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  • richardmitnick 4:03 pm on October 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago, Mars Exploration, Mars Study Yields Clues to Possible Cradle of Life, , The Eridania basin of southern Mars   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Mars Study Yields Clues to Possible Cradle of Life” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    October 6, 2017
    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Jenny Knotts
    Johnson Space Center, Houston

    Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1077 / 202-358-1726

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    The Eridania basin of southern Mars is believed to have held a sea about 3.7 billion years ago, with seafloor deposits likely resulting from underwater hydrothermal activity. Image credit: NASA

    This diagram illustrates an interpretation for the origin of some deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago. Image credit: NASA


    Fast Facts:

    › A long-gone sea on southern Mars once held nearly 10 times as much water as all of North America’s Great Lakes combined, a recent report estimates.

    › The report interprets data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as evidence that hot springs pumped mineral-laden water directly into this ancient Martian sea.

    › Undersea hydrothermal conditions on Mars may have existed about 3.7 billion years ago; undersea hydrothermal conditions on Earth at about that same time are a strong candidate for where and when life on Earth began.

    › The report adds an important type of wet ancient Martian environment to the diversity indicated by previous findings of evidence for rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, groundwater and hot springs.

    The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.

    A recent international report examines observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet’s crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.

    “Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth,” said Paul Niles of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. “Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time — when early life was evolving here.”

    Mars today has neither standing water nor volcanic activity. Researchers estimate an age of about 3.7 billion years for the Martian deposits attributed to seafloor hydrothermal activity. Undersea hydrothermal conditions on Earth at about that same time are a strong candidate for where and when life on Earth began. Earth still has such conditions, where many forms of life thrive on chemical energy extracted from rocks, without sunlight. But due to Earth’s active crust, our planet holds little direct geological evidence preserved from the time when life began. The possibility of undersea hydrothermal activity inside icy moons such as Europa at Jupiter and Enceladus at Saturn feeds interest in them as destinations in the quest to find extraterrestrial life.

    Observations by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) provided the data for identifying minerals in massive deposits within Mars’ Eridania basin, which lies in a region with some of the Red Planet’s most ancient exposed crust.

    “This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment,” Niles said. “It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds — life that doesn’t need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat and water.”

    Niles co-authored the recent report in the journal Nature Communications with lead author Joseph Michalski, who began the analysis while at the Natural History Museum, London, andco-authors at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and the Natural History Museum.

    The researchers estimate the ancient Eridania sea held about 50,000 cubic miles (210,000 cubic kilometers) of water. That is as much as all other lakes and seas on ancient Mars combined and about nine times more than the combined volume of all of North America’s Great Lakes. The mix of minerals identified from the spectrometer data, including serpentine, talc and carbonate, and the shape and texture of the thick bedrock layers, led to identifying possible seafloor hydrothermal deposits. The area has lava flows that post-date the disappearance of the sea. The researchers cite these as evidence that this is an area of Mars’ crust with a volcanic susceptibility that also could have produced effects earlier, when the sea was present.

    The new work adds to the diversity of types of wet environments for which evidence exists on Mars, including rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, hot springs, groundwater, and volcanic eruptions beneath ice.

    “Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars,” the report states. It also says, “Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth.” That is because the earliest evidence of life on Earth comes from seafloor deposits of similar origin and age, but the geological record of those early-Earth environments is poorly preserved.

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, built and operates CRISM, one of six instruments with which MRO has been examining Mars since 2006. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver built the orbiter and supports its operations. For more about MRO, visit:


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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 12:37 pm on October 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Magma plumes on Mars, Mars Exploration, Mars has the largest and oldest volcanoes known in the solar system, Nakhilite meteorite, , Plumes of molten rock - Hawaii, Without plate tectonics Martian volcanoes grew huge   

    From COSMOS: “Meteorite clues to giant volcanoes on Mars” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    05 October 2017
    Andrew Masterson

    Without plate tectonics, Martian volcanoes grew huge. New research explains why.

    An image of a piece of nakhilite meteorite about 1 mm across, taken in cross-polarised light. Different colours represent different volcanic minerals. Benjamin Cohen.

    Mars endured a much more volcanically active past than previously thought, but its volcanoes grew at a rate 1000 times slower than those on Earth, new research shows.

    The fresh estimate for volcanic activity, published in the journal Nature Communications, is derived from an analysis of the composition of a group of meteorites known as the nakhilites, which are all thought to be the products of a single, long-lived Martian volcano.

    Most volcanoes on Earth arise because of the pressures exerted by tectonics, with hotspots arising where the plates comprising the planet’s crust either collide or diverge.

    A few, however, are caused by a different process, wherein a magma “plume” is pushed directly up from deep in the Earth’s mantle. This is especially the case with the Hawaiian island chain, which were (and are still being) created by a plume of molten rock.

    The Hawaiian chain, however, is also influenced by plate tectonics. Research shows that as a volcano forms, the Pacific plate moves it inexorably away from the plume that is pushing it from below. Volcanoes in the Hawaiian chain grow older as they move away from the source plume.

