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Marsbugs: The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 29, 20 July 2004


Editor/Publisher: David J. Thomas, Ph.D., Science Division, Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas 72503-2317, USA. dthomas@lyon.edu
Marsbugs is published on a weekly to monthly basis as warranted by the number of articles and announcements. Copyright of this compilation exists with the editor, except for specific articles, in which instance copyright exists with the author/authors. Opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the authors, and are not necessarily endorsed by the editor or by Lyon College. E-mail subscriptions are free, and may be obtained by contacting the editor. Information concerning the scope of this newsletter, subscription formats and availability of back-issues is available at http://www.lyon.edu/projects/marsbugs. The editor does not condone "spamming" of subscribers. Readers would appreciate it if others would not send unsolicited e-mail using the Marsbugs mailing lists. Persons who have information that may be of interest to subscribers of Marsbugs should send that information to the editor.


Articles and News
Page 1 INVESTIGATING ENDURANCE CRATER—INTERVIEW WITH STEVE SQUYRES

By Henry Bortman


Page 3 NASA CREW GOES UNDER WATER TO STUDY OUTER SPACE

NASA release 2004-216


Page 4 NASA'S DAVID MORRISON WINS PRESTIGIOUS SAGAN MEDAL FOR 2004

NASA/ARC release 04-65AR


Page 5 NEW MAP REVEALS HIDDEN FEATURES OF ICE-BURIED ANTARCTIC LAKE, MEASUREMENT SHOWS THAT TWO DISTINCT ECOSYSTEMS MAY EXIST

National Science Foundation release


Page 6 KEPLER PRIZE AWARD WINNER 2004 ANNOUNCED

Mars Society release


Page 6 GET IN LINE TO FIND EXTRASOLAR PLANETS

Based on UTA report


Page 7 TERRAFORMING MARS, THE NOBLE EXPERIMENT? INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT ZUBRIN

