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The Mars 2023 rover just hit a wheely big milestone
NASA’s new Mars 2023 rover has finally got its wheels, with the countdown to blast-off now only twelve months out. Handiwork of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Mars rover is expected to join Curiosity on the red planet and pave the way for an eventual manned mission there.
That’s a lot of responsibility resting on the little rover’s metaphorical shoulders, so thankfully its suspension is up to the task. It’s an unusual arrangement, designed to maximize articulation while also reducing complexity and weight. NASA also made sure it would help avoid the Mars 2023 rover tipping when at extreme angles.
So, each leg has multiple pivot points and struts, eventually connected to six wheels: three on each side. The legs are made of titanium tubing – similar, in fact, to how high-end bicycle frames are manufactured – while the wheels are aluminum. Each is just shy of 21-inches in diameter.
Rather than rubber tires, however, they’re each machined with 48 cleats, or grousers. That gives maximum possible traction on both the soft sand and harder, rocky terrain which NASA expects the rover to have to deal with on Mars. Each is independently motorized, too, so can turn forward and back.
As for steering, the front pair and rear pair of wheels have their own steering motors too. It means the rover can spin 360-degrees on the spot, if required, handy for navigating through tight spots.
For this most-distant of off-roading, NASA and the JPL are leaving nothing to chance. The articulation of the suspension system is designed to allow each wheel to move pretty much independently, spreading the rover’s weight equally across all six, and keeping the body as level as possible. Operators aim to avoid any inclines of more than 30-degrees; however, NASA says the rover can handle 45-degree tilts in any direction, without toppling over.
As for dips, the clever suspension configuration allows the rover to make it through holes the size of its wheels. That’ll be vital for keeping it from getting bogged down.
Next up comes the real reason for the rover’s presence on Mars: its tools. They’ll include a robotic arm along with a Sample Catching System, the latter a 17-motor affair designed to gather up samples of rock and soil that, NASA hopes, can be returned to Earth on a later mission. It’ll also get its SuperCam instrument, which will be mounted on a mast atop the rover.
While this is the first time we’ve seen the Mars 2023 rover with its wheels in place, these won’t actually be the ones it goes to the red planet wearing. Instead, NASA will replace them for so-called flight models next year, closer to the planned launch. That’s expected to take place in July 2023, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the start of a long journey that won’t see the rover arrive on Mars until February 18, 2023.
Even that will be a fraught process. The plan is to lower the Mars 2023 rover down to the surface of the planet using a record-breaking parachute, which will deploy in fractions of a second.
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NASA has big plans for its upcoming Mars 2023 rover, launching in the summer of 2023 (duh) and arriving at the red planet the following February. Picking a landing site for a mission like this effectively shows what type of scientific studies you want to prioritize. To that end, the selection of Jezero Crater, announced this week, affirms the desire of NASA and its partners to learn if Mars was (or is) home to extraterrestrial life of some kind.
That’s not spin—it’s something scientists are expressing themselves. “There’s a wide diversity of outcrop and rock types accessible at this site, which the Mars 2023 rover will be able to interrogate to vastly improve our understanding of the ancient Martian surface environment, and whether it might preserve any evidence for past life,” says Timothy Goudge, a planetary scientist at The University of Texas at Austin. He calls Jezero “an incredible landing site that will provide us with immense opportunity to do very compelling and interesting science.”
The 28-mile-wide crater was selected from out of three finalist sites on the Martian surface, which included Northeast Syrtis (home to buried hydrothermal systems) and Columbia Hills (notable for being home to former hot springs). A dark horse candidate, Midway (also home to ancient hydrothermal activity) was also considered. Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis were the frontrunners, but neither had a clear lead in support, and Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, ultimately chose Jezero.
It’s not hard to see why, given Jezero’s location. “We think we can actually roll out of Jezero and onto the surrounding plains and to get to one of the other landing sites, Midway—which is a totally different kind of geological environment,” says Briony Horgan, an assistant professor of planetary science at Purdue University who helped evaluate the candidates. “I think the whole team is excited about that possibility in particular. The kind of samples we can get from both of those sites is a total hole-in-one. It’ll just be an incredible find, not just for Mars but for essentially the whole solar system.”