    In geologic time, too, the entire Hawaiian chain is remarkably young. A study published last year estimated the initial plate movement that uncovered the plume occurred only around three million years ago.

    Mars, in stark contrast, does not have plate tectonic movements that influence the landscape. Instead the planet has a “stagnant lid”, an outer crust that never changes position.

    It does, however, have magma plumes. This means that when such a plume ruptures the crust and erupts, depositing lava and other ejecta and thus catalysing the creation of a volcanic mountain, the rupture and the above-ground result will always stay in the same relationship to each other – for billions of years.

    As a result, Mars has the largest and oldest volcanoes known in the solar system. Just how old and just how fast these grew has until now remained poorly understood.

    To try to shed light on the matter, a team led by Benjamin Cohen of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in the UK, turned to meteorites.

    The nakhilites are a group of 18 meteorites that over a period of time landed on Earth after a single large object slammed into a Martian volcano about 10.7 million years ago.

    The meteorites comprise mostly basalt, interlaced with other minerals including clinopyroxene, olivine, feldspar and volcanic glass. They are all similar to each other but, crucially, not identical.

    These small differences allowed Cohen and his colleagues to estimate when each was created, using a combination of laser step-heating and argon-based dating.

    “The data show that the nakhilites were not all formed during a single cooling event, but instead reveal a protracted volcanic eruption history on Mars,” the scientists report.

    Using the results, the team found that the volcano was the result of four discrete eruptions over a period of 93 million years. The volcano itself, they calculated, grew at a rate of only 400 to 700 millimetres every million years – orders of magnitude slower than plume-driven volcano growth on Earth.

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  • richardmitnick 6:19 am on September 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Mars Exploration, Meteorite tells us that Mars had a dense atmosphere 4 billion years ago,   

    From Tokyo Tech: “Meteorite tells us that Mars had a dense atmosphere 4 billion years ago” 


    Tokyo Institute of Technology

    September 29, 2017
    Further Information

    Hiroyuki Kurokawa
    Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI),
    Tokyo Institute of Technology
    Tel +81-3-5734-2854

    PR Office
    Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI),
    Tokyo Institute of Technology
    Tel +81-3-5734-3163

    Researchers have performed numerical simulations and compared the results to the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere trapped in an old meteorite. The researchers have concluded that, 4 billion years ago, Mars had a dense atmosphere whose surface pressure was higher than 0.5 bar (50000 Pa). This suggests that the processes to remove the Martian atmosphere, for example stripping by the solar wind, are responsible for transforming Mars into the cold desert world it is today.

    Figure 1. The figure shows how surface air pressure changed throughout Martian history. A bar at 4 billion years ago denotes a lower limit shown by this study. Constraints suggested by other studies are also shown by arrows.


    Exploration missions have suggested that Mars once had a warm climate, which sustained oceans on its surface. To keep Mars warm requires a dense atmosphere with a sufficient greenhouse effect, while the present-day Mars has a thin atmosphere whose surface pressure is only 0.006 bar, resulting in the cold climate it has today. It has been a big mystery as to when and how Mars lost its dense atmosphere.


    An old meteorite has been known to contain the ancient Martian atmosphere. The researchers simulated how the composition of the Martian atmosphere changed throughout history under various conditions. By comparing the results to the isotopic composition of the trapped gas, the researchers revealed how dense the Martian atmosphere was at the time when the gas became trapped in the meteorite.

    Overview of Research Achievement

    The research team concluded that Mars had a dense atmosphere 4 billion years ago. The surface air pressure at the time was at least 0.5 bar and could have been much higher. Because Mars had its magnetic field about 4 billion years ago and lost it, the result suggests that stripping by the solar wind is responsible for transforming Mars from a warm wet world into a cold desert world.

    Future Development

    NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is orbiting Mars to explore the processes that removed the Martian atmosphere.


    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to further observe the removal processes by the Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft.
    These missions will reveal how the dense atmosphere on ancient Mars predicted in this study was removed over time.

    Authors :
    Hiroyuki Kurokawa1, Kosuke Kurosawa2, Tomohiro Usui1, 3
    Title :
    A lower limit of atmospheric pressure on early Mars inferred from nitrogen and argon isotopic compositions
    Journal :
    DOI : 10.1016/j.icarus.2017.08.020

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    Tokyo Tech is the top national university for science and technology in Japan with a history spanning more than 130 years. Of the approximately 10,000 students at the Ookayama, Suzukakedai, and Tamachi Campuses, half are in their bachelor’s degree program while the other half are in master’s and doctoral degree programs. International students number 1,200. There are 1,200 faculty and 600 administrative and technical staff members.

    In the 21st century, the role of science and technology universities has become increasingly important. Tokyo Tech continues to develop global leaders in the fields of science and technology, and contributes to the betterment of society through its research, focusing on solutions to global issues. The Institute’s long-term goal is to become the world’s leading science and technology university.