From Astrobiology Magazine


Page 8 MOON TO PROVIDE A STEPPING STONE TO MARS AND BEYOND

By Brian Berger


Page 8 THE SEARCH FOR MORE EARTHS

From Universe Today


Page 9 LOS ALAMOS COMPUTERS PROBE HOW GIANT PLANETS FORMED

Los Alamos National Laboratory release


Page 9 DOOM AND GLOOM BY 2100

By Julie Wakefield



Page 9 ESA CONSIDERS THE NEXT STEP IN ASSESSING THE RISK FROM NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS

ESA release


Page 10 AMMONIA ON MARS COULD MEAN LIFE

By David Whitehouse


Page 10 NEW WORLDS OF WORDS

From Astrobiology Magazine


Page 11 INFLATABLE SPACE OUTPOSTS: CASH DOWN ON HIGH HOPES

By Leonard David


Page 11 NEW MARTIAN METEORITE FOUND IN ANTARCTICA

NASA release 2004-232


Announcements
Page 12 DOWNSIZING THE ASTROBIOLOGY INDEX

By David J. Thomas


Mission Reports
Page 12 CASSINI UPDATES

NASA/JPL releases


Page 15 NASA'S MARS ROVERS ROLL INTO MARTIAN WINTER

NASA/JPL release 2004-184


Page 16 MARS EXPRESS: NORTHERN RIM OF HELLAS BASIN

ESA release


Page 16 MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR IMAGES

NASA/JPL/MSSS release


Page 17 MARS ODYSSEY THEMIS IMAGES

NASA/JPL/ASU release




INVESTIGATING ENDURANCE CRATER—INTERVIEW WITH STEVE SQUYRES

By Henry Bortman



From Astrobiology Magazine
6 July 2004
For the past three weeks, Opportunity has been exploring a bedrock outcrop known as Karatepe inside Endurance Crater. Karatepe is of interest to scientists because it lies below a rock layer whose characteristics match those of Opportunity Ledge, a smaller outcrop in Eagle Crater. The rover spent the first months of its mission studying that outcrop. Because Karatepe lies lower stratigraphically than Opportunity Ledge, it is older; it represents an earlier era in Mars's history. Opportunity has been slowly working its way down the Karatepe outcrop; it has detected sulfates, salts that formed through a process involving liquid water, as far down as it has explored.
Astrobiology Magazine (AM): Have you found the bottom of the sulfates yet?
Steven Squyres (SS): No.
AM: How far down have you gone?
SS: We are I think about 7 meters (about 23 feet) now past the lip of the crater, as you would draw a ruler across the ground. So how deep down we have gone? To be honest with you, I haven't done the math, but it's 2 or 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) below the lip.
AM: And it's sulfates all the way down?
SS: It's sulfates all the way down. We haven't found anything that isn't sulfates. Not a trace.



Left: Steve Squyres in front of Mars Exploration Rover test unit. Right: a feature called "Karatepe" within the impact crater known as "Endurance." Scientists believe this layered band of rock may be a good place to begin studying Endurance because it is less steep and more approachable than the rest of the crater's rocky outcrops, such as Burns Cliff. Image credits: NASA/JPL/Cornell University.
AM: And just for comparison, Opportunity Ledge, the outcrop in Eagle Crater, was how deep?
SS: Forty centimeters (16 inches).
AM: So 3 meters and counting versus 40 centimeters?
SS: I think we can extrapolate with some confidence over to Burns Cliff and we see that the section at Burns Cliff is at lest 4 meters (13 feet) high. So we have increased our estimate of the amount of sulfates here by an order of magnitude. And how deep it really goes, we don't know. There's a lot more of this stuff than I would have originally guessed.
AM: And water had to be present to form all that sulfate?
SS: Yes. And if we can get to the bottom of it, if we can find really how much sulfate there is, then we can perform a calculation, based on how much water you need to evaporate away to make that much sulfate, you can attach quantitative numbers to it. If we never get to the bottom of it, all we can say is, it must have been at least this much water and it could have been more. So we're trying to find the bottom.
There's one outcrop, named Namib, that has exposed in its lower portion some very dark rock that could be basaltic sandstone. We've tried to isolate it with Mini-TES, but we're so far away from it right now and it's such a narrow layer, it's very, very hard to isolate just the rock. If you look right downhill from the rock, there's this apron of dark sand. And we've looked at that with Mini-TES and that's a perfect basalt spectrum. So that's basaltic sand.
The question is, was that shed from the outcrop, or did it get blown down from above and funnel through cracks in the outcrop and spray out there? It turns out, because of the prevailing wind direction, that it could have gotten blown over the lip of the crater. So we can't tell. One of the things that we want to do when we finish up at Karatepe is try to get closer to that stuff.


