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Life on Mars (?)

3 September 2010

At www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-286&cid=release_2010-286 we have a report that seems to suggest that NASAs Viking Mars Lander mission in 1976 may actually have examined soil that contained carbon based building blocks of life. Organics and perchlorate may have been present in the soil  although it is quite possible the organics had an origin in meteorites – and the ability of perchlorate to break down organic material was not realised at the time.

Also at the NASA Jet Propulsion web site, www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-284&cid=release_2010-284 we have news of the proposed NASA to visit and study the Sun closer than ever before (see also http://wattsupwiththat.com Sept 3rd for the same story – with comments thread). The Solar Probe Plus (due to launch in 2018) is a spacecraft that will plunge directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, four million miles away from its actual surface. The idea is to find out what is going on. So far, five specific investigations will be involved with the basic theme of, why is the Sun’s outer atmosphere much hotter than the Sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind. Physicists have been struggling with these two questions for many years, it adds. In 2009 NASA invited researchers to submit science proposals and five were selected (see post for details).

Over at www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/new-mars-images-gallery/ there is a batch of close-ups of Mars from the NASA HiRISE camera. Further images from space can be obtained via the Microsoft Telescope (look it up – online).

Scientific American reports on a paper on gravity anomalies (see www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=g-whizzes-disagree-over-gravity/ and all is not apparently calm on the gravity front – it is being stirred up. The relentless pursuit of understanding gravity has hit a snag. Two recent experiments are in striking disagreement with earlier findings and the overall uncertainty in the value of the constant may have to increase (the actual paper was in Physical Review Letters).

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