Readers!
 

My annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over. It was the best February campaign ever, and the second best of all of my month-long fund-raising campaigns.

 

There were too many people who contributed to thank you all personally. If I did so I would not have time for the next day or so to actually do any further posts, and I suspect my supporters would prefer me posting on space and culture over getting individual thank you notes.

 

Let this public thank suffice. I say this often, but I must tell you all that you cannot imagine how much your support means to me. I’ve spent my life fighting a culture hostile to my perspective, a hostility that has often served to squelch my success. Your donations have now allowed me to bypass that hostility to reach a large audience.

 

Even though the February campaign is over, if you still wish to donate or subscribe you still can do so. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Mars rover update: November 16, 2017

Summary: Curiosity does drill tests, crosses Vera Rubin Ridge. Opportunity finds evidence of either ice or wind scouring on rocks in Perseverance Valley.

Curiosity

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity looks up Vera Rubin Ridge, Sol 1850

Since my last update on September 6, Curiosity has continued its travels up and across Vera Rubin Ridge, a geological bedding plain dubbed the Hematite Unit. The panorama above, created by reader Phil Veerkamp, shows the view looking up the ridge slope. If you click on it you can see the full resolution image, with lots of interesting geological details.

The panorama below, also created by Veerkamp, shows the view on Sol 1866, two weeks later, as the slope begins to flatten out and the distant foothills of Mount Sharp become visible. (If you click on the image you can see a very slightly reduced version of the full resolution panorama.) This image also shows the next change in geology. From orbit the Hematite Unit darkens suddenly at its higher altitudes, and Curiosity at this point was approaching that transition. The rover is now, on Sol 1876, sitting on that boundary, where they will spend a few days making observations before moving on.

Curiosity on the Hematite Unit, Sol 1866

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The image on the right shows Curiosity’s approximate position, about halfway across the Hematite Unit and with the rover’s approximate future route indicated, as shown in this October 3, 2016 press release.

In the two months since my last rover update the Curiosity engineering team has spent a lot of time imaging and studying the Hematite Unit. They have also spent a considerable amount of time doing new tests on the rover’s drill in an effort to get around its stuck feed mechanism in order to drill again. Only yesterday they took another series of close-up images of the drill in this continuing effort.

As indicated by the October 3 2016 press release, the rover still has a good way to go before it begins entering the distant canyons and large foothills. While they should leave the Hematite Unit and enter the Clay Unit beyond in only a few more months, I expect it will be at least a year before they pass through the Clay Unit and reach the much more spectacular Sulfate Unit, where the rover will explore at least one deep canyon as well as a recurring dark feature on a slope that scientists think might be a water seep.

Opportunity

For the context of Opportunity’s recent travels along the rim of Endeavour Crater, see my May 15, 2017 rover update.

The winter season and its limited sunlight available to recharge Opportunity’s batteries continues to limit activities. However, for the past two months, since my last rover update, the science team has continued to do short hops up and down within Perserverance Valley, taking many close-up images of the ground in an effort to determine how the valley formed, whether by flowing liquid water, ice, or winds. The traverse map below shows its travels through 4836, almost sixty sols ago. Since then there has been no update of the rover’s traverse map, mostly I suspect because things haven’t changed much.

Opportunity's location in Perserverance Valley, Sol 4836

Scouring on surface rocks in Perserverance Valley

The close-up ground images taken during these explorations have been quite intriguing. On the right is an image taken showing some very interesting scouring on the rocks. My immediate thought when I saw this was that it might be slickenslides, scratch marks made on rocks by flowing glacier ice. I immediately emailed Bill Farand, who is part of the Opportunity science team, to ask him what they thought. His answer:

“There has been some discussion on the team with regards to whether ice movements might be responsible for some of the observed features. However, we’re still in the process of collecting data to fully understand how Perseverance Valley formed.”

Since then the weekly update by the science team indicated that they remain uncertain about the cause of this aligned scouring.

The rover is investigating a site where there is evidence of scouring, by wind or otherwise.

Regardless, the scouring suggests that while liquid water might have caused the valley’s overall flow feature, other geological processes, including either flowing ice or wind, must have produced the aligned features on the rocks. This is a significant discovery, as it indicates that any water flows here were probably short-lived and might have changed from liquid to ice periodically. It is also possible that wind, blowing down the valley, might have also produced these scours, which also suggests the water/ice flows were only a short part of the process.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

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