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Mars Polar Cap Mystery Solved 77

Matt_dk writes "Scientists are now able to explain why Mars' residual southern ice cap is misplaced, thanks to data from ESA's Mars Express spacecraft (the same probe running the 'Mars Webcam'). It turns out the martian weather system is to blame. And so is the largest impact crater on Mars — even though it is nowhere near the south pole. Like Earth, Mars has frozen polar caps, but unlike Earth, these caps are made of carbon dioxide ice as well as water ice. During the southern hemisphere's summer, much of the ice cap sublimates, a process in which the ice turns straight back into gas, leaving behind what is known as the residual polar cap. The mystery was that while the winter cap is symmetrical about the south pole, the residual cap was offset, and scientists couldn't figure out why."

NASA Announces Next Mars Mission 152

Grant Henninger writes "Today, NASA announced their final selection for the Mars Scout 2013 mission: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN. MAVEN will provide the first direct measurements ever taken to address key scientific questions about Mars's evolution by measuring characteristics of its atmospheric gases, upper atmosphere, solar wind, and ionosphere. The mission, estimated to cost $485M, is scheduled for launch in late 2013."

Rover Exiting Crater To Continue Martian Marathon 150

Riding with Robots writes "The robotic geologist Opportunity has nearly reached the rim of Victoria Crater, which it is leaving after a year of exploration inside. Rover handlers decided to abandon attempts to approach the crater's cliff walls when they saw a power spike similar to the one that preceded a broken wheel on its twin, Spirit. Opportunity is already making do with a stuck robotic arm. The mission's manager said, 'Both rovers show signs of aging, but they are both still capable of exciting exploration and scientific discovery.' Opportunity is set to continue trekking across the Meridiani Plains of Mars, even though its wheels have already seen 10 times the use they were designed for. Meanwhile, Spirit has survived yet another harsh Martian winter to produce another striking panorama." Adam Korbitz notes other Mars-related news that funding has been approved for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (SETG) Project. The project was one of 15 selected to receive funds through a NASA research opportunity program. The stated goal of the proposal is to "develop a PCR detector for in situ analysis on other planets, most immediately, Mars. This instrument is so sensitive it should allow the detection very low levels of microbial life on Mars, and will determine its phylogenetic position by analysis of the DNA sequence of the genes detected in situ."

Mars Soil Appears To Be Able To Sustain Life 337

beckerist writes "Scientists working on the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which has already found ice on the planet, said preliminary analysis by the lander's instruments on a sample of soil scooped up by the spacecraft's robotic arm had shown it to be much more alkaline than expected. Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory on Phoenix, told journalists: 'It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us.'"

Mars Had an Ancient Impact Like Earth 167

quixote9 writes "The BBC reports on a set of Nature articles showing that Mars had an impact about four billion years ago by a huge asteroid. This was about the same time that a much bigger object slammed into the Earth, throwing material into orbit around our infant planet. This material is thought to have coalesced to form the Moon. 'It happened probably right at the end of the formation of the four terrestrial planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars,' said Craig Agnor, a co-author on the Francis Nimmo study. 'In terms of the process of the planets sweeping up the last bits of debris, this could have been one of the last big bits of debris.' There's a theory that having a big moon is important to the development of life, because the much bigger tides create a bigger intertidal zone, but people used to think having a huge Moon like ours was a once-in-a-universe event."

How NASA Will Bring the Phoenix Mars Mission To the Web 60

lgmac brings us a story about how NASA will bring information from the Phoenix Mars lander to the internet in the coming days. CIO Magazine speaks with JPL's chief knowledge architect and others about how they'll provide massive amounts of data from the lander to suit the needs of an audience ranging from professors to 8-year-olds. We've been discussing the Phoenix mission for quite a while now. The landing is on schedule for Sunday at roughly 5PM PDT. "'In previous missions, a system like this didn't exist and people were sharing images via external drives,' Bitter says. Some of the images are put up immediately and captioned, or sent to museum audiences, while others are made part of huge mosaic pictures that display the majesty of what the NASA spacecraft encounters, she says. In addition to the sheer volume of data that must be sifted through, challenges included the large, dispersed team, Holm says. 'The content management system has to be easy to use and agnostic,' she says, 'It's all about speed and accuracy of data.' Video on the Web represents one of the biggest changes for modern-day missions for the public, Holm says. 'There's a visceral response we get from people. They feel like they're really there.'"

JFK, LAX To Test Millimeter-Wave Scanners 235

Narrative Fallacy writes "The Transportation Security Administration has announced that it's beginning pilot tests of millimeter wave scanning technology at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) that allow TSA personnel to see concealed weapons and other items that may be hidden beneath clothes. TSA Administrator Kip Hawley says that that the potentially revealing body scans (YouTube) would not be stored and that 90% of passengers subject to secondary screening opt for a millimeter wave scan over a pat-down. The agency added that security officers viewing the scans would do so remotely, where they will not be able to recognize passengers but will be able to trigger an alarm if needed. The agency also said that a blurring algorithm is applied to passengers' faces in scanned images as an additional privacy protection."

Group Plans to Bring Martian Sample to Earth 84

sm62704 (mcgrew) writes "New Scientist has a story about IMARS (the International Mars Architecture for Return Samples) planning to bring samples of Martian soil to earth. The robotic mission would be a needed precursor to manned trips to the red planet. Also, international cooperation is necessary since the US has already nixed bankrolling manned Mars missions."

How To Beat Congress's Ban Of Humans On Mars 447

An anonymous reader writes "Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban humans on Mars at NASA: "Provided, That none of the funds under this heading shall be used for any research, development, or demonstration activities related exclusively to the human exploration of Mars." The bill is held up in Congress and the anti-Mars language may be taken out. But in case the Mars ban becomes law, the Space Review has a handy guide on how NASA can beat the ban and continue its research and development without breaking the law."

NASA Spaceship Scouts Out Prime Mars Landing Spots 78

coondoggie writes "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter this week sent back high-resolution images of about 30 proposed landing sites for the Mars Science Laboratory, a mission launching in 2009 to deploy a long-distance rover carrying sophisticated science instruments on Mars. The orbiter's high-resolution camera has taken more than 3,500 huge, sharp images released in black-and-white since it began science operations in November 2006. The images show features as small as a desk. The orbiter has sent back some 26 terabytes of data, equivalent to about 5,000 CD-ROMs."

Enormous Amount of Frozen Water Found on Mars 442

schweini writes " is reporting that the Mars Express probe's MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) experiment has detected and measured an enormous amount of water ice near Mars' south pole, which would be sufficient to submerge the whole planet's surface underneath approximately 10m of water on average."

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