'We will SNORT UP CRYSTAL DUST and then do a MAJOR software update'

Curiosity rover team's bold plan


NASA boffins are planning to pulverise a dried-up deposit from the surface of Mars and then snort up and "ingest" the resulting crystalline dust before performing a major software update, they have announced.

The crystal snorting will of course be done by robotic means, through the agency of the nuclear powered, raygun-armed, SUV-sized rover Curiosity, currently aprowl in the red world's Gale Crater. And it will be Curiosity which receives the new software.

Space brainboxes in charge of the rover based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had this to say yesterday:

This target, called "Mojave," displays copious slender features, slightly smaller than grains of rice, that appear to be mineral crystals ... The features might be a salt mineral left behind when lakewater evaporated ... Mojave [is] at the head of the list of targets for the rover's most intensive inspection, using laboratory instruments that ingest powdered rock collected by the drill.

"The crystal shapes are apparent in the earlier images of Mojave, but we don't know what they represent," enthuses Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada. "We're hoping that mineral identifications we get from the rover's laboratory will shed more light than we got from just the images and bulk chemistry."

Having sniffed and sampled the finely ground crystals, the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, "can identify specific minerals in rock powder from a drilled sample," we're told. "Analysis of the drill hole and drill tailings may also reveal whether the crystals are only at the surface, like a salty crust, or are also deeper in the rock."

It seems that this may confirm whether Curiosity is, as the NASA boffins plainly hope, rumbling along in what was once the bed of a mighty water lake in which Martian life could have thrived - or just a barren crater bottom which has been sterile and unexciting ever since the ochre world on which it lies coalesced into being.

Meanwhile the installation of a new version of the rover's onboard flight software is pending - the fourth since the mighty machine set down on the red planet back in August 2012.

"The files have already been uplinked and are sitting in the rover's file system to be ready for the installation," says a no-doubt just slightly sweaty Danny Lam, the JPL sysadmin in charge of the update.

All being well, the Mars roverware 5.0 will be a big step forward:

One change in the new software is to enable use of the rover's gyroscope-containing "inertial measurement unit" at the same time as the rover's drill, for better capability to sense slippage of the rover during a drilling operation. Another is a set of improvements to the rover's ability to autonomously identify and drive in good terrain.

It seems the crystal-snorting operation may actually be postponed until after the upgrade depending on how things go. Full details from JPL are here. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • AI tool finds hundreds of genes related to human motor neuron disease

    Breakthrough could lead to development of drugs to target illness

    A machine-learning algorithm has helped scientists find 690 human genes associated with a higher risk of developing motor neuron disease, according to research published in Cell this week.

    Neuronal cells in the central nervous system and brain break down and die in people with motor neuron disease, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the baseball player who developed it. They lose control over their bodies, and as the disease progresses patients become completely paralyzed. There is currently no verified cure for ALS.

    Motor neuron disease typically affects people in old age and its causes are unknown. Johnathan Cooper-Knock, a clinical lecturer at the University of Sheffield in England and leader of Project MinE, an ambitious effort to perform whole genome sequencing of ALS, believes that understanding how genes affect cellular function could help scientists develop new drugs to treat the disease.

    Continue reading
  • Need to prioritize security bug patches? Don't forget to scan Twitter as well as use CVSS scores

    Exploit, vulnerability discussion online can offer useful signals

    Organizations looking to minimize exposure to exploitable software should scan Twitter for mentions of security bugs as well as use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System or CVSS, Kenna Security argues.

    Better still is prioritizing the repair of vulnerabilities for which exploit code is available, if that information is known.

    CVSS is a framework for rating the severity of software vulnerabilities (identified using CVE, or Common Vulnerability Enumeration, numbers), on a scale from 1 (least severe) to 10 (most severe). It's overseen by First.org, a US-based, non-profit computer security organization.

    Continue reading
  • Sniff those Ukrainian emails a little more carefully, advises Uncle Sam in wake of Belarusian digital vandalism

    NotPetya started over there, don't forget

    US companies should be on the lookout for security nasties from Ukrainian partners following the digital graffiti and malware attack launched against Ukraine by Belarus, the CISA has warned.

    In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said it "strongly urges leaders and network defenders to be on alert for malicious cyber activity," having issued a checklist [PDF] of recommended actions to take.

    "If working with Ukrainian organizations, take extra care to monitor, inspect, and isolate traffic from those organizations; closely review access controls for that traffic," added CISA, which also advised reviewing backups and disaster recovery drills.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022