December 18, 2010

Mars Has Liquid Water Close to Surface, Study Hints (Source: National Geographic)
Pools of liquid water may even now exist just a few meters below the Martian surface, according to new research. The finding hints that humans may one day be able to tap into Mars's watery bounty. Although the surface of Mars is too frigid for liquid water to be stable, pockets of water underground could be kept warm enough by an insulating blanket of porous sediment, an international team writes in the November issue of the journal Icarus. (12/18)

Fossils Could Be Found by Next Mars Rover, Study Hints (Source: National Geographic)
A new theory for how oceans formed on ancient Mars also hints at the best spots for future fossil hunts on the red planet. The new study suggests that bodies of water formed as groundwater slowly seeped through cracks in the crust. This process would have made oceans and lakes quickly—-within just a few years—-but also could have sustained the bodies of water over millennia.

Many scientists therefore think that if life as we know it evolved on Mars, the best places to look for it would be where liquid water would have been protected from extreme temperature changes and damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This presents a dilemma for fossil hunters, since digging deep to find potential traces of Martian life would involve time and equipment not available to the robotic rovers sent to explore the planet's surface.

But according to the new study, "the water upwelling [in northern Mars] would have been very ancient water trapped in the subsurface for billions of years. That's a very stable environment for organisms to form and evolve," Rodriguez said. And that means some sediments left by those ancient seas—in surface deposits that would be accessible to rovers—may be hotbeds for Martian fossils. (11/3)

NASA Cautiously Otimistic After Shuttle Test (Source: CFL-13)
Mission managers have tested space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank where cracks were found several weeks ago. The tank was fitted with nearly 100 sensors for the test, including strain gauges and thermocouples that measured changes to the aluminum skin as fueling took place. No cracks in the tank's foam were detected. The troublesome Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) passed the test as well. (12/18)

Businesses Pitch Their Space Plane Proposals (Source: Florida Today)
The field of American spacecraft that will compete to fly astronauts after the shuttle retires is taking shape and includes at least two capsules and two shuttle-like space planes -- all of which would launch from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Companies this week submitted proposals seeking a share of the roughly $200 million NASA plans to spend during the next year to develop their vehicles. NASA's eventual choice of two or three commercial providers of crew taxi services to the International Space Station likely will be taken from that group. Click here to read the article. (12/18)

Cosmic Reincarnation Idea May be Dead (Source: Science News)
Recently proposed evidence for pre–Big Bang universe relied on flawed analysis, critics say. A startling claim that the cosmos existed before the Big Bang doesn’t appear to be supported by detailed analyses, three independent teams of scientists have concluded. The teams were responding to a widely publicized report that cosmic microwave background — the glow left over from the explosive start of the universe believed to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago — contains echoes of previous cycles of cosmic birth and death.

All three teams found that Roger Penrose of Oxford University in England and Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute and Yerevan State University in Armenia incorrectly ascribed patterns found in the microwave background to bursts of energy generated in an era before the Big Bang. Penrose’s and Gurzadyan’s interpretation is based on a flawed analysis of maps of tiny temperature variations in the otherwise smooth microwave background, asserts Amir Hajian of the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto, who posted his analysis on December 9. (12/18)

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