Mars holds huge reserves of frozen water in its southern pole, according to the first detailed assessment of the data sent back by Europe’s Mars Express spacecraft earlier this year.
The six-wheeled Spirit rover has taken Mars’s temperature for the first time as it readies for its first roll across the red planet next weekend, NASA said today. During daytime, martian rocks were colder than objects made up of fine particles, said Phil Christensen, the scientist tasked with the temperature readings. “On the ground, the warmest temperature is around five degrees Celsius and the coldest is -15 degrees Celsius,” he said.
Two French scientists said on Saturday they believed they had discovered a rare meteorite from Mars which could shed light on the red planet’s geological makeup and volcanic activity. A team led by Carine Bidaut and Bruno Fectay found two chunks of meteorite weighing 414 and 383 grammes (14.6 and 15.5 ounces) respectively in the Atlas mountains of southern Morocco in January and March 2001.
Nuclear power may give NASA’s long-range missions the speed and range that combustion engines cannot, but research is sputtering for lack of funds. NASA’s head of the Prometheus program, Al Newhouse, said the agency has $US3 billion for the next five years. “Beyond that, we know we need more money,” Mr Newhouse told AFP. “We are at a very early stage of this program. It has been in existence for slightly under a year.”
The most ambitious exploration of Mars will start late Saturday, when the first of two American robots arrives on the Red Planet to spend three months seeking traces of life. At the end of a 500-million-kilometer (300-million-mile) trip which has taken seven months, the robots, MER-A and MER-B, will be parachuted down in special probes at opposite sides of Mars.
The theory that meteorites carrying bacteria kickstarted life on Earth has been strengthened by a German experiment that placed bugs in orbit to see if they survived the brutal environment of space. The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius proposed the theory in 1903, contending that billions of years ago, bacteria drifting through the cosmos landed in the fertile soil of Earth, where they flourished and evolved into higher forms of life. Critics of Arrhenius’s so-called pan-spermia theory say that unprotected bacterial hitchhikers would have been slaughtered by cosmic rays and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The argument has raged back and forth, spiced by contemporary research into rocks that were knocked off the surface of Mars, presumably by some asteroidal collision, and eventually landed on Earth as meteorites.
The unique flora of Antarctica appears to be resisting damage from the ozone hole over the South Pole far better than anyone expected, Dutch scientists say. The hole has triggered fears that Antarctica’s fragile plants could suffer severe DNA damage as they are exposed to higher intensities of ultra-violet light, which is normally filtered out by the ozone layer in the stratosphere. But a team led by Daniela Lud from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Yerseke says many plant species seem to have a repair kit that enables them to fix any damage almost overnight, the British weekly New Scientist reports in next Saturday’s issue.
Japanese and British physicists reported Thursday they had carried out experiments pointing to a new way of achieving nuclear fusion, the elusive goal of cheap, abundant and safe energy. Harnessing this energy has obsessed scientists for more than a quarter century, a period in which oil shocks, the Chernobyl disaster and global warming have driven home the problems of fossil fuels and nuclear fission. But the vision has always been clouded by technical problems. So far, fusion has only been achieved for a maximum of one second in laboratory conditions, and with a disappointingly low energy return. But in research published in Nature, the British science weekly, a 20-member team led by Ryosuke Kodama of Japan’s Osaka University report on an innovation that, they hope, may get round some of the biggest problems. Their approach enhances a technique called inertial confinement fusion (ICF).
Speculation that a mighty ocean once raged on Mars is unfounded, according to a duo of US space geologists who say the evidence for this was probably the remains of some vast seismic disturbance.
Suggestions that life, or the potential for it, existed on Mars have been dealt a blow by a new question mark that has been placed over one of the main pieces of evidence — Martian meteorites found in Antarctica. Of the 15 Martian meteorites so far retrieved on Earth, six have been found in the dry valleys of Antarctica.