But Jezero was popular to begin with because it’s probably one the oldest preserved lake basins on Mars. Briony and her colleagues think it was an active lake with a river system during the Noachian Period (the Martian geological era ranging between 4.1 and 3.7 billion years ago), when Mars boasted the most surface water activity in its history. Two main river valleys would have fed water into the lake basin, and an outlet valley would have allowed water to drain out.
“When the lake was present, it likely would have provided a habitable environment that life as we know it would have been able to survive in,” says Goudge. “The question of whether or not it actually does preserve evidence for past life is a huge outstanding question that is driving much of the science that will be done by the Mars 2023 rover mission.”
Although the water is long gone, Jezero sports a prominent outcrop of a preserved river delta leading into the former lake, which probably deposited a walloping amount of sediments carrying old minerals and elements into former lakebed. “These types of sedimentary deposits record the conditions of formation over their lifetime of activity, and as the rover marches up different layers, it will be able to read the record of what this site was like several billion years ago,” says Goudge. “When deltas collect material from their watershed, the process of transporting that material in the river and depositing it in the Jezero lake would have led to the concentration of any existing organic matter within specific layers of the deposit, so we have a very good understanding of where to go to explore for possible biosignatures as soon as we land.”
But one of Jezero’s most compelling qualities is that it’s home to carbonates, which could lead us to more concrete signs of Martian life. Mars has a carbon dioxide atmosphere, and when it rains, it produces carbonic acid, which in turn produces carbonate on the surface.
On Mars, carbonates are inexplicably rare. Even more inexplicable, they’re actually more abundant in Jezero Crater. According to Horgan, they may have precipitated out of the water itself. “A rapid precipitation of minerals like that in water does a really nice job of trapping whatever is living in the water,” she says. Basically, the carbonate deposits could have preserved any Martian microbes that were living at the bottom of the lake or by the shoreline, or any biosignatures those lifeforms produced. “We could potentially observe those things directly with the rover and its instruments onboard. That’s a really exciting possibility.”
And to pile on top of all that, there might be a lava flow situated on top of all these lake sediments. A sample of the lava flow could help us better understand the geological history of Mars, and also help us narrow down the age of Jezero and other craters found throughout the red planet.
“All of these things together make Jezero just really diverse and interesting,” says Horgan. “It’s always been popular for those reasons.” Mars 2023’s technology gives us a chance to actually study those components in depth.
And what we’ll learn out of Jezero will shape what we know about Mars as a whole. The timeline of water in Jezero coincides with the timeline of water activity elsewhere on the planet. The delta in particularly was able to collect material from a large catchment area and basically feed it all into one location, which means the rover has a chance to sink its robotic teeth into a really diverse array of materials. We’ll also be able to learn more about how amenable the Noachian climate was to burgeoning life all over the planet. “Those are huge questions not just for Jezero, but for Mars in general,” says Horgan.
What makes Mars 2023 so special? Well, remember earlier this year when the Curiosity rover managed to find evidence of ancient organic matter embedded in the red planet’s rocks? Mars 2023 possesses a suite of instruments and onboard laboratory equipment that can follow up on those sorts of discoveries in unprecedented detail. “The rover will have this unparalleled ability to do high-resolution geology and astrobiology,” says Horgan. She’s excited to see instruments like SHERLOC (a raw spectrometer able to detect the presence of organics in rocks) and PIXL (an x-ray spectrometer that can identify individual elements in sample) to look not only for biosignatures and evidence of ancient life, but also tell where those things are located within the rock itself.
There’s also so much science we can do with a rover, and that’s another reason there’s so much excitement surrounding the new mission. “We’re trying to do astrobiology on the surface, and that’s really the point of the Mars 2023 mission,” says Horgan. But with Mars 2023, “we’re also going to be collecting samples that we’ll bring back to Earth eventually on another mission. Because of that, it’s going to be an interesting mission—we’re going to have competing priorities that persuade us to stay and study the rocks in a few places, or zip around and collect as many samples as possible. But I’ve been really impressed with the technology of this rover, and I really think we could do both.”
Mars Global View Of Valles Marineris
Composed of over 100 Viking Orbiter images, this is a mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars.
