Skip to main content

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

Chevron shapes spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in southeast Hellas Planitia. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been boldly going to Mars, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet’s surface which looks suspiciously like the Star Trek logo.

Apparently the shape was not a sign from the Federation of the future, however, but was created by rather more down-to-Mars forces. It was caused by an interaction of dust dunes, erupting lava, and strong winds.

“Long ago, there were large crescent-shaped (barchan) dunes that moved across this area, and at some point, there was an eruption,” planetary scientist Dr. Ross Beyer explained in a statement. “The lava flowed out over the plain and around the dunes, but not over them. The lava solidified, but these dunes still stuck up like islands. However, they were still just dunes, and the wind continued to blow. Eventually, the sand piles that were the dunes migrated away, leaving these ‘footprints’ in the lava plain. These are also called ‘dune casts’ and record the presence of dunes that were surrounded by lava.”

The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera which captured the image is part of the suite of instruments aboard the MRO, NASA’s orbiting data-gathering satellite which launched in 2005. The MRO first studied whether there was water on Mars in the past by taking high-resolution photographs of the planet’s surface and analyzing minerals for clues as to where there could have been lakes or seas thousands of years ago.

Recently the MRO has also been helping out with the Mars rover missions, assisting in confirming InSight’s successful landing on the planet and mapping out the route that Curiosity will travel over the next several years.

The HiRISE instrument had some problems last year when it started capturing blurry images. In addition, the MRO was experiencing battery issues which meant that HiRISE could only capture low-quality images. Fortunately the NASA team was able to fix both issues. The blurring was fixed by adjusting the thermal control system (TCS), which is designed to keep the telescope cool, so that it was on all the time. This keeps temperatures more constant and removed the blurring caused by different temperature gradients.

In future, to address the battery issue further, the orbiter may need to be moved so that it is in sunlight for more of the day. This would allow it to operate using solar power during the day and only use its batteries for a shorter time at night. But for now the orbiter can continue to gather more data about Mars — as the ancient Starfleet motto goes, Ad Astra Per Aspera.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer
woman-in-bed-wearing-twilight-apollo-on-ankle

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more
The 11 best Father’s Day deals that you can get for Sunday
Data from a workout showing on the screen of the Apple Watch Series 8.

Father's Day is fast approaching and there's still time to buy your beloved Dad a sweet new device to show him how much you love him. That's why we've rounded up the ten best Father's Day tech deals going on right now. There's something for most budgets here, including if you're able to spend a lot on your loved one. Read on while we take you through the highlights and remember to order fast so you don't miss out on the big day.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 -- $200, was $230

While it's the Plus version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 that features in our look at the best tablets, the standard variety is still worth checking out. Saving your Dad the need to dig out their laptop or squint at a small phone screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 offers a large 10.5-inch LCD display and all the useful features you would expect. 128GB of storage means plenty of room for all your Dad's favorite apps as well as games too. A long-lasting battery and fast charging save him the need for a power source too often too.

Read more