Confirmed: There's Water On Mars
Analysis of the first scoop of topsoil picked up by NASA's Curiosity rover reveals a composition that includes two percent water. It could mean one less worry for future human visitors.
What's the Latest Development?
A sample of Martian topsoil scooped by NASA's Curiosity rover last year and put into its onboard chemical laboratory has been found to contain water in quantities totaling two percent of its composition. The lab, named Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), used several instruments, including a mass spectrometer, to determine the makeup of the sample after it had been heated to just over 1,500° Fahrenheit. In addition to water, the sample contained perchlorates, which are toxic to humans but could be used as an energy source by certain kinds of microbes, further extending the possibility of life. Several papers describing Curiosity's findings were recently published in Science.
What's the Big Idea?
The data collected by SAM and Curiosity's other instruments "greatly advance our understanding of surface processes and the action of water on Mars," says SAM principal investigator Paul Mahaffy. Two percent of water may not seem like a lot, but for future missions, it could mean a great deal, says paper lead author and Rensselaer professor Laurie Leshin. "When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water."
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Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."
- Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
- This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
- On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.
Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.
Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.
Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.
Two space agencies plan missions to deflect an asteroid.
- NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
- The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
- A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.
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