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Researchers discover glass deposits on Mars, possibility of past life on the planet increases

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Washington: In a pioneering feat, researchers have discovered glass deposits on the Red Planet, providing a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the planet.

Using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the team from Brown University detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars formed in the searing heat of a violent impact.

Previous research has shown that ancient biosignatures can be preserved in impact glass.

“Knowing this, we wanted to go look for them on Mars and that is what we did here. Before this paper, no one had been able to definitively detect them on the Martian surface,” said Kevin Cannon, PhD student at Brown University.

Cannon and co-author professor Jack Mustard showed that large glass deposits are present in several ancient yet well-preserved craters scattered across the Martian surface.

These glass deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars and could be targets for future exploration.

To identify minerals and rock types remotely, scientists measure the spectra of light reflected off the planet’s surface.

But impact glass does not have a particularly strong spectral signal.

“Glasses tend to be spectrally bland or weakly expressive, so signatures from the glass tend to be overwhelmed by the chunks of rock mixed in with it. But Kevin found a way to tease that signal out,” Mustard said.

In the lab, Kevin mixed together powders with a similar composition of Martian rocks and fired them in an oven to form glass and measured the spectral signal from that glass.

Once he had the signal from the lab glass, he used an algorithm designed to pick out similar signals in data from NASA’s MRO.

The technique was able to pinpoint deposits around several crater central peaks.

The fact that the deposits were found on central peaks is a good indicator that they have an impact origin.

Knowing that impact glass can preserve ancient signs of life opens a potential new strategy in the search for ancient Martian life.

“We think these could be interesting targets for future exploration. In fact, we have a particular spot in mind,” the authors said.

The research was published online in the journal Geology. (IANS)

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Rocket Lab is Set To Launch 10 NASA CubeSats

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space

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Kepler, NASA, tissue
Rocket Lab to launch 10 NASA CubeSats on Sunday. Pixabay

In its first mission for NASA, the American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab is set to launch 10 small research satellites, or CubeSats, from New Zealand, the US space agency said.

Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12.

Rocket Lab is now targeting the ELaNa-19 launch on December 15 with a launch window opening at 11 p.m. EST from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The CubeSats were built by three NASA centres, seven universities, and a middle school under the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or (ELaNa-19) mission.

ElaNa-19 is NASA’s first to be completely dedicated to launching CubeSats under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program for small-satellite launches.

More than 250 students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats scheduled to be flown as payloads on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12. Flickr

“The major difference between today’s launch and previous #ELaNa missions is that for the first time, NASA will have a launch completely dedicated to CubeSats rather than having the small satellites ride along with a much larger spacecraft that is the primary mission,” NASA Launch Services Program officials wrote on Twitter on December 12.

The 10 CubeSats are named as CubeSail, CeREs, NMTSat, CHOMPTT, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSat, Shields-1 and DaVinci, NASA said.

These are built to standard dimensions of one unit (1U), and can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size. They generally weigh less than 1.33 kg per U — 6U may be up to 12 kg.

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They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space.

After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their RailPODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status.

CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary but are anticipated to last at least three years. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere, NASA noted. (IANS)