  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on August 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Mars Exploration, ,   

    From JPL: “NASA’s Next Mars Mission to Investigate Interior of Red Planet” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    August 28, 2017

    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Danielle Hauf
    Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Denver

    Shannon Ridinger
    Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    NASA has set a new launch opportunity, beginning May 5, 2018, for the InSight mission to Mars. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. This artist’s concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander’s robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground.

    This view looks upward toward the InSight Mars lander suspended upside down. It shows the top of the lander’s science deck with the mission’s two main science instruments — the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) — plus the robotic arm and other subsystems installed. The photo was taken Aug. 9, 2017, in a Lockheed Martin clean room facility in Littleton, Colorado.

    Preparation of NASA’s next spacecraft to Mars, InSight, has ramped up this summer, on course for launch next May from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California — the first interplanetary launch in history from America’s West Coast.

    Lockheed Martin Space Systems is assembling and testing the InSight spacecraft in a clean room facility near Denver. “Our team resumed system-level integration and test activities last month,” said Stu Spath, spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin. “The lander is completed and instruments have been integrated onto it so that we can complete the final spacecraft testing including acoustics, instrument deployments and thermal balance tests.”

    InSight is the first mission to focus on examining the deep interior of Mars. Information gathered will boost understanding of how all rocky planets formed, including Earth.

    “Because the interior of Mars has churned much less than Earth’s in the past three billion years, Mars likely preserves evidence about rocky planets’ infancy better than our home planet does,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. He leads the international team that proposed the mission and won NASA selection in a competition with 27 other proposals for missions throughout the solar system. The long form of InSight’s name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

    Whichever day the mission launches during a five-week period beginning May 5, 2018, navigators have charted the flight to reach Mars the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2018.

    The mission will place a stationary lander near Mars’ equator. With two solar panels that unfold like paper fans, the lander spans about 20 feet (6 meters). Within weeks after the landing — always a dramatic challenge on Mars — InSight will use a robotic arm to place its two main instruments directly and permanently onto the Martian ground, an unprecedented set of activities on Mars. These two instruments are:

    — A seismometer, supplied by France’s space agency, CNES, with collaboration from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany. Shielded from wind and with sensitivity fine enough to detect ground movements half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, it will record seismic waves from “marsquakes” or meteor impacts that reveal information about the planet’s interior layers.

    — A heat probe, designed to hammer itself to a depth of 10 feet (3 meters) or more and measure the amount of energy coming from the planet’s deep interior. The heat probe is supplied by the German Aerospace Center, DLR, with the self-hammering mechanism from Poland.

    A third experiment will use radio transmissions between Mars and Earth to assess perturbations in how Mars rotates on its axis, which are clues about the size of the planet’s core.

    The spacecraft’s science payload also is on track for next year’s launch. The mission’s launch was originally planned for March 2016, but was called off due to a leak into a metal container designed to maintain near-vacuum conditions around the seismometer’s main sensors. A redesigned vacuum vessel for the instrument has been built and tested, then combined with the instrument’s other components and tested again. The full seismometer instrument was delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Colorado in July and has been installed on the lander.

    “We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and we are eagerly preparing for launch,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, of JPL.

    The best planetary geometry for launches to Mars occurs during opportunities about 26 months apart and lasting only a few weeks.

    Together with two active NASA Mars rovers, three NASA Mars orbiters and a Mars rover being built for launch in 2020, InSight is part of a legacy of robotic exploration that is helping to lay the groundwork for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

    More information about InSight is online at:



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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 12:19 pm on June 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Hot rocks not warm atmosphere led to relatively recent water-carved valleys on Mars, Lyot impact crater, Mars Exploration   

    From Brown: “Hot rocks, not warm atmosphere, led to relatively recent water-carved valleys on Mars” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    June 13, 2017
    Kevin Stacey

    Valley Networks.Lyot Crater, rendered here with elevations exaggerated, is home to relatively recent water-carved valleys (white streaks). New research suggests the water came from melting snow and ice present at the time of the crater-forming impact.
    David Weiss/NASA/Brown University

    New research shows that water from melted snow and ice likely carved valley networks around Lyot crater on Mars.

    Present-day Mars is a frozen desert, colder and more arid than Antarctica, and scientists are fairly sure it’s been that way for at least the last 3 billion years. That makes a vast network of water-carved valleys on the flanks of an impact crater called Lyot — which formed somewhere between 1.5 billion and 3 billion years ago — something of a Martian mystery. It’s not clear where the water came from.

    Now, a team of researchers from Brown University has offered what they see as the most plausible explanation for how the Lyot valley networks formed. They conclude that at the time of the Lyot impact, the region was likely covered by a thick layer of ice. The giant impact that formed the 225-kilometer crater blasted tons of blazing hot rock onto that ice layer, melting enough of it to carve the shallow valleys.