With SpaceX declaring that they will land a Dragon capsule on Mars in 2023, and NASA pledging to send astronauts there in the 2030s, Martian colonies are seeming more and more like a reality with every passing day. Sure, there is still a mountain of hurdles for researchers to overcome before we’re sipping our morning coffee on the red planet, but nowadays the idea of Mars coffee isn’t all that foreign–it’s the future. To celebrate that, here are some of our favorite pictures of Mars from over the years, which will hopefully provide us with a preview of what our backyards will look like one day (fingers crossed).
Shadows At Endeavour Crater
Captured with the Opportunity rover’s Pancam on March 9, 2012, shadows fall over the western rim of the14-mile-wide Endeavour crater, the largest impact crater on Mars.
The First Martian Sand Dune Studied By Curiosity
Looking like waves on the high seas, these are the Bagnold Dunes near Mount Sharp. They were studied by the Curiosity rover on November 27, 2023, which was the rover’s 1,176th Martian day, or ‘sol,’ on the red planet’s surface. Just like Earth’s deserts, these sand dunes are constantly changing with the winds and can move up to one meter per year.
An Icy, Terraced Crater
While it may look like a normal crater with an icy center, there’s a lot going on in this image. According to NASA, most small impact craters on Mars look like small bowls. However, this one has a hole in the middle surrounded by a long terrace, giving the crater an eyeball-like appearance. These terraced craters highlight how much underground ice is hidden beneath Mars’ surface. Basically, the impact was strong enough to smash into the ice but the blast only knocked the surface materials outward, leaving a terracing effect over the unbroken icy bits. The image was taken in 2014 by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Rover Tracks Near The Endeavour Crater
On August 15, 2014, Opportunity beamed back this panoramic image of its tire tracks while exploring the western rim of the Endeavour crater. If you look closely, you can see its tracks extend down toward Murray Ridge from earlier in 2014.
Even rovers can’t stop themselves from taking a selfie every once and a while. Snapped on January 19, 2023, Curiosity shows off its latest travels to the Namib Dune. The reason you do not see the ‘selfie stick’ used to take this is because it’s actually 57 images stitched together. Curiosity has been documenting many of its rover-ly travels with selfies, and this is likely not the last.
Mars Global View Of Valles Marineris
Taking a step back from the Martian surface, this image is a mosaic of the entire planet captured through 102 Viking Orbiter pictures. Taking center stage is the Valles Marineris, a Martian canyon system that’s over 2,000 kilometers long and eight kilometers deep. These large canyons were once ancient rivers that slowly eroded the surface, just like the Colorado River dug out Earth’s Grand Canyon.
Opportunity Spies A Dust Devil
Taken from the north-facing slope of Knudsen Ridge on March 31, 2023, Opportunity captures a dust devil with its Navcam. While dust devils are quite common the Martian surface, there aren’t too many images of them lingering around, especially ones that also feature rover tracks. It’s a double whammy of awesome.
Northern Ice Cap
In 2010, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor snapped this image of Mars’ ice cap, which measures some 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) across. The ice cap is made out of frozen carbon dioxide, and the ripples are actually deep valleys covered in shadow.
The Crisp Crater
This image, released in June 2023, showcases the Crisp Crater in Sirenum Fossae. In it, you can see the materials ejected from the crater on impact and the gullies carved into it.
The Bagnold Dunes From Inside Gale Crater
While there are many images of dunes on the Martian surface, this one looks a lot like many areas on Earth. Curiosity captured this snapshot of the Bagnold Dunes from inside Gale Crater near Mount Sharp on September 25, 2023.
Nintendo Switch sales close in on a major milestone
Nintendo has delivered its latest round of financial results, and it would appear that Switch is still selling very well. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily take a financial report to figure that out, as the Switch can still be difficult to find in some place. This continuing shortage is indicative of the Switch’s success, with Nintendo reporting that it sold 1.97 million consoles in the three-month period ending in June.
That means the Switch is now very close to hitting a major sales milestone. With this recently-ended quarter’s 1.97 million units accounted for, Switch sales now sit at 4.7 million worldwide. 5 million total sales is within sight, and given the Switch’s popularity, it’s possible that the console has already hit that milestone.
Switch software continues to do well, too. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which at one point was outselling the Switch, sold an additional 1.16 million units during the quarter, bringing its total up to 3.92 million. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS, which both launched during the quarter, sold 3.54 million and 1.18 million units, respectively.
