First X-ray view of Martian soil
This graphic shows results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The image reveals the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous (non-crystalline) material. The soil sample, taken from a wind-blown deposit within Gale Crater, where the rover landed, is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii.
Curiosity scooped the soil on Oct. 15, 2012, the 69th sol, or Martian day, of operations. It was delivered to CheMin for X-ray diffraction analysis on October 17, 2012, the 71st sol. By directing an X-ray beam at a sample and recording how X-rays are scattered by the sample at an atomic level, the instrument can definitively identify and quantify minerals on Mars for the first time. Each mineral has a unique pattern of rings, or “fingerprint,” revealing its presence. The colors in the graphic represent the intensity of the X-rays, with red being the most intense.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
At a time when life as we know it was just getting its start on Earth, Martian clay may have harbored a key component for one of life’s molecular building blocks, researchers say.
Boron found in a Martian meteorite suggests the Red Planet may once have had the right chemistry to give rise to RNA, according to a new study.
“In early life RNA is thought to have been the informational precursor to DNA,” study researcher James Stephenson, an evolutionary biologist, said in a statement.
Billions of years ago, RNA may have been the first molecule to program information and pass it on to the next generation. Today, that task is DNA’s domain. RNA, meanwhile, is responsible for carrying genetic information from DNA to proteins. Researchers believe the RNA sugar component, ribose, relies on borates (the oxidized form of boron) to form spontaneously.
“Borates may have been important for the origin of life on Earth because they can stabilize ribose, a crucial component of RNA,” added Stephenson, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI).
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Image: Electron microscope image showing the 700-million-year-old Martian clay veins containing boron. CREDIT: UHNAI
Marks on Martian dunes may be tracks of dry-ice sleds
NASA research indicates hunks of frozen carbon dioxide — dry ice — may glide down some Martian sand dunes on cushions of gas similar to miniature hovercraft, plowing furrows as they go.
Researchers deduced this process could explain one enigmatic class of gullies seen on Martian sand dunes by examining images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and performing experiments on sand dunes in Utah and California.
The hillside grooves on Mars, called linear gullies, show relatively constant width — up to a few yards, or meters, across — with raised banks or levees along the sides. Unlike gullies caused by water flows on Earth and possibly on Mars, they do not have aprons of debris at the downhill end of the gully. Instead, many have pits at the downhill end.
The location of the linear gullies is on dunes that spend the Martian winter covered by carbon-dioxide frost. By comparing before-and-after images from different seasons, researchers determined that the grooves are formed during early spring
Scientists theorize the bright objects are pieces of dry ice that have broken away from points higher on the slope. According to the new hypothesis, the pits could result from the blocks of dry ice completely sublimating away into carbon-dioxide gas after they have stopped traveling.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Europe’s newest deep-space tracking station has received its first interplanetary message: a photo of a half-lit Mars as seen by an orbiting spacecraft.
This is a false-color composite image of Valles Marineris, Planet Mars’ very own Grand Canyon, captured by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) aboard ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. Stretching across the Martian highlands for 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers) in length, 124 miles wide and up to 6.8 miles deep, Valles Marineris is considered one of the largest known canyon systems in the solar system.
News Update Sept. 19, 2012
Media telecon for the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover mission. Associated images are also available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/telecon
(telecon begins at about 9:12 in the video)