Life on Mars?

A new study by NASA finds that if life has ever existed on Mars, it had to have been underground.

Ever since clay minerals were initially discovered on Mars in 2005, scientists have thought warm and wet conditions which could have possibly supported life may have existed. This is because clay is formed when stone and water interact with one another.

However, researchers analyzing orbiter data from over 350 areas of the planet’s surface have found that the type of clay which is formed underground is abundant on Mars, while the type of clay which is formed above the surface is quite rare. Conditions on the red planet are not especially conducive to water above the planet’s surface.

From Universe Today:

But there’s a problem with Mars’ atmosphere – it is not thick enough now for water to be retained on Mars’ surface, and there is no scientific consensus that it was ever thick enough in the past to have allowed water to remain on the surface.
According to NASA, the study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Nature, backs up a hypothesis that warm water was present only on the planet’s surface for geologically short periods of time.

But don’t worry — this doesn’t rule out the possibility of life on the red planet.

Spirit AWOL

The chances of ever again hearing from the stuck Mars rover, Spirit, is becoming more and more slim now that it has officially failed to respond to calls from Earth, repeatedly.

SpiritHowever, NASA will make one last-ditch attempt to communicate with Spirit. If there continues to be no contact in the next month, the space agency will scale back its listening campaign for Spirit and focus on its healthy companion, Opportunity.

The solar-powered rover got stuck in a sand trap in 2009 during a routine drive. Despite efforts to break free, it remained stuck and could not tilt toward the sun as the Martian winter was ’round the corner. It ultimately went into hibernation, lacking an adequate amount of energy to reach its solar panels.

Engineers had expected Spirit to wake up once there was maximum sunlight where it’s trapped. But that point came and went earlier this month with no response.

Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis said:

“I would be surprised if we re-establish communication — happy but surprised…It’s been so long.”

Ground controllers are attempting to page Spirit over a range of frequencies and at various times during the day in the event its internal clock stopped working and it loses track of time. They also are commanding the rover to turn on its backup radio transmitter in case the central one is dead.

At some point, NASA will have to declare Spirit lost if there’s no word. When that happens, efforts will be reduced to sporadic listening for it through the end of the year, Callas said.

Both Opportunity and Spirit parachuted to polar sides of planet Mars in 2004. They worked together, beyond their original, three-month mission during which they discovered geologic evidence of water on the red planet.

While Spirit’s odometer stayed stuck at 4.8 miles, Opportunity ceased to explore the rim of Santa Maria crater on Mars and is currently rolling toward another crater. So far it has racked up 16.6 miles.

Jim Bell, an astronomer from Arizona State University said the loss of communication came at the worst possible time because Spirit was doing valuable science while it was immobile.

Bell said:

“It’s disappointing if we have, in fact, lost the mission…But it’s the best kind of disappointment you can have. We had a phenomenal adventure with that rover.”

Mars Phoenix is gone

NASA ended the Mars Phoenix mission two days ago, after communication with the Martian lander had been lost for more than a week.

It was the first rover to land on one of Mars’ polar caps. And through its 6 months of hard work, helped to convince scientists that water once flew on Mars.

Will Obama continue to support Bush’s space vision? I assume it’s unlikely, especially in light of the economic crisis.

Food doesn’t grow on ice

Iceland’s economy is crashing in fire! This once-rich country is being affected so far more than any other nation on Earth by the financial crisis.

Recent news coming out of the country warn us that Iceland may not be able to import food when current supplies will run out in several weeks.

Solving the economic meltdown is Iceland’s first priority. Genetically engineering their crops to survive the land’s harsh weather is now clearly becoming a long-term priority as well.

Perhaps this experience will assist humanity when it finally manages to explore and settle in Mars.