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Curiosity Finds A Lake Bed On Mars, Though Drowning Isn’t An Issue

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curiosity mars
NASA’s Curiosity rover has been slowly traveling across Mars since last August, and it has told us more about the Red Planet in that time than we’ve ever known about it before. It confirmed the former existence of water on the surface for one thing, and while that’s the kind of discovery most humans would hang their hat on and retire, Curiosity has a long way to go before it’s finished blowing our minds. A large group of research papers, the second of its kind, were published recently, offering more insight into the world that Mars used to be and its similarities to Earth. Plus, you know, it found a frigging lake.

Okay, so it actually found the spot where a lake once existed, near the lowest part of the Gale Crater which Curiosity has called home. Seen in the mock-up image above, the lake was around 40 or so kilometers long and possibly 15-20 kilometers at its widest spot. The rover captured photos of the rocks as it went down into the lake bed and drilled a couple of holes for sampling. These samples offered scientists proof that the lake indeed existed and that its waters contained a relatively neutral pH and low levels of salinity, which is comparable to waters here on Earth.

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NASA Animation Shows Ancient Mars As A Lush World

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Mars concept

Scientists know that Mars has changed a lot over the years. It used to be warm and wet, and quite possibly harbor at least microbial life, but now it’s cold, dry, and barren. On Monday, NASA launched the Mars MAVEN, which will spend about a year studying Mars’ atmosphere to gather data important in understanding how and why it has changed so drastically. One of the reasons we’re so captivated by the idea of ancient Mars is that it’s a lot easier to imagine humans living there.

And while we can’t turn back time, we do know that atmospheres can change, either via natural processes or, quite possibly, man-induced ones such as terraforming. In order to catalyze Mars dreams, whether they’re past, present, or future, and in order to get people engaged and excited about MAVEN’s mission, NASA created an animation of how scientists believe Mars may have looked about 4 billion years ago when it had a thick atmosphere.

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Mars MAVEN Hopes To Crack The Mystery Of Mars

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MAVENIf the weather cooperates, tomorrow will mark another step in our long journey toward the Red Planet, with the launch of MAVEN. Mars has been an object of fascination for thousands of years. Our good friend Copernicus was the first person to postulate that Mars was a planet like Earth, which was one of the details in the heliocentric Solar System theory he published in 1543. From then on, astronomers have been studying the planet, and in 1965, spacecraft and probes joined the party. Mars has raised a multitude of questions, such as whether water exists there; whether little green aliens or some other life form exists or existed there; whether its moons are captured asteroids; and whether the planet could support human life. Key to that last question is Mars’s atmosphere, which is exactly what MAVEN will study.

Mars has changed drastically over time. It used to be warm and wet, likely supporting microbes that may have begun life on Earth, but now it’s a cold and barren desert. How did that happen? Mars used to have a thick, cloud-producing atmosphere, but over time, the atmosphere has all but vanished. Where did it go? Carl Sagan believes it’s trapped in the soil of Mars and that it might even be possible to release the atmosphere back into the sky, which would be one aspect of terraforming. But we don’t know, which is why we’re sending MAVEN to find out.

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Evidence Of 3.48-Billion-Year-Old Microbial Life Found In Australia

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PilbaraWhy does Australia get all the cool fossils and signs of ancient life? It must be the jolly spirit and amazing accents. Scientists have found signs of ancient microbial life in the Dresser Formation, an outcropping of rocks in Western Australia. The newly discovered traces date back almost 3.5 billion years, back to when Earth was in its infancy. Scientists believe Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but it wasn’t until 100-200 million years later that water-indicating minerals and continents formed. Scientists have long wondered when exactly life started out of that soupy mix, and what it looked like.

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Mars One Infographic Breaks Down The Ambitious Plan To Colonize The Red Planet

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Of all the plans to put human boots on Martian soil in the not-too-distant future, Mars One’s scheme is perhaps the most ambitious…or the most foolhardy. There’s the reality show element, where the training of the volunteer astronauts and their mission will be broadcast for all to see. There’s the amateur aspect — during the application period this past summer, over 200,000 people threw their hats in the ring, from around the world and from all walks of life. But then there’s the craziest element of all — this is a one-way voyage. Mars One’s plan isn’t just to have humans visit the red planet, but to colonize. They’re going there to make Mars their home.

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NASA Prepares Orion For Unmanned Flight Tests

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Orion capsule mock-upDespite the government shutdown, NASA was able to continue working on the Orion, NASA’s next manned spacecraft. Before any humans step aboard the ship sometimes referred to as “Apollo on steroids,” the space agency will continue working on the ship in preparation for its debut test flight in September of next year.

Next fall, a Delta IV heavy rocket will launch the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Exploration Flight Test is designed to assess a number of critical functions, including the capsule’s heat shield, which will be tested as it plunges into Earth’s fiery atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 mph. Orion’s heat shield, like Apollo’s features “Avcoat,” which essentially removes the heat of reentry and stores it in a honeycomb matrix. This latest model will be the largest in the world, roughly 17 feet across. The flight will also test other structural components of the craft, as well as avionics and software. Ideally the results will allow developers to assess risks and ways to mitigate them.