Left: a feature called "Burns Cliff", part of the rocky outcrop in Endurance Crater. Right: overhead view of Endurance Crater. Image credits: NASA/JPL.
AM: This darker layer that you see on Namib, does it lie below layers of sulfate that correspond to what you're looking at on Karatepe?
SS: I believe that the darker rocks at Namib are at a stratigraphic level that corresponds to some of the stuff we're on at Karatepe and some of the stuff at the stuff we see at Burns Cliff. So, if it really is something different, if it's really not our old friends the sulfates, but it's some other basaltic sandstone, or what have you, that means that not only do you have vertical variations in the stratigraphy over distances of centimeters and 10s of centimeters (about an inch or two to about a foot), but you've got lateral variations of the stratigraphy over distances on the order of 100 meters (about 300 feet). That would be very interesting, too. That's not uncommon in some kinds of sedimentary rocks. It's not at all uncommon in some kinds of sedimentary rocks to vary laterally over distance of 10s, 100s of meters.
AM: When you presented the results of your initial close-up look at Karatepe, you delineated several layers in the rocks and you were going to look for chemical differences among the layers. Have you found anything there yet?
SS: A few differences. But they're very subtle. It's much more homogeneous than I would have guessed. And that could be a hint that there's been some kind of stirring, some kind of mixing, that has taken place. If you lay down some sediments and they have some kind of compositional stratification, but then some process comes along—water flow, wind—and it just stirs it up and jumbles it—you put the whole thing in a blender and let it settle out again—it's going to have the same composition all the way through. So, it may be an indication that that's the case. We have seen some subtle variations in chemistry, but they're not major, they're not profound by any means.
AM: Not enough to reach conclusions about different processes that might have taken place?
SS: I think it's enough to reach conclusions that there's nothing like the [variations we saw at Eagle Crater]. For example, we saw this variation in the chlorine-to-bromine ratio over distances of 10s of centimeters (a few inches to a foot) back at Eagle Crater. And that's a clear indicator of an evaporative process, because the chlorides and the bromides have different solubilities and they precipitate out [under different conditions]. But if you took that section back at Eagle and put it in a blender and mixed it all up, then you would see a uniform chlorine-to-bromine ratio everywhere. And so this may be a hint that there has been some kind of stirring or mixing process that has gone on here. It could be water; it could be wind.
AM: You also said that you were going to look for evidence of large crossbeds in Endurance Crater.
SS: There is a massive, huge crossbed right at the base of Burns Cliff. And it's the kind of thing that you would expect from wind. So we see these 4 meters (13 feet) of sulfates at Burns Cliff, and we see tilted sediments underneath that. We don't think the sediments were laid down flat and then there was tectonic tilting. We think they were laid down at an angle. And when you see sediments laid down on a big scale—meters across - at an angle of 20 or 30 degrees, that says pretty unambiguously that it's a dune. So we think that the big thick sequence at Burns cliff was preceded by some stuff that was moved around by the wind.
Now, that could have been basaltic sand, but it could have been sulfate sand. And evaporative process is one where the water goes away; it dries out. So you can have an evaporative process that leaves a bed of sulfate sand grains behind, and those can be blown around by the wind. You can have dunes made of sulfate just like you can have dunes made of any other particles of the right size. And then they can cement later. So we think we have clear evidence for an aeolian episode at the base of Burns Cliff. We're looking through the stack of sediments [at Karatepe] that corresponds to Burns Cliff and trying to look for evidence of wind versus water there.
AM: How much farther down can you go at Karatepe?
SS: It's starting to look like we can go as far as we want and be able to climb back out. That remains to be seen. We're on a 25-plus-degree slope and just yesterday we went over a step about half a meter (a foot and a half) high that was at more than a 35-degree angle, and we climbed back up over it just to see if we could. And we did.
These vehicles have remarkable climbing capability. So we're going to proceed down this section at Karatepe until either we get to some topographic point of no return, which frankly may not exist—the vehicle climbing capability may be so good it's just not an issue—or until we run out of intact stratigraphy. If we get deep enough and we find out that we're just into a jumble of rocks that are not in place any more, then there's no point in treating it like stratigraphy, because it isn't. At that point, we have to start looking at other things that we should do, because you're always prioritizing science, and there are some very important high-priority science objectives out on the plains.
AM: You mentioned those before you went down into Endurance Crater and said you might decide to look at them before you entered the crater.