    “Based on the likely location of ice deposits during this period of Mars’ history, and the amount of meltwater that could have been produced by Lyot ejecta landing on an ice sheet, we think this is the most plausible scenario for the formation of these valleys” said David Weiss, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Brown and the study’s lead author.

    Weiss co-authored the study, which is published in Geophysical Research Letters, with advisor and Brown planetary science professor Jim Head, along with fellow graduate students Ashley Palumbo and James Cassanelli.

    There’s plenty of evidence that water once flowed on the Martian surface. Water-carved valley networks similar to those at Lyot have been found in several locations. There’s also evidence for ancient lake systems, like those at Gale Crater where NASA’s Curiosity rover is currently exploring and at Jezero Crater where the next rover may land.

    Most of these water-related surface features, however, date back to very early in Mars’ history — the epochs known as the Noachian and the Hesperian, which ended about 4 billion and 3 billion years ago respectively. From about 3 billion years ago to the present, Mars has been in a bone-dry period called the Amazonian.

    The valley networks at Lyot therefore are a rare example of more recent surface water activity. Scientists have dated the crater itself to the Amazonian, and the valley networks appear to have been formed around the same time or shortly after the impact. So the question is: Where did all that water come from during the arid Amazonian?

    Scientists have posited a number of potential explanations, and the Brown researchers set out to investigate several of the major ones.

    One of those potential explanations, for example, is that there might have been a vast reservoir of groundwater when the Lyot impact occurred. That water, liberated by impact, could have flowed onto the surface along the periphery of the crater and carved the valleys. But based on geological evidence, the researchers say, that scenario is unlikely

    “If these were formed by deep groundwater discharge, that water would have also flowed into the crater itself,” Weiss said. “We don’t see any evidence that there was water present inside the crater.”

    The researchers also looked at the possibility of transient atmospheric effects following the Lyot impact. A collision of this size would have vaporized tons of rock, sending a plume of vapor into the air. As that hot plume interacted with the cold atmosphere, it could have produced rainfall that some scientists think might have carved the valleys.

    But that, too, appears unlikely, the researchers concluded. Any rain related to the plume would have fallen after the rocky impact ejecta had been deposited outside the crater. So if rainwater carved the valleys, one would expect to see valleys cutting through the ejecta layer. But there are almost no valleys directly on the Lyot ejecta. Rather, Palumbo said, “The vast majority of the valleys seem to emerge from beneath the ejecta on its outer periphery, which casts serious doubt on the rainwater scenario.”

    That left the researchers with the idea that meltwater, produced when hot ejecta interacted with an icy surface, carved the Lyot valleys.

    According to models of Mars’ climate history, ice now trapped mainly at the planet’s poles often migrated into the mid-latitude regions where Lyot is located. And there’s evidence to suggest that an ice sheet was indeed present in the region at the time of the impact.

    Some of that evidence comes from the scarcity of secondary craters at Lyot. Secondary craters form when big chunks of rock blasted into the air during a large impact fall back to the surface, leaving a smattering of small craters surrounding the main crater. At Lyot, there far fewer secondary craters than one would expect, the researchers say. The reason for that, they suggest, is that instead of landing directly on the surface, ejecta from Lyot landed on a thick layer of ice, which prevented it from gouging the surface beneath the ice. Based on the terrain on the northern side of Lyot, the team estimates that the ice layer could have been anywhere from 20 to 300 meters thick.

    The Lyot impact would have spat tons of rock onto that ice layer, some of which would have been heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Using a thermal model of that process, the researchers estimate that the interaction between those hot rocks and a surface ice sheet would have produced thousands of cubic kilometers of meltwater — easily enough to carve the valley seen at Lyot.

    “What this shows is a way to get large amounts of liquid water on Mars without the need for a warming of the atmosphere and any liquid groundwater,” Cassanelli said. “So we think this is a good explanation for how you get these channels forming in the Amazonian.”

    And it’s possible, Head says, that this same mechanism could have been important before the Amazonian. Some scientists think that even in the early Noachian and Hesperian epochs, Mars was still quite cold and icy. If that was the case, then this meltwater mechanism might have also been responsible for at least some of the more ancient valley networks on Mars.

    “It’s certainly a possibility worth investigating,” Head said.

    See the full article here .

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    Welcome to Brown

    Brown U Robinson Hall
    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

  • richardmitnick 10:43 am on June 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Mars Exploration, Mars Rover Concept Vehicle (MRCV),   

    From Universe Today: “We’d Like One of These For Here on Earth. NASA’s New Mobile Mars Laboratory Concept Rover” 


    Universe Today

    13 June , 2017
    Matt Williams

    The Mars Rover Concept Vehicle, unveiled on June 5th to kick off NASA’s Summer of Mars. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

    When it comes time to explore Mars with crewed missions, a number of challenges will present themselves. Aside from the dangers that come with long-duration missions to distant bodies, there’s also the issue of the hazards presented by the Martian landscape. It’s desiccated ans cold, it gets exposed to a lot of radiation, and its pretty rugged to boot! So astronauts will need a way to get around and conduct research in comfort and safety.

