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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: June 2000
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Meteorite salt clue to Mars oceans Jun 24, 2000
Major breakthrough: evidence for liquid water on Mars Jun 22, 2000
Sweet news for astrobiologists Jun 18, 2000
Sensor webs to look for signs of alien life Jun 14, 2000
Salt crystals from the dawn of the solar system Jun 9, 2000
Ohio State's prototype SETI array takes shape Jun 9, 2000
Planet search in globular cluster draws a blank Jun 7, 2000
Samples of Yukon carbonaceous chondrite recovered Jun 1, 2000


Sample of the Nakhla meteorite
Meteorite salt clue to Mars oceans
(Jun. 24, 2000)


Salts found in the interior of the 1.2 billion-year-old Nakhla meteorite, which originated on Mars, have yielded the first evidence for the composition of the oceans once believed to have existed on the Martian surface. Water-soluble ions, thought to have been deposited in cracks by evaporating brine, have been identified by Arizona State University Regents Professor of Chemistry and Geology Carleton Moore, Douglas Sawyer of Scottsdale Community College, ASU graduate student Michael McGehee, and Julie Canepa of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The finding, announced in the July issue of the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, indicates that the Martian oceans had a mineral composition similar in variety and concentration to that of Earth oceans. "We have concluded that we have extracted salts that were originally present in Martian water," said Moore. "The salts we found mimic the salts in Earth's ocean fairly closely."

Martian crater showing seepage channels
Major breakthrough: evidence for liquid water on Mars
(Jun. 22, 2000)


NASA scientists have announced powerful evidence that liquid water exists on Mars, increasingly enormously the prospects for subsurface microscopic life. At a press conference, high-reolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft were shown of steep-sided gullies, sinuous channels, and deltas of debris, suggesting that liquid water may lie just below the Martian surface. The new results to be officially published on June 30 in a paper in Science by Michael Malin and Kenneth Edgett, do not claim that water itself has been detected – only structures that, if found on Earth, would have been formed by water seeping up from underground. "These gullies could be on the order of a million years old, or they could have formed yesterday," says Malin. The images suggest that the water could exist in a porous layer of rock buried a few hundred meters below the Martian surface, kept liquid by the pressure exerted by overlying rock. The formation of the Martian gullies may be linked to their location: more than 90 percent of them occur in the planet's southern hemisphere, almost all of them on the pole side of 30 degrees latitude. "These are cooler areas, areas further away from the sunlight and higher temperatures that you get on slopes that are near to the equator or face the equator," says Edgett. Water on Mars could be widespread. About 200 of the 60,000 images produced by Mars Global Surveyor are said to show evidence of grooves carved by rivers flowing down the sides of craters in fan-shaped patterns. Since liquid water is considered a key ingredient for life, these results provide a massive boost for those who suspect there may be microbes still living on the Red Planet and will dictate the course of Mars exploration in the near future. Placing a lander in a watery region will now be a high priority.

For more see msnbc.com, Spaceref.com, and BBC on-line. For more pictures, go here.

Sagittarius B2 molecular cloud
Sweet news for astrobiologists
(Jun. 18, 2000)


The possibility of widespread life in space just came a step closer with the detection of the sugar molecule glycoaldehyde in a giant gas cloud near the center of our Galaxy. The breakthrough was made by researchers using the 12-meter radio telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona. Said Jan Hollis of the Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the scientists involved: "The discovery of this sugar molecule in a cloud from which new stars are forming means it is increasingly likely that the chemical precursors to life are formed in such clouds long before planets develop around the stars." Glycolaldehyde can combine with other molecules to form the more-complex sugars ribose (a component of DNA and RNA) and glucose.

For more go here.

Sensor webs to look for signs of alien life
(Jun. 14, 2000)


Researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are carrying out field trials of arrays of miniature sensors designed to monitor biological activity on other worlds. The wireless "sensor webs," intended to give NASA a virtual presence for exploration throughout the solar system, are being located in specialized gardens at the Huntingdon Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, where scientists can closely watch the microclimates with their new equipment. A sensor web consists of a number of small pods, each housing transducers that collect data from the environment and communication chips that move the data around the web to primary pods. The information is then transmitted to the Internet or an overhead satellite. The pods being tested monitor local temperature, humidity, soil moisture and light levels. Initial observations will take place in a controlled greenhouse environment, then progress to a nursery, and on to overlapping microclimate areas.

For more, go here.

Halite crystals in Zag meteorite
Salt crystals from the dawn of the solar system
(Jun. 9. 2000)


Radioisotope dating of salt crystals found within the Zag meteorite, which fell in Morocco in 1998, indicates they formed within about two million years of the solar system's birth some 4.57 billion years ago. This would make them the oldest materials known and suggests that the primordial solar nebula clumped together into rocky fragments much more quickly than previously had been assumed. The researchers, from the University of Manchester and the Natural History Museum in London, argue that Zag's parent body grew rapidly into a rocky mass containing water and radioactive elements. The elements' decay produced enough heat to melt any ice within the rock and caused the liquid to evaporate altogether. The salt crystals were formed during the evaporation process, similar to the way salt forms when sea water evaporates on Earth. Until the discovery of salt in the Zag meteorite, and early in another object known as the Monahans meteorite (for which a less precise dating had already been obtained), the oldest materials in the solar system were thought to be chondrules, glassy spheres that make up much of the mass of primitive meteorites. The results are presented in the June 9 issue of Science.

For more details, go here.

Ohio State's prototype SETI array takes shape
(Jun. 9, 2000)


Ohio State University's Argus radio telescope is starting to take shape. An array of eight antennas has been set up on the roof of the university's ElectroScience Lab. Researchers plan to use the set-up to find ways to counteract interference, such as from FM radio and TV stations, that plagues observations made with radio telescopes. Argus will also serve as a testbed for the development of a new kind of radio telescope, of which the Square Kilometer Array is a prime example, that can view the entire radio sky, from horizon to horizon, at once. Such instruments will play a key role in future SETI searches.

For a full story, go here.

Planet search in globular cluster draws a blank
(Jun. 7, 2000)


A search for Jupiter-like planets in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, carried out by an international team of astronomers using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, has so far proved negative. The work involves checking 34,000 stars in the cluster for signs of large transiting planets. On a purely statistical basis, of the 27,000 stars checked, 15-20 would be expected to show evidence of transits by jovian worlds in small orbits. The fact that none have turned up suggests that the process of inward orbital migration, which explains why so many of the jovian extrasolar planets found to date are in such small orbits around their host stars, is for some reason inhibited in the cluster environment.

Sealed sample of the Yukon meteorite
Pristine samples of Yukon carbonaceous chondrite found
(Jun. 1, 2000)


On January 18 this year a meteoroid about 7 meters across with a mass of about 200 metric tons detonated in the skies over the Arctic. Eyewitnesses in Western Canada reported its passage as a brilliant fireball. Map showing site of fall The first fragments of the object, now known to be a carbonaceous chondrite and named the Taglish meteorite, were discovered shortly after the fall by a local resident near the spot where the meteorite hit (see map). Having been notified by NASA scientists (because he lived near the projected fall-zone) what to do if he came across any pieces of the meteorite, he placed the specimens in clean plastic bags and kept them continuously frozen. These are thus the most pristine, uncontaminated examples of a carbonaceous chondrite, containing ancient, organically-rich matter, every to become available for laboratory analysis. The NASA/JSC photo at left shows (from left to right) samples of the Allende meteorite, the new meteorite, and the Murchison meteorite which landed in Australia in 1969.


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