US space agency scientists were so excited by the Martian rock sampled by their Perseverance rover last week they got the robot to take a second sample.
Perseverance drilled its first finger-sized core on 6 September, repeating the procedure a couple of days later.
The scientists believe the targeted rock is volcanic in origin, meaning it can be accurately dated.
It also contains salts, which are indicative of water alteration, and that raises the possibility of life.
Or, at least, the potential for past life.
Biology is not a given wherever there has been H₂O, but it’s hard to see how organisms could have existed without it.
Nasa’s Perseverance rover was sent to Jezero Crater on Mars precisely because it looks to have had a habitable environment billions of years ago.
Satellite images suggest a lake was once present in the 45km-wide bowl.
There are what appear to be extensive river and delta sediments in the west of the crater.
The period in which this water environment existed could now be greatly narrowed by the rock samples just acquired.
The donor slab, nicknamed “Rochette”, is sitting on the floor of Jezero and as such is expected to represent the oldest layers in the crater.
If the minerals in the samples can be dated, therefore, they will provide a “no older than” age for the lake.
The salts – likely calcium sulphate or calcium phosphate – are fascinating because they’ll almost certainly host small inclusions, or bubbles, of water.
“Salts are great minerals for preserving signs of ancient life here on Earth, and we expect the same may be true for rocks on Mars,” explained Perseverance deputy project scientist Dr Katie Stack Morgan.
Of course, to do any of these investigations, the samples need to come back to Earth first.
Nasa’s plan (in partnership with the European Space Agency) is for Perseverance to collect more than two dozen rock cores over the next two years and package them in sealed titanium tubes.
These will be left on the surface of Jezero for later missions to pick up before 2030 for transport back home.
“Because… of such high scientific potential, we decided to acquire two samples at Rochette,” Dr Stack Morgan told reporters.
“The [Perseverance] science team has the plan to place down one or more sample caches. And so to ensure that each of these sample caches are as complete as they can be, we have a strategy to acquire two samples at each of our highest priority sampling locations.”
To get to Rochette, Perseverance rolled about 2.2km (1.4 miles) from its February landing site.
It’s heading west at the moment along a slightly raised ridge to a location called “South Séítah” where further rock cores will be taken. All the while, the rover is being tracked by its mini helicopter, Ingenuity, which surveys the ground ahead.
At some point, scientists want the rover to move north to where the river and delta sediments are most obvious and where the chances of finding any traces of past life are greatest.
Meenakshi Wadhwa is Nasa’s Mars sample return principal scientist. She said the cores taken out of Rochette have their own names, too: “Montdenier” (6 September) and “Montagnac” (8 September).
“I cannot overstate the significance of these rock samples collected by Perseverance. This is a truly historic achievement – the very first rock cores collected on another terrestrial planet. It’s amazing.
“These two rock cores represent now the beginning of Mars sample return.
“I’ve dreamed of having samples back from Mars to analyse in my lab since I was a graduate student. And now it’s actually starting to feel real.”
Mars Sample Return: An illustrated guide
Click here to see how Nasa and Esa will bring rocks from Mars to Earth.
Bird reports rose during lockdowns | Cornell Chronicle – Cornell Chronicle
Around 80% of bird species examined in a new study were reported in greater numbers in human-altered habitats during pandemic lockdowns, according to new research based on data from the eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
In the paper, “Reduced Human Activity During COVID-19 Alters Avian Land Use Across North America,” published Sept. 22 in Science Advances, researchers compared online eBird observations from the United States and Canada from before and during the pandemic. They focused on areas within about 100 km of urban areas, major roads, and airports.
Vast amounts of data from a likewise vast geographic area were vital for this study. The researchers used more than 4 million eBird observations of 82 bird species from across Canada and the U.S.
“A lot of species we really care about became more abundant in human landscapes during the pandemic,” said study senior author Nicola Koper of the University of Manitoba, which led the research. “I was blown away by how many species were affected by decreased traffic and activity during lockdowns.”
Reports of bald eagles increased in cities with the strongest lockdowns. Ruby-throated hummingbirds were three times more likely to be reported within a kilometer of airports than before the pandemic. Barn swallows, a threatened species in Canada, were reported more often within a kilometer of roads than before the pandemic.
A few species decreased their use of human-altered habitat during the pandemic. Red-tailed hawk reports decreased near roads, perhaps because there was less roadkill when traffic declined. But far more species had increased counts in these human-dominated landscapes.
The authors filtered pandemic and pre-pandemic eBird reports so that the final data sets had the same characteristics, such as location, number of lists, and level of birdwatcher effort.
“We also needed to be aware of the detectability issue,” said co-author Alison Johnston, assistant director of the Center for Avian Population Studies and Ecological Data in the Lab of Ornithology. “Were species being reported in higher numbers because people could finally hear the birds without all the traffic noise, or was there a real ecological change in the numbers of birds present?”