    To meet this challenge, NASA created a vehicle that looks like it could give the Batmobile a run for its money! It’s known as the Mars Rover Concept Vehicle (MRCV) a working vehicle/mobile laboratory that was unveiled last week (June 5th, 2017) to kick off NASA’s Summer of Mars. Those who attended the event at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex were fortunate to be the first to see the new Mars explorer vehicle up close.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:46 pm on June 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars), , Janice Bishop, Janice Bishop Explores Mawrth Vallis and Salt Ponds in Australia, Mars Exploration, Mawrth Vallis, ,   

    From SETI Institute: “Janice Bishop Explores Mawrth Vallis and Salt Ponds in Australia” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    June 06, 2017
    Janice Bishop

    Mawrth Vallis (Mawrth means Mars in Welsh) is a valley on the planet Mars, with a deep channel formed by water in Mars’ ancient past. In 2016, SETI Institute chemist and planetary scientist Janice Bishop made an interesting discovery about the composition of rock layers that form the valley using data collected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

    CRISM is an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which was launched in 2005 and remains in orbit around Mars searching for evidence of past water.

    CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) searches for the residue of minerals that form in the presence of water, perhaps in association with ancient hot springs, thermal vents, lakes, or ponds that may have existed on the surface of Mars.

    Even though some landforms provide evidence that liquid water may have flowed on the surface of Mars long ago, evidence of mineral deposits created by long-term interaction between water and rock has been limited.

    CRISM’s visible and infrared spectrometers track regions on the dusty martian surface and map them at scales as small as 18 meters (60 feet) across, from an altitude of 300 kilometers (186 miles). CRISM reads the hundreds of “colors” in reflected sunlight to detect patterns that indicate certain minerals on the surface, including signature traces of past water.
    The principal investigator (lead scientist) for CRISM is Scott Murchie from the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University.

    From an altitude of 186 miles above the surface of Mars, CRISM collects visible and infrared signatures of certain minerals, including those that hold traces of past water. Using this orbital spectral data from CRISM, Janice identified a unique material sandwiched between two clay-bearing strata. This new phase appears to be mixtures of sulfates and acid-altered clays. One of the puzzling parts of this investigation is that two kinds of sulfates have been identified here: an acidic Fe-sulfate called jarosite and a neutral Ca-sulfate called gypsum. These two sulfates are not normally found together because of their different pH requirements.

    CRISM is an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which was launched in 2005 and remains in orbit around Mars searching for evidence of past water. From an altitude of 186 miles above the surface of Mars, CRISM collects visible and infrared signatures of certain minerals, including those that hold traces of past water. Using this orbital spectral data from CRISM, Janice identified a unique material sandwiched between two clay-bearing strata. This new phase appears to be mixtures of sulfates and acid-altered clays. One of the puzzling parts of this investigation is that two kinds of sulfates have been identified here: an acidic Fe-sulfate called jarosite and a neutral Ca-sulfate called gypsum. These two sulfates are not normally found together because of their different pH requirements.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter credit: NASA

    Here on Earth, other scientists have found combinations of jarosite, gypsum, as well as halite and clays in the highly saline ponds found in the desert of Western Australia. Apparently, the high salt (S, Cl) level enables formation of these sulfates in this kind of environment. Janice and SETI Institute colleague Lukas Gruendler recently visited these salt ponds in the Archean Yilgarn Craton region of Western Australia looking for mixtures of clays and sulfates similar to those Janice discovered in some of the clay-rich regions of Mars.

    Janice and Lukas hold up the expedition flag.

    Janice and Lukas decided to study samples from three of these sites in order to characterize the mineralogy of the surface crust and the material down a few centimeters in the hopes of learning about environments that could help us understand this puzzling salty outcrop on Mars.

    Sample analysis will continue in Janice’s mineral lab here at the SETI Institute and will help learn more about both Earth and Mars.

    Janice collecting samples at a salt pond

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  • richardmitnick 2:13 pm on May 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Mars Exploration,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Valley’s Origin” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    May 15, 2017
    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Putting Martian ‘Tribulation’ Behind

    NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity worked for 30 months on a raised segment of Endeavour Crater’s rim called “Cape Tribulation” until departing that segment in mid-April 2017, southbound toward a new destination. This view looks back at the southern end of Cape Tribulation from about two football fields’ distance away.

    NASA/Mars Opportunity Rover

    The component images were taken by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on April 21, during the 4,707th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s mission on Mars.

    Wheel tracks can be traced back to see the rover’s route as it descended and departed Cape Tribulation. For scale, the distance between the two parallel tracks is about 3.3 feet (1 meter). The rover drove from the foot of Cape Tribulation to the head of “Perseverance Valley” in seven drives totaling about one-fifth of a mile (one-third of a kilometer). An annotated map of the area is at PIA21496.

    The elevation difference between the highest point visible in this scene and the rover’s location when the images were taken is about 180 feet (55 meters).