READ MORE: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe reviewMario Kart 8 Deluxe in particular seems to be selling very well, which could mean that we’ll see more of these Wii U re-releases in the future. We’ve already got another one coming up, as Nintendo announced a Switch version of the Wii U fighting game Pokken Tournament ahead of E3 2023 last month. Fans seem to want a Switch port of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, so don’t be surprised to see Nintendo pursue such a re-release in the future.
On the 3DS side of things, hardware sales were pretty much steady year-over-year. Nintendo said that it sold 0.95 million 3DS units over the quarter, representing a 1% increase over the year-ago quarter. 3DS software sales were really the only thing that fell, dropping 31% year-over-year to settle at 5.85 million units.
That 3DS software sales dropped by more than 30% shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Much of Nintendo’s focus in the previous quarter was on the Switch, and as a result, there weren’t a whole lot of notable releases for the 3DS. In fact, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was really the only big 3DS release, though 3DS software sales should rise again later this year with the release of Pokemon UltraSun and UltraMoon.
Nintendo’s efforts in the mobile seem be going well, too. Nintendo said it pulled in 9 billion yen from mobile games like Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, representing at 450% increase year-over-year. Of course, during Q1 for FY 2023, Pokemon GO hadn’t even been released yet, so Nintendo has certainly come a long way on the mobile front.
Perhaps most importantly, Nintendo actually turned a profit during this three month period, which is more than it can say for the year-ago period. Nintendo reported net sales of ¥154 billion and an operating profit of ¥16.2 billion. To put that in perspective, Q1 2023’s revenue represents a 149% increase year-over-year.
2023 Land Rover Discovery gives iconic SUV a high-tech upgrade
At the front, there’s now new Matrix LED headlamps, which get a revamped lower daytime running light (DRL) signature. It’s intended, Land Rover says, to be readily recognized from at a distance, leaving no confusion as to what SUV you’re driving. The grille in-between is more purposeful, its reworked mesh connecting the dots between the 2023 Discovery and the Discovery Sport. New 20-, 21-, and 22-inch wheels are available.
There’s a new lower front bumper, with an integrated body-color graphic, intended to visually lower the SUV’s stance, and that’s echoed at the rear with a new lower rear bumper too. New LED rear lamps wrap around the fenders, while a new black panel connects them across the split tailgate; that panel is the new home for the Discovery badging, too. Opt for the R-Dynamic package – a first for the Discovery – and you get gloss black accents on the lower door claddings, the wheel arch moldings, and the roof, along with on the grille.
R-Dynamic Discovery models also get two-tone leather and contrast stitching inside, with the 2023 model year bringing a number of changes to the cabin. Seven seats are available – select trims getting a third row option – with a fully redesigned center console. That makes space for a much larger, 11.4-inch touchscreen and Land Rover’s Pivi Pro infotainment.
It promises to be faster in use and easier to operate, not to mention swifter to load when you first get in thanks to a backup battery. Dual LTE modems mean the 2023 Discovery can simultaneously download OTA updates and stream media, as well as offer a WiFi hotspot for up to eight clients. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included, and wireless, and there’s support for two simultaneous Bluetooth connections. A wireless charging pad – that can deliver up to 15W – with a built-in signal booster is available.
The new HVAC system offers PM2.5 air filtration and cabin air ionization, and can pre-clean before you get into the car. Both first and second rows get seat heating, and there are now HVAC vents in the center console for the second row. That also has 160mm of sliding travel, fore and back, and extended seat cushions for extra comfort.
It’s not the only new, practical feature. An optional hands-free Gesture Tailgate opens when you wag your foot under the rear bumper, and there’s up to 74.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows folded. With all seven seats up, you get 9.1 cubic feet. The seats themselves can be remotely stowed or popped up via the Pivi Pro touchscreen, and the lower tailgate is sturdy enough to support more than 660 pounds of weight. Instead of a key, the second-generation Land Rover Activity Key has a touchscreen and acts as a watch now, and can lock, unlock, and start the 2023 Discovery.
Either way, air suspension is standard – with 115mm of possible adjustment – as is the Land Rover Terrain Response 2 system with multiple drive modes. There’s a new Wade Mode, which can deal with up to 900mm of water. Towing capacity is up to 8,200 pounds, the automaker says, and there’s an available powered rear tow bar and Advanced Tow Assist. ClearSight Ground View is available too, using a front camera to give a view “through” the Discovery’s hood on the infotainment screen.