Layers A and E resemble the tilted, wavy lines predicted from sedimentation in water, and B-D layers may be either wind- or water-eroded/deposited Image credit: NASA/JPL/ Cornell University/Dan Maas.
SS: Getting out after we went in looked easy enough that we concluded that by going in we were not taking a significant risk that we'd never be able to get to these [targets out on the plains]. So the idea is [to] do the highest priority stuff at Karatepe, which is work our way down this intact stratigraphy, and then having done that, go on to the next high-priority item, which is some of the odds and ends out on the plains.
There are these little cobbles, these little fist-sized rocks, scattered out on the plains. We don't know what those are. We haven't looked at a single one of them yet. We just went blowing by them. So we think it's time to figure out what's going on with those things.
There's the heat shield. The heat shield is really interesting and important, both from an engineering perspective and from a science perspective. So there's that. We've got this tick list of things we want to do out on the plains. When we finish up at Karatepe, we'll probably go take care of those things.
Once we've done that, then we face a fundamental decision. At that point, the question is, do we go back into the crater, and try to do more work there, or do we say, we've done most of what we can do here, let's go someplace else? And that's a decision that we'll make a month, a month and a half from now.
AM: Are you having solar-energy-budget problems with Opportunity similar to those you're having with Spirit?
SS: It's not as bad, for two reasons. One is that we're not at nearly as extreme a latitude. Gusev is at 15 or 16 degrees south, whereas Meridiani is right close to the equator. So what that means is that it's just more favorable generally. And then, what we've been able to do at Meridiani—what we have not yet done at Gusev—is to find ourselves a slope that will tilt the solar arrays even more towards the sun. When we first looked at driving down into Endurance Crater, we had two possible ingress points. One was Karatepe, the other was Larry's Leap. One of the things that ultimately made us favor Karatepe was that Larry's Leap would have pointed the arrays south; Karatepe pointed them north. We got much more energy that way. And so right now Opportunity is definitely doing better energy-wise than Spirit is because of having that advantage.
AM: How long do you think this mission can go?
SS: I think it is entirely possible that we will make it through the martian winter with at least one of these vehicles. The depths of martian winter come in late September of this year. Then it starts to get better again. And if we can survive the deepest part of the winter in September, and the situation starts to improve, conceivably we could go months beyond that. So it's not inconceivable that we could go into 2005.
Read the original article at http://www.astrobio.net/news/article1063.html.
NASA CREW GOES UNDER WATER TO STUDY OUTER SPACE

NASA release 2004-216


7 July 2004
Four NASA crewmembers will look to the deep seas this month to help prepare for journeys into deep space. They'll use an undersea laboratory to study what it may be like to live and work in other extreme environments, such as the Moon and Mars. Astronaut John Herrington will lead the crew in an undersea mission July 12-21 that will field-test equipment and technology for the International Space Station as part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project. Astronauts Doug Wheelock and Nick Patrick will join Herrington, a veteran space flier and spacewalker, and biomedical engineer Tara Ruttley in the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory off the coast of Key Largo, FL, for the mission.


The NEEMO 6 crew, from left, are Commander John Herrington and Mission Specialists Tara Ruttley, Nicholas Patrick, and Doug Wheelock.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) systems engineers Craig Cooper and Joe March will work side by side with the NASA crew in Aquarius. The facility is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), operated by UNCW and funded by NOAA's Undersea Research Program. The NEEMO missions are a cooperative project of NASA, NOAA and UNCW. Aquarius is similar in size to the International Space Station's (ISS) living quarters.
This will be the sixth NASA mission to Aquarius to practice long-duration life in space. It will study life in extreme environments in support of future human exploration beyond Earth orbit, evaluate equipment that may be used on the ISS and perform scientific research on the human body and coral reefs. The crew also will build undersea structures to simulate ISS assembly.
As the current NEEMO "aquanauts" conduct their mission, a former Aquarius aquanaut is living on the Space Station. Mike Fincke arrived April 21 for a six-month tour as Expedition 9 flight engineer and NASA science officer. Schedulers for both crews are looking for a ship-to-ship conversation opportunity.
"NEEMO is not a simulation. It's a real mission with real risks in a hazardous environment. If we're going to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars, we're going to need economical ways to get our feet wet here on Earth," said NEEMO 6 Mission Director Marc Reagan. "With NEEMO we have an analog of such high fidelity that we can field-test equipment and procedures before we try them in space. On this mission we'll focus on exercise equipment, anti-microbial technology and wireless tracking technology that are likely to be found on the Space Station in the near future," he added.
Aquarius is the world's only underwater habitat and research laboratory. The 45-foot long, 13-foot diameter complex is three miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It rests about 62 feet beneath the surface. A buoy on the surface that provides power, life support and communications capabilities supports Aquarius. A shore-based mission control for the Aquarius laboratory in Florida and a control room at NASA's Johnson Space Center, known as the Exploration Planning Operations Center, will monitor the crew's activities.