    This view looks northward. It merges exposures taken through three of the Pancam’s color filters, centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). It is presented in approximately true color.

    This graphic shows the route that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove in its final approach to ‘Perseverance Valley’ on the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

    The map covers an area about four-tenths of a mile (two-thirds of a kilometer) wide, with the interior of the crater on the right. Opportunity entered this mapped area from the north along the gold traverse line on March 21, 2017, approaching the southern tip of the “Cape Tribulation” segment of Endeavour’s rim. It reached the top of “Perseverance Valley” with a drive on Sol 4720 (the 4,720th Martian day) of the mission, on May 4, 2017.

    Images showing more of the Endeavour Crater rim are at PIA21490 and PIA17758.

    The base image for this map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The annotated map was produced at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque.

    NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the main destination of its current two-year extended mission — an ancient fluid-carved valley incised on the inner slope of a vast crater’s rim.

    As the rover approached the upper end of “Perseverance Valley” in early May, images from its cameras began showing parts of the area in greater resolution than what can be seen in images taken from orbit above Mars.

    “The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed,” said Opportunity Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    The process that carved Perseverance Valley into the rim of Endeavour Crater billions of years ago has not yet been identified. Among the possibilities: It might have been flowing water, or might have been a debris flow in which a small amount of water lubricated a turbulent mix of mud and boulders, or might have been an even drier process, such as wind erosion. The mission’s main objective with Opportunity at this site is to assess which possibility is best supported by the evidence still in place.

    The upper end of the valley is at a broad notch in the crest of the crater rim. The rover team’s plan for investigating the area begins with taking sets of images of the valley from two widely separated points at that dip in the rim. This long-baseline stereo imaging will provide information for extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional analysis of the terrain. The valley extends down from the rim’s crest line into the crater, at a slope of about 15 to 17 degrees for a distance of about two football fields.

    “The long-baseline stereo imaging will be used to generate a digital elevation map that will help the team carefully evaluate possible driving routes down the valley before starting the descent,” said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas of JPL.

    Reversing course back uphill when partway down could be difficult, so finding a path with minimum obstacles will be important for driving Opportunity through the whole valley. Researchers intend to use the rover to examine textures and compositions at the top, throughout the length and at the bottom, as part of investigating the valley’s history.

    While the stereo imaging is being analyzed for drive-planning, the team plans to use the rover to examine the area immediately west of the crater rim at the top of the valley. “We expect to do a little walkabout just outside the crater before driving down Perseverance Valley,” Golombek said.

    The mission has begun its 150th month since the early 2004 landing of Opportunity in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. In the first three months, which were originally planned as the full length of the mission, it found evidence in rocks that acidic water flowed across parts of Mars and soaked the subsurface early in the planet’s history.

    For nearly half of the mission — 69 months — Opportunity has been exploring sites on and near the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where even older rocks are exposed. The crater spans about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. Opportunity arrived from the northwest at a point corresponding to about the 10 o’clock position on the circle if north is noon; Perseverance Valley slices west to east at approximately the 8 o’clock position.

    Opportunity hustled southward to reach the crown of the valley in recent weeks. In mid-April it finished about two-and-a-half years on a rim segment called “Cape Tribulation.” In seven drives between then and arriving at the destination on May 4, it covered 377 yards (345 meters), bringing the mission’s total odometry to about 27.8 miles (44.7 kilometers).

    Opportunity and the next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, as well as three active NASA Mars orbiters and surface missions to launch in 2018 and 2020 are all part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, which helps lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built Opportunity and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about Opportunity, visit:



    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:46 am on May 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Mars Exploration, Martian landscape created by two distinct asteroid epochs   

    From COSMOS: “Martian landscape created by two distinct asteroid epochs” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    01 May 2017
    Tim Wallace

    Major impacts on the Martian surface include the ancient giant Borealis basin (top of globe), Hellas (bottom right), and Argyre (bottom left).There appears to have been a 400-million-year lull in impacts between the formation of Borealis and the younger basins. University of Arizona/LPL/Southwest Research Institute

    It’s magnitude, and infrequency that counts in explaining how asteroid impacts shaped Mars, with new research dramatically revising down the number of giant asteroids that crashed into the Red Planet to just one-tenth of some previous estimates.

    The analysis by planetary scientists Wiilliam Bottke, of the Southwest Research Institute, in Colorado, and Jeff Andrews-Hanna, of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboration, suggests a lull of 400 million years between two periods of intense asteroid numbers and collisions. The first led to the most significant asteroid impact on Mars 4.5 million years ago, while the second to four more giant impacts between 4.1 and 3.8 million years ago.

    In their paper published in Nature Geoscience, Bottke and Andrews-Hanna argue on the basis of topographical, gravitational and geochemical analyses against there being any gradual decline in impact events.

    Rather, the surface of Mars bears the signature of two distinct periods of intense asteroid activity within the inner Solar System; the earlier period of asteroid impacts associated with the formation of the inner planets; and the later period with the Late Heavy Bombardment, the cause of which a number of explanations have been proposed including the migration of the giant planets.

