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A new Mars rover concept vehicle has officially been revealed by NASA, built for navigating the demanding landscape of Mars.
OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Space - a weekly look at the biggest news coming down to Earth from space

Mars rover gets a makeover, puts entire universe on notice

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, June 12, 2017, 5:10 PM - What The Dark Knight or a Pathfinder might drive around on the Red Planet, powerful super-tornadoes once scoured the surface of Mars, and Hubble watches two failed stars in a slow celestial waltz. It's What's Up In Space!

New Mars Rover concept vehicle

Parker Brothers Concepts, the same Florida-based custom vehicle shop that built a TRON-inspired electric motorcycle, has now designed and built a new NASA rover for humans to drive around on the planet Mars. The result looks like something either The Batman, or perhaps a Pathfinder from Mass Effect: Andromeda*, might drive around if they were on the Red Planet.

At two to three times the size of the Mars Curiosity rover, and weighing in at over three times heavier, it would not be easy getting this new concept vehicle to Mars, or landing it all in one piece, it would be well-worth the attempt.

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

According to NASA:

The scientifically-themed Mars rover concept vehicle operates on an electric motor, powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery. The rover separates in the middle with the front area designed for scouting and equipped with a radio and navigation provided by the Global Positioning System. The back section serves as a full laboratory which can disconnect for autonomous research. The "Summer of Mars" promotion is designed to provide guests with a better understanding of NASA's studies of the Red Planet. The builders of the rover, Parker Brothers Concepts of Port Canaveral, Florida, incorporated input into its design from NASA subject matter experts.

A front view of the concept rover, showing off the glassed-in cockpit, including windows for the driver to view the ground directly in front of the rover. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Side and back views of the rover, revealing the interior of the lab portion of the vehicle. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

It's doubtful that this vehicle will ever leave Earth, however some of the ideas represented in it may be incorporated into future rover designs, including the upcoming Mars 2020 mission.

Super-tornadoes once scoured Mars

Rovers and orbiters have been spying dust devils on Mars for years now, but according to a new study, powerful super-tornadoes, far stronger than anything we see on Earth, once scoured parts of the Red Planet clean of dust, sand and debris.

This study, led by Brown University geologist Peter Schultz, examined streaks radiating outward from ancient impact craters - streaks that show up brightly in infrared during the Martian night, a sign that they are bare, blocky Martian rock, rather than sand or dust covered like their surroundings.

An infrared image of Sante Fe crater on Mars, with its
radiating streaks.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University.

According to Schultz and co-writer Stephanie Quintana, these streaks may have been caused by tornadoes that would have exceeded the current Enhanced Fujita scale used to track these destructive weather features on Earth.

"This would be like an F8 tornado sweeping across the surface," Schultz said. "These are winds on Mars that will never be seen again unless another impact."

Mars' current atmosphere is extremely thin compared to Earth's, so vortices on the planet can barely lift sand, and would be nothing more than a nuisance to human explorers. 

In the planet's past, however, the atmosphere was much thicker, more comparable to what we have here on Earth, and debris ejected from asteroid impacts would have produced terrifying wind speeds in their wake.

Essentially, what the study says is that horizontal wind vortices in the wake of rocks and debris thrown clear of the impact site would have interacted with local terrain features to spawn tornadoes containing winds up to 800 kilometres per hour.

For comparison, under the old Fujita scale, an F5 tornado contains winds up to 510 km/h, while under the current Enhanced Fujita scale, an EF-5 tornadoes contain winds greater than 322 km/h (but technically with no upper limit). The strongest winds ever recorded in a tornado, to this date, were 484 km/h, plus or minus 32 km/h, in the F5 1999 Bridge Creek–Moore tornado, on May 3, 1999.

Hubble watches a celestial waltz

Distant objects in space can seem pretty immobile as we gaze out into the universe, but through using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted some amazing interactions out there.

Brown dwarfs Luhman 16A and Luhman 16B, as they orbit each other and move across Hubble's field of view. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Bedin et al

The animation above was gathered by Hubble astronomers over a period of 3 years, and shows a binary pair of brown dwarfs - failed stars that orbit one another - as they perform a slow waltz across the galaxy.

According to NASA:

The astronomers using Hubble to study Luhman 16AB were not only interested in the waltz of the two brown dwarfs, but were also searching for a third, invisible, dancing partner. Earlier observations with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope indicated the presence of an exoplanet in the system. The team wanted to verify this claim by analyzing the movement of the brown dwarfs in great detail over a long period of time, but the Hubble data showed that the two dwarfs are indeed dancing alone, unperturbed by a massive planetary companion.

(*Hat tip to Adi the Adipose for the Mass Effect suggestion)

Sources: NASA | Brown University | NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

Watch Below: Among the 100 or so objects it discovered in the 3rd year of its new mission, NASA's asteroid-hunting space telescope spies another 10 potentially-hazardous asteroids

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