Equipped with SCUBA gear, the NEEMO-6 crewmembers leave the Aquarius habitat to begin a two-hour underwater extravehicular activity (EVA). Their destination was a site about 900 feet from the Aquarius habitat to survey the area for future coral science operations. Astronaut/aquanaut John Herrington, commander, is leading the crew in the undersea mission July 12-21 that is field-testing equipment and technology for the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project. From the left are astronauts Herrington and Doug Wheelock, biomedical engineer Tara Ruttley and astronaut Nick Patrick.
For additional information about the NEEMO project on the Internet, visit http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/support/training/neemo/neemo6.html. In addition to research and construction, the NEEMO crew will participate in six educational videoconferences and one webcast/web chat. Students across the U.S. will have the opportunity to participate in these events. More information is available at http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/5-8/features/F_NEEMO_6_Webcast.html. Video to accompany this release will air on NASA Television as part of the NASA Video File. NASA TV is available on AMC-9, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz.
The crew's schedule includes opportunities for media interviews during the undersea mission. Reporters should contact the Johnson Space Center newsroom at 281-483-5111.
Contacts:

Allard Beutel

NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC

Phone: 202-358-4769


Kelly Humphries

NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

Phone: 281-483-5111
Fred Gorell

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD

Phone: 301-713-9444 x181)
An additional article on this subject is available at http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0407/11neemo/.
NASA'S DAVID MORRISON WINS PRESTIGIOUS SAGAN MEDAL FOR 2004

NASA/ARC release 04-65AR


7 July 2004
The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) has awarded its 2004 Carl

Sagan Medal to NASA scientist Dr. David Morrison. The Sagan Medal is awarded annually by the DPS, the world's largest organization of planetary scientists, to an active member researcher for long-term excellence in communicating planetary science to the public. Morrison will receive the award at the organization's annual meeting to be held November 8-12, 2004, in Louisville, KY.


"We are honored by David's award," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "A doctoral student of Carl Sagan, David is that rare breed of scientist who combines research depth with the ability to popularize technical topics to non-scientists."


2004 Sagan Medal winner, Dr. David Morrison.
Morrison is the senior scientist for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), an international research consortium with central offices located at NASA Ames in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. Throughout his distinguished science career—as an expert on solar system small bodies and an as investigator for numerous spacecraft missions, including Voyager and Galileo, Morrison has enthusiastically dedicated himself to sharing the excitement of planetary exploration with the public. For two decades, he generated a highly praised, widely used series of educational slide and information sets, featuring the best planetary images available. He also authored popular books about the Voyager flybys of Jupiter and Saturn.
Morrison has given hundreds of public lectures and appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts, explaining planetary science in everyday language. As president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in the early 1980s, Morrison devoted himself to encouraging and supporting its educational work. He also chaired the ASP Long-Term Aims Committee, which conceived goals and activities for public outreach that are still followed today.
Morrison is a co-author of one of the first textbooks in planetary science, The Planetary System. He and several co-authors also are successors in the continuation and revision of the original George Abell series of astronomy textbooks. These books still reach students worldwide. For many college students, these texts have provided the basis for their only college science course.
In addition, Morrison has been instrumental in illuminating the scientific basis for potential hazards due to asteroid and comet impacts, through refereed papers and popular articles and books. He is responsible for creating NEO News, an e-mail newsletter with about 800 subscribers. He created and implemented the impact hazard web site, http://impact.arc.nasa.gov/. In his role as NAI senior scientist, Morrison coordinates educational activities for the institute, paying special attention to the content of undergraduate astrobiology courses in this emerging, interdisciplinary field.
The DPS, a division of the American Astronomical Society based in Washington, is the largest organization of professional planetary scientists in the world. More information about the annual DPS meeting and this year's prizewinners, including a photographic image of Morrison, can be found on the DPS Web site at http://www.aas.org/~dps/dps.html. For more information about the NAI, please visit http://nai.arc.nasa.gov.
Contacts:

Kathleen Burton

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650-604-1731 or 604-9000

E-mail: Kathleen.M.Burton@nasa.gov
Dr. Ellis D. Miner

Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), Washington, DC

Phone: 818-354-4450

E-mail: ellis.d.miner@jpl.nasa.gov



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