    The most striking aspect of the topography of Mars is the contrast between the remarkably flat lowlands of it northern hemisphere known as the Borealis basin, covering about 40% of the planet’s surface, and the hilly highlands of the southern hemisphere. The calculations by Bottke and Andrews-Hanna concur with previous estimates the northern polar basin – was formed by the impact of an asteroid between 1,100 and 2,300 kilometres wide.

    Only one subsequent major asteroid impact, creating the basin known as the Isidis Planitia, has impinged upon the Borealis crater, the researchers argue.

    “This sets strong statistical limits on the number of giant basins that could have formed on Mars after Borealis”, says Bottke, who is also a principal investigator with NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). “The number and timing of such giant impacts on early Mars has been debated, with estimates ranging from four to 30 giant basins formed in the time since Borealis. Our work shows that the lower values are more likely.”

    The similar preservation states of the between most visible impact structures on Mars – the Borealis basin and the Hellas, Isidis and Argyre craters formed more than 400,000 years later, also points to the lull which Bottke and Andrew-Hanna call “the doldrums”, as any impact basins formed in the interim should have been similarly preserved.

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  • richardmitnick 11:38 am on December 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Boron, , Mars Exploration   

    From Many Worlds: “With The Discovery of Boron on Mars, The Package of Chemicals Needed For Life May Well Be Complete” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    Using its laser technology, the Curiosity ChemCam instrument located the highest abundance of boron observed so far on this raised calcium sulfate vein. The red outline shows the location of the ChemCam target remote micro images (inset). The remote micro images show the location of each individual ChemCam laser point (red crosshairs) and the additional chemistry associated with each point (colored bars). JPL-Caltech/MSSS/LANL/CNES-IRAP/William Rapin

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover
    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    For years, noted chemist and synthetic life researcher Steven Benner has talked about the necessary role of the element boron in the origin of life.

    Without boron, he has found, the process needed to form the earliest self-replicating ribonucleic acid (RNA) falls apart when it comes into contact with water, which it also necessary for the process to succeed. Only in the presence of boron, Benner found and has long argued, can the formation of RNA and later DNA proceed.

    Now, to the delight of Benner and many other scientists, the Curiosity team has found boron on Mars. In fact, as Curiosity climbs the mountain at the center of Gale Crater, the presence of boron has become increasingly pronounced.

    A shaded and colorized topographic map of Gale Crater, Mars, based on publicly released High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) data. The MSL landing ellipse is indicated in the northwestern crater floor.
    14 September 2010
    Source Anderson and Bell, 2010
    Author Ryan Anderson

    And to make the discovery all the more meaningful to Benner, the boron is being found in rock veins. So it clearly was carried by water into the fractures, and was deposited there some 3.5 billion years ago.

    Combined with earlier detections of phosphates, magnesium, peridots, carbon and other essential elements in Gale Crater, Benner told me, “we have found on Mars an environment entirely consistent with a what we consider conducive for the origin of life.

    “Is it likely that life arose? I’d say yes…perhaps even, hell yes. But it’s also true that an environment conducive to the formation of life isn’t necessarily one conducive to the long-term survival of life.”

    The foreground of this scene from the Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows purplish rocks near the rover’s late-2016 location. The middle distance includes future destinations for the rover. Variations in color of the rocks hint at the diversity of their composition on lower Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    Another factor in the Mars-as-habitable story from Benner’s view is that there has never been the kind of water world there that many believe existed on early Earth.

    While satellites orbiting Mars and now Curiosity have made it abundantly clear that early Mars also had substantial water in the form of lakes, rivers, streams and perhaps an localized ocean, it was clearly never covered in water.

    And that’s good for the origin of life, Benner said.

    “We think that a largely arid environment, with water present but not everywhere, is the best one for life to begin. Mars had that but Earth, well, maybe not so much. The problem is how to concentrate the makings of RNA, of life, in a vast ocean. It’s like making a cake in water — all the ingredients will float away.

    “But the mineral ensemble they’ve discovered and given us is everything we could have asked for, and it was on a largely dry Mars,” he said. “So they’ve kicked the ball back to us. Now we have to go back to our labs to enrich the chemistry around this ensemble of minerals.”

    In his labs, Benner has already put together a process — he calls it his discontinuous synthesis model — whereby all the many steps needed to create RNA and therefore life have been demonstrated to be entirely possible.

    What’s missing is a continuous model that would show that process at work, starting with a particular atmosphere and particular minerals and ending up with RNA. That’s something that requires a lot more space and time that any lab experiments would provide.

    “This is potentially what Mars provides,” he said,

    Benner, it should be said, is not a member of the Curiosity team and doesn’t speak for them.

    But his championing of boron as a potentially key element for the origin of life was noted as a guide by one of the Curiosity researchers during a press conference with team members at the American Geophysical Union Dec. 13 in San Francisco. It was at that gathering that the detection of the first boron on Mars was announced.

