Archive for November 1, 2012

NASA Rover’s First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet.

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission’s goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed. The chemical composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, as in the textbook example of the minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties.

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Curiosity’s First Tastes Of Martian Soil Offer Insights On Mineral Composition

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Curiosity rover has taken its first bites out of the Martian surface and used the materials scooped up, sieved and portioned to cleanse the palate of the rover’s sample collection system of any contaminants that may have come from Earth, said David Vaniman, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.

A portion of the soil was delivered to the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin), which uses X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence to identify and measure the abundance of minerals on Mars. This marks the first in-situ use of X-ray diffraction on another planet, said Vaniman, deputy Principal Investigator for CheMin.

“The first results show that the Martian soil consists of local, regional and global components,“ Vaniman said. “Their origin and history is complex and may reveal much about local weathering as well as global processes far removed from the Gale Crater landing site.”

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Dark Clouds, Young Stars, And A Dash Of Hollywood: New Results From Space Telescope’s Explorations Of Stellar Birthplaces

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

An astronomical project led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) has examined the earliest stages of star formation in unprecedented depth: Using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope and techniques more commonly encountered in Hollywood blockbuster computer graphics than in astronomy, the researchers produced a three-dimensional map of the molecular cloud B68, a possible future birthplace for a low-mass star. Turning their attention to much more massive molecular clouds, the researchers also managed to identify a previously unobserved class of object that is likely the earliest known precursor of the birth of massive stars.

Stars are born in hiding, when dense regions within clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own gravity. But the clouds not only provide the raw material for star formation, they also absorb most of the light from their interior, hiding from view the crucial details of stellar birth – one of the key astronomical processes if we want to understand our own origins!

Now, two groups in the EPoS (“Earliest Phases of Star formation”) project led by MPIA’s Oliver Krause, using ESA’s Herschel Space Telescope, report new results in understanding the earliest stages of star formation.

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