The study tested whether better detectability might be a factor in the larger bird numbers reported. If it was, the scientists expected that to be more noticeable for smaller birds, which are harder to detect beneath traffic noise. However, effects were noticed across many species, from hawks to hummingbirds, suggesting that the increased numbers were not only caused by increased detectability in the quieter environments.
“Having so many people in North America and around the world paying attention to nature has been crucial to understanding how wildlife react to our presence,” says lead author Michael Schrimpf, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba. “Studies such as this one rely on volunteer birdwatchers, so if you enjoy watching wildlife, there are many projects out there, like eBird and iNaturalist, that can use your help.”
The study was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada with in-kind support provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space – Californianewstimes.com
Give a few seconds (or a minute or two if needed) to startle and gaze at the Earth’s scenery from the recently launched SpaceX Crew Dragon above.
on Wednesday,Tied to the SpaceX Crew Dragon with one of the upgrades: Cupola. The transparent dome at the top of the Dragon Capsule provides the Inspiration 4 crew with the best views of the Earth that up-and-coming astronauts can dream of. This is the first time a cupola has been installed on a dragon. Dragons typically carry astronauts and cargo to the ISS, with docking ports at the top instead of windows.
A short video posted to the SpaceX Twitter account hours after the launch shows the cupola’s transparent dome against the Earth, which is a pale blue marble.
As the Crew Dragon orbits from a height of 585 kilometers (more than 360 miles), our planet is exposed to the sun and slowly roams around the orbs.
Inspiration 4’s crew (commander Jared Isaacman, doctor’s assistant, childhood cancer survivor Haley Arseno, aerospace engineer Chris Sembroski, African-American geology professor Sian Proctor) are in orbit for three days. Ride and stare at the cupola and the earth.
And did you say that the cupola is right next to the dragon’s toilet? Yeah, the view of the earth should be visible from the crew dragon’s bathroom. Isaacman told insiders Toilets are one of the few places where you can separate yourself from others with privacy curtains and have the best toilet windows of mankind. “When people inevitably have to use the bathroom, they will see one view of hell,” he said.
Astronauts who have been to space often talk about a phenomenon called the “overview effect.” Looking at the planet from above, the idea is that the way we think about the planet and the mass of humankind that depends on it will change. There may be a lot of revelation at the end of the Inspiration 4 journey, as I don’t know if they thought of it while sitting in the can.
The mission is the first mission to take off from the Florida coast on Wednesday night and be launched with four civilians. It is expected to return to Earth on Saturday and land in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space Source link SpaceX Crew Dragon cupola provides awe-inspiring view of the Earth from space
Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico – Al Jazeera English
Fossilised footprints dating 23,000 years push back the known date the continent was colonised by thousands of years.
Footprints dating back 23,000 years have been discovered in the United States, suggesting humans settled North America long before the end of the last Ice Age, according to researchers.
The findings announced on Thursday push back the date at which the continent was colonised by its first inhabitants by thousands of years.
The footprints were left in mud on the banks of a long-since dried up lake, which is now part of a New Mexico desert.
Sediment filled the indentations and hardened into rock, protecting evidence of our ancient relatives, and giving scientists a detailed insight into their lives.
The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the United States Geological Survey recently analysed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from 22,800 to 21,130 years ago.
“Many tracks appear to be those of teenagers and children; large adult footprints are less frequent,” write the authors of the study published in the American journal Science.
“One hypothesis for this is the division of labour, in which adults are involved in skilled tasks whereas ‘fetching and carrying’ are delegated to teenagers.
“Children accompany the teenagers, and collectively they leave a higher number of footprints.”
Researchers also found tracks left by mammoths, prehistoric wolves, and even giant sloths, which appear to have been approximately at the same time as the humans visited the lake.
The Americas were the last continent to be reached by humanity.
For decades, the most commonly accepted theory has been that settlers came to North America from eastern Siberia across a land bridge – the present-day Bering Strait.
From Alaska, they headed south to kinder climes.
Archaeological evidence, including spearheads used to kill mammoths, has long suggested a 13,500-year-old settlement associated with so-called Clovis culture – named after a town in New Mexico.
This was considered the continent’s first civilisation, and the forerunner of groups that became known as Native Americans.
However, the notion of Clovis culture has been challenged over the past 20 years, with new discoveries that have pushed back the age of the first settlements.
Generally, even this pushed-back estimate of the age of the first settlements had not been more than 16,000 years, after the end of the so-called “last glacial maximum” – the period when ice sheets were at their most widespread.
This episode, which lasted until about 20,000 years ago, is crucial because it is believed that with ice covering much of the northern parts of the continent, human migration from Asia into North America and beyond would have been very difficult.
200,000-year-old handprints may be the world's oldest artwork, scientists say – CBC.ca
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