000 visitors. The Mars Real Chocolate Relief Act is part of a new campaign to highlight its chocolate made with 100 percent cocoa butter.
The strategy takes a jab at archrival Hershey's for having made the switch to cheaper ingredients: "Without cocoa butter, chocolate simply is not chocolate. Some companies use artificial ingredients to make their chocolate sweeter or because it's cheaper. Know that with Mars, there's no substitute for cocoa butter." The promotion even includes tips on how to spot "fake" chocolate.
I can think of a slew of people who will appreciate this "relief act." Did you sign up to get your free candy bar?