    Benner said he has been in close touch with the two Curiosity instrument teams involved in the boron research and was most pleased that his own boron work — and that of at least one other researcher — had helped inspire the search for and detection of the element on Mars. That other researcher, evolutionary biologist James Stephenson, had detected boron in a meteorite from Mars.

    Patrick Gasda, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is a member of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument team which identified the boron at Gale Crater. The instrument uses laser technology to identify chemical elements in Martian rocks.

    Gasda said at AGU that if the boron they found in calcium sulfate rock veins on Mars behaves there as it does on Earth, then the environment was conducive to life. The ancient groundwater that formed these veins would have had temperatures in the 0-60 degrees Celsius (32-140 degrees Fahrenheit) range, he said, with a neutral-to-alkaline pH.

    While the presence of boron (most likely the mineral form borate, Benner said) has increased as the rover has climbed Mount Sharp, the element still makes up only one-tenth of one percent of the rock composition. But to stabilize that process of making RNA, that’s enough.

    A drawing of Gale Crater as it is organized now. Water moving beneath the ground, as well as water above the surface in ancient rivers and lakes, provided favorable conditions for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life. A well-done animation including a second drawing showing conditions 3.5 billion years ago at Gale can be seen here. It toggles back and forth to show how things have changed. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    Benner’s view of Gale Crater and Mars as entirely habitable is not new — the Curiosity team has been saying roughly the same for several years now. But with four full years on Mars the rover keeps adding to the habitability story, and that was the central message from Curiosity scientists speaking at the AGU press conference.

    As the rover examines higher, younger layers, the researchers said they were especially impressed by the complexity of the ancient lake environments at Gale when sediments were being deposited, and also the complexity of the groundwater interactions after the sediments were buried.

    “There is so much variability in the composition at different elevations, we’ve hit a jackpot,” said John Grotzinger of Caltech, and formerly the mission scientist for Curiosity.

    “A sedimentary basin such as this is a chemical reactor. Elements get rearranged. New minerals form and old ones dissolve. Electrons get redistributed. On Earth, these reactions support life.”

    This kind of reactivity occurs on a gradient based on the strength of a chemical at donating or receiving electrons. Transfer of electrons due to this gradient can provide energy for life.

    An illustration of the ChemCam instrument, with its laser zapper, which identified the element boron as Curiosity climbs Mount Sharp. (NASA)

    While habitability is key to Curiosity’s mission on Mars, much additional science is being done that has different goals or looks more indirectly at the planet’s ancient (or possibly current) ability to support life. Understanding the ancient environmental history of Gale Crater and Mars is a good example.

    For instance, the Curiosity team is now undertaking a drilling campaign in progressively younger rock layers, digging into four sites each spaced about 80 feet (about 25 meters) further uphill. Changes in which minerals are present and in what percentages they exist give insights into some of that ancient history.

    One clue to changing ancient conditions is the presence of the mineral hematite, a form of the omnipresent iron oxide on Mars. Hematite has replaced magnetite as the dominant iron oxide in rocks Curiosity has drilled recently, compared with the site where Curiosity first found lake bed sediments.

    Thomas Bristow of NASA Ames Research Center, who works with the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) laboratory instrument inside the rover, said Mars is sending a signal. Both forms of iron oxide (hematite and magnetite) were deposited in mudstone in what was once the bottom of a lake, but the increased abundance of hematite higher up Mount Sharp suggests conditions were warmer when it was laid down. There also was probably more interaction between the atmosphere and the sediments.

    On a more technical level, an increase in hematite relative to magnetite also indicates an environmental change towards a stronger tug on the iron oxide electrons, causing a greater degree of oxidation (the loss of electrons) in the iron. That would likely be caused by changing atmospheric conditions.

    It’s all part of putting together the jigsaw puzzle of Mars circa 3.5 billion years ago.

    This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

    Returning to the boron, Benner said that the discovered presence of all the chemicals his group believes are necessary to ever-so-slowly move from prebiotic chemistry to biology provides an enormous opportunity. Because of plate tectonics on Earth and the omnipresence of biology, the conditions and environments present on early Earth when life first arose were long ago destroyed.

    But on Mars, the apparent absence of those most powerful agents of change means it’s possible to detect, observe and study conditions in a changed but intact world that just might have given rise to life on Mars. Taken a step further, Mars today could provide new and important insights into how life arose on Earth.

    And then there’s the logic of what finding signs of ancient, or perhaps deep-down surviving life on Mars would mean to the larger search for life in the cosmos.

    That life exists on one planet among the hundreds of billions we now know are out there suggests that other planets — which we know have many or most of the same basic chemicals as Earth — might have given rise to life as well.

    And if two planets in one of those many, many solar system have produced and supported life, then the odds go up dramatically regarding life on other planets.

    One planet with life could be an anomaly. Two nearby planets with life, even if its similar, are a trend.

    See the full article here .

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

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