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NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Opportunity Rover Captures Image of Dust Devil Whirling Behind Its Back

NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) sometimes capture fantastic images of Mars while they're exploring the planet on other missions. According to Discovery, the Opportunity Rover was recently searching for clay deposits on a slope near the Endeavour Crater when it turned and managed to take a very cool photo of a dust devil that had formed behind its back.

Dust devils are harmless tunnels of swirling wind and dirt that form when air is heated by the Sun. The first dust devils recorded on Mars date back to the 1970s, and they are capable of reaching sizes that are 10 times taller and 50 times wider than those that form on Earth. According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab blog, dust devils have been spotted in the past by MER-A, better known as the Spirit Rover, but it's rare for the Opportunity to witness the vortexes.

The black-and-white image doesn't offer much in the way of details, but for a Rover-shot image, it is pretty impressive. The tracks and ridges in the terrain lead the viewer's eye to the ghostly spiral in the valley below, while the rest of the landscape looks calm and undisturbed. Check out the image below and head to the Jet Propulsion Lab blog for more interesting photos taken of the fourth planet from the Sun.

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[h/t Discovery]

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Space
NASA Could Be Sending Autonomous Bee Drones to Mars
NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA, JPL-Caltech

While NASA is inching closer to landing humans on Mars, a team from Japan and the U.S. is working on exporting something else to the red planet: robot bees. As Co.Design reports, the engineers believe their hive of drones, dubbed Marsbees, could be used to explore the surface of Mars autonomously.

The project is one of a handful being funded by NASA in 2018 as part of the space agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. According to the initial designs, the Marsbees would collect data and images from Mars just like the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers do now. But the drones' small size and large numbers give them a few key advantages.

The Marsbees would be carted onto the planet by way of a conventional rover that acts as a roaming beehive. The bumblebee-sized drones would use flapping apparatuses the size of cicada wings to fly around Mars, capturing data individually or swarming together to analyze larger swaths of land. If one robot fails, there would be more to make up for the missing sensor, and after gathering enough information they could return to the ground-based hub to recharge and relay the data back to Earth.

The team still needs to perfect a prototype before the swarms of Martian bees can become a reality. Wing size is a crucial factor, since the atmosphere on Mars is thinner than it is on Earth. Once they have that design element in place, the engineers still need to prove their drones can take off, land, navigate through the air, and complete missions. They hope to tackle each of those points in the first phase of the project using a $125,000 grant from NASA.

Concept art for marsbees.
C. Kang, NASA

[h/t Co.Design]

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Space
Send Your Name to Space on NASA's Latest Mars Lander
NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Humans may not reach Mars until the 2030s (optimistically), but you can get your name there a whole lot sooner. As Space.com reports, NASA is accepting names from the public to be engraved on a small silicon microchip that's being sent into space with their latest Mars lander, InSight.

All you have to do is submit your name online to NASA, and the space agency will put it on the lander—in super-tiny form, of course—which will set off for Mars in May 2018.

This is the public's second shot at getting their name to Mars: NASA first put out a call for names to go to the Red Planet with InSight in 2015. The planned 2016 launch was delayed over an issue with one of the instruments, and since the naming initiative was so popular—almost 827,000 people submitted their names the first time around—they decided to open the opportunity back up and add a second microchip.

A scientist positions the microchip on the InSight lander.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

NASA is encouraging people to sign up even if they've sent in their names for other mission microchips. (The space agency also sent 1.38 million names up with Orion's first test flight in 2014.) You can put your name on both of InSight's microchips, in other words, as well as any future missions. The agency's "frequent flyer" program allows you to keep track of every mission to which your name is attached. Interplanetary fame, here you come.

You can submit your name for the InSight mission until November 1 using this form. If you miss the deadline, though, don't worry too much: You'll soon be able to submit your name for Exploration Mission-1's November 2018 launch.

[h/t Space.com]

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