The 2023 Discovery 2.0L S kicks off at $53,900 (plus $1,350 destination), while the 2023 Discovery 2.0L S R-Dynamic starts at $56,400. The 2023 Discovery 3.0L S R-Dynamic begins at $61,900, while the top-spec 2023 Discovery 3.0L HSE R-Dynamic is from $68,900.
Hurricane Laura sweeping inland on Thursday morning NOAA
Hurricane Laura made landfall as a Category 4 storm in the early hours of Thursday morning, with winds just a few miles per hour shy of the Category 5 mark. Wind speeds hit 150 mph, tying with a hurricane from 1856 for the strongest storm to ever hit Louisiana. Laura has now been downgraded to Category 2 storm, but it’s still barreling over Louisiana with winds of 110 mph.
Meteorologists predicted water levels up to 15-20 feet above ground level, a height at which the National Hurricane Center termed the surge “unsurvivable.” It will likely take days just for the floodwaters to recede.
There were evacuation orders in place for some half a million people across Louisiana and Texas, but as is always the case during severe weather events, some residents were unwilling or unable to relocate.
Evacuations were also hindered by the social distancing requirements in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A county spokesperson in Texas said that only 15 to 20 people were being placed on buses rather than the usual 50, and there were concerns about having large numbers of people sheltering in one place.
This is the strongest storm to hit the region in any resident’s lifetime, and the area will be recovering from the storm for a long time. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, though it still holds the record for most intense hurricane in Louisiana by barometric pressure. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told a local radio station that “There will be parts of Lake Charles underwater that no living human being has ever seen before.”
Laura has already killed nearly two dozen people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the death toll is likely to increase in the coming days. Governor Edwards reported the first confirmed US death on Thursday morning, telling reporters that a 14 year old girl had died when a tree hit her home. In total there are six deaths due to the storm recorded as of Thursday night. He has called in the entire state’s National Guard to help rescue people stuck in the storm’s path.
At least 150 people have stayed behind in one parish in Louisiana, and there are doubtless others who could not or would not evacuate. There are a lot of reasons that people stay in their homes when a hurricane hits, and many of them are complex. One crucial factor: money. Housing, fuel, and food during an evacuation can cost a family of four upwards of $2,000. In January 2023, surveys showed that less than half of Americans had $1,000 in savings they could use in an emergency. With tens of millions across the US currently unemployed, the number of residents with anything close to an ample emergency nest egg has likely dropped even lower. The median household income in many of the affected Louisiana parishes is below $50,000, with poverty rates upwards of 15 percent.
Leaving behind pets can also seem like an insurmountable hurdle for others, and though legally shelters are supposed to provide care for pets, not all actually do. Other people have loved ones with disabilities—or disabilities themselves—that makes it hard to leave, either because it’s physically a challenge or because they worry a shelter won’t be able to meet their needs.
Yet another reason: people don’t have experience with these types of storms. Many folks who have lived in the area for a long time are likely to recall prior storms that they weathered just fine, and figure they can survive whatever the next one brings as well. Sociologists estimate that people remember the worst effects of a hurricane for just seven years, and that 85 percent of US coastal residents haven’t actually experienced a direct hit from a major hurricane before.
While the extent of Laura’s impact still remains to be seen, you may already be wondering how you can help some of the people affected. The best course of action, according to people who research natural disaster responses, is to donate money, not things—and to send that money to local organizations rather than large non-profits. Smaller organizations are more likely to know what their community needs and to stick around for a long time after the disaster. They’ll also know exactly what supplies they need and won’t want to grapple with the tons of items that well-intentioned people send to the area. You can also look for local businesses you can support from afar, or see if you can volunteer for a non-profit like the Red Cross.
With the ongoing pandemic, physically flying to the region might not be the smartest or safest choice, especially when resources are already limited to support the people whose homes have been destroyed. If you can’t donate money, you could try donating blood or helping out with fundraising efforts for a local organization. The impulse to help is wonderful—so make sure you put it to good use.
This post will be updated periodically as more news on Hurricane Laura comes in.
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