Impact glass discovered on Mars: how it might help in search for evidence of past life

Image from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing deposits of impact glass (green) in Alga Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona
Image from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing deposits of impact glass (green) in Alga Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona

For the first time, impact glass has been detected on the surface of Mars; the discovery not only provides new information about the formation of impact craters, but might even offer clues to the possibility of ancient life on the Red Planet. The discovery was made by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.

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Image Gallery: new Pluto images from New Horizons

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Composite of three new Pluto images. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Paul Scott Anderson

These are the newest images of Pluto from New Horizons, taken from May 8-12, 2015, at a distance of just under 77 million kilometres (50 million miles). More detail on the surface can be seen now, with a lot of albedo variations. Not much longer now until closest approach on July 14, when the best images then will have 5,000 times the resolution of these ones!

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NASA begins testing of InSight Mars lander for launch in 2016

Testing of the solar arrays on the InSight lander at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Testing of the solar arrays on the InSight lander at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

While Curiosity and Opportunity are still busy roving Mars, NASA has begun testing its next lander, InSight, scheduled to launch in March 2016. It will be the first mission devoted to studying the interior of the Red Planet, providing a unique and necessary addition to the Mars exploration program overall.

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To Europa! NASA announces science instruments for new mission to ocean moon

The cracked icy surface of Europa. Could the ocean below support life? The Europa Clipper mission will try to answer that question. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk
The cracked icy surface of Europa. Could the ocean below support life? The Europa Clipper mission will try to answer that question. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

An exciting new development in planetary exploration was announced yesterday: NASA has chosen the science instruments which will be included in a new mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. For those advocating and supporting such a mission, this is welcome news indeed. Europa’s subsurface ocean has become a prime target in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System, and this mission may finally help to answer long-standing questions about this fascinating moon.

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Image Gallery: odd ‘shavings’ in Spirit of St. Louis crater on Mars

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Odd “shavings” on rock after brushing (left side of image). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An interesting image from the Opportunity rover, sol 4023. There are a lot of little shavings-like bits on this brushed rock inside the Spirit of St. Louis crater. Are they just a peculiar result of the brushing of dust by the rover instrument or something else? Are they bits of the rock itself or other embedded material? Similar ones were seen once before, but they seem to be uncommon, even after most brushings.

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‘Ocean Worlds Exploration Program': new budget proposal calls for missions to Europa, Enceladus and Titan

Artist’s conception of Europa’s interior, with water rising through cracks in the surface, depositing salts similar to sea salt on Earth. The ocean below may be a habitable environment for some kind of life. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of Europa’s interior, with water rising through cracks in the surface, depositing salts similar to sea salt on Earth. The ocean below may be a habitable environment for some kind of life. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The exploration of the outer Solar System has revealed a plethora of amazing worlds, the likes of which were little known or even unheard of just a decade ago. Among the most remarkable and tantalizing discoveries are the “ocean moons” such as Europa and Enceladus, which have oceans or seas of liquid water beneath their icy surfaces. Other moons like Titan, Ganymede, and Callisto may also have them, and even some asteroids. Titan also has seas and lakes of liquid methane/ethane on its surface. With all that water, these small worlds have become a primary focus in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System. Now, a new NASA budget proposal wants to take that a step further and fund new missions to these watery moons.

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Researchers develop new technique to search for chemical evidence of life on Mars

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Despite decades of searching, definitive evidence for life on Mars, past or present, has still remained elusive and controversial. Confirmation of such a finding would need to be thoroughly tested and documented, and now researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a new technique that they hope would help to do just that, should that evidence be found by future rovers or landers.

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Flying (mostly) friendly skies: Northrop Grumman developing airplane to cruise atmosphere of Venus

Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept
Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept

With so much attention now on the rovers and spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Ceres, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and, soon, Pluto, it may seem like Earth’s closest planetary neighbor Venus has been forgotten again. But no, Venus is still very much on the minds of researchers who are busy developing a concept airplane which could cruise for years in the hellish planet’s atmosphere.

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