The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Community News Network

March 15, 2013

Mars was habitable, but no sign of inhabitants

By drilling into Mars for the first time and analyzing a martian rock in unprecedented detail, Curiosity team members have shown that eons ago, microorganisms could have lived on Mars. At a spot on the floor of Gale crater-the site the rover has been studying since landing on Mars last August -- there was mud long-wetted by benign waters, a ready supply of the essential elements of life as we know it, and energy enough to power life. The search for the remains of ancient life was not so lucky.

Curiosity found "all the things we were really hoping for in a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at headquarters in Washington. Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena made it a bit more personal: "We have found a habitable environment so benign that if you were on the planet when water was around, you would have been able to drink it."

The news of certain martian habitability came Tuesday at a Curiosity press conference at NASA headquarters. Orbiting spacecraft had imaged lots of places where early in Mars history there was plenty of water-river channels and crater lakes for sure, maybe even an ocean-and some of those once-watery locales even had signs of clay. Rock turns into clay only after long exposure to water of more or less neutral pH. In fact, the Opportunity rover is still roaming across a plain of once water-soaked rock. But it turned out to be rotted by highly acidic brine-not a nice place for life.

The sediment that formed the rock outcrop drilled by Curiosity proved to have been far more hospitable, Curiosity team members reported at the press conference. For starters, geologists say that it could have been mud on the floor of a lake nestled on the crater floor 3 billion years or more ago, about the time fossil life first appeared on Earth. Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy x-ray instrument showed that the rock is 20% to 30% clay. And the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument package detected no chemical signs of high acidity or brines. Concentrated brines can suck the water out of any microbes.

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  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

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