Water on Mars
NASA teased us this time last week, saying that on Monday there would be big news about Mars. And so there was (Phil Plait was right — what a guy): liquid water on Mars. The mystery that was solved had to do with features known as RSLs, or Recurring Slope Lineae, these dark streaks that were appearing seasonally on the sides of crater walls. New data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and its HiRISE and CRISM instruments very strongly suggest that the streaks are made of hydrated salts. Basically, when the lines were there, hydrated salts were detected. When they weren’t, or when they were much more faded, the hydrated salts weren’t detected. In the words of Lujendra Ojha, lead author of the paper out this week detailing the findings, “this is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.” They believe the hydrated salts are likely to be perchlorates — specifically magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate, and sodium perchlorate — which would explain how the water is able to flow in liquid form at 70 degrees below zero. Very salty water has a much lower freezing point. Check out the announcement over at NASA, or the paper out this week in the journal Nature Geoscience for more.
In related news, Lee Billings has a great piece out in response about the challenges of contamination. If we want to study life on Mars, how do we do it without accidentally studying life we’ve brought there ourselves? You should definitely give it a read.
Tesla has finally released the Model X into the wild. The all-electric SUV with gull-wing doors (rebranded as “falcon wing” which surely has nothing to do with a line of rockets made by one of Elon Musk’s other companies) will range in price from $93,000 to $132,000. That’s because there’s going to be a huge range of options, from a standard version that has a smaller battery pack and “only” a sub-5 second 0-60 time, to the performance version (the “P” in P90D) that has a 90kWh battery and goes from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. That was the version unveiled this week. It also, because Elon Musk is quite a paranoid man (see also his fear of the coming robopocalypse and his drive to make humanity a multi-planet species), comes with a very real “bioweapon defense mode” just in case, you know, you’re near your car when the bioterrorists attack. It’s one of the most technologically advanced vehicles ever made, and now they have to make 25,000 of them, which Musk says will take about a year. That said, it’s probably the finest SUV anyone has ever imagined, let alone built, so here’s to you, Elon Musk, and your crazy, crazy dreams. Check out the Verge for more.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering about Musk’s idea to “nuke” Mars, he explained that too: he doesn’t want to set them off in the atmosphere, but above it, above the poles, every few seconds, for a long time. This would, he says, create the effect of two small stars above the poles, warm them, melt the water and CO2 locked up there, and trigger a fast-scale global warming. But even I can tell you that it’d take a lot more nukes than we have. A whole hell of a lot. But keep dreaming, Elon, we love you for it.
We already know that kids should move more. Sitting around too much has already been shown to impair concentration, and may even be linked to ADHD-like symptoms. Now, a new study out in the journal Experimental Physiology shows that it’s bad for children’s cardiovascular health, too. Focusing specifically on girls, aged 7-10, the study, titled “Impact of prolonged sitting on vascular function in young girls,” looked at femoral artery function after prolonged bouts of sitting. In the first run-through, the girls just sat for three hours, and in the second, they sat for three hours but got up to exercise for ten minutes each hour. The difference in artery function was as much as a third, which suggests, at least to me, that we should be having kids get up and move about each hour, especially in places where they’re basically forced to sit all day (school, I’m looking at you). There are follow-up studies planned, to see if more frequent, shorter interventions might have a similarly positive effect, because ten solid minutes of exercise every hour really isn’t normal behaviour for children. Check out the study here, and a digest of it over at the grey lady.
NASA released two really striking images this week. The first, a false colour map of Ceres, highlights the differences between different wavelengths reflected off the surface, potentially helping scientists to determine what the surface of the dwarf planet is made of. The second is a full-colour, high-resolution portrait of Pluto’s other half, Charon, in all her pock-marked, misshapen glory. I’ll post them both below, but you should really check out the NASA releases for the full resolution versions. NASA Ceres release. NASA Charon release.
This week’s stories here at This Week In Tomorrow started off with a look at three times in film that evil alien plots didn’t really work out as planned; on Tuesday I wrote about Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn, co-discoverers of the enzyme telomerase’s function in lengthening telomeres, as part of our countdown to #AdaLovelaceDay; on Wednesday, I mused on the problems of a society geared toward salary-income earners and the problems faced by hourly workers; on Thursday I looked at things that “age” your drinks for you; and on Friday I took over Lindsey’s usual spot and wrote about the anger-inducing treatment of Cecile Richards by the Republican inquisition into Planned Parenthood. If you missed any of those, go take a look.
Best of the Rest
As always, there’s more to share than I can write about myself, so here’s a little linkspam in case you’re still hungry for more.
- Google is officially Alphabet now
- Amazon won’t sell you a chromecast or apple TV anymore
- NASA’s redesigned Orion’s heat shield, and
- Now we know why some smokers’ lungs aren’t as bad as others