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NASA pens new rules to prevent us from contaminating the Moon and Mars

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NASA has a strict set of guidelines for sending missions out into space to prevent Earth microbes from contaminating the planets and moons that we visit. Now, the agency has revised those rules to clear the way for human missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars.

Science fiction has already taught us many lessons about the human exploration of space. Chief among those lessons is how we need to do everything we can to prevent some kind of harmful alien bacteria or organisms from being brought back to Earth.

On the flipside, however, is another crucial issue: to preserve the unique alien environments of our solar system – on the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies. To do this, we also need to prevent them from being contaminated by microbes that originate from Earth. That is one of the key points of the Outer Space Treaty – an international agreement for the fair and responsible use of space.

This is where NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection comes in. The sole concern for this part of the agency is the possibility of harmful biological contamination due to space exploration. Their rules and regulations cover both forward contamination (Earth microbes hitching a ride to another celestial body) and back contamination (returning spacecraft, or astronauts, or samples bringing alien microbes back to Earth).

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By pure biological necessity, we bring microbes with us, no matter what we do or where we go. Apparently, with NASA’s previous rules, this fact would prevent any living astronaut from ever setting foot on Mars. They would also impose restrictions on visiting anywhere on the Moon that could have frozen water ice.

With new missions to the Moon currently in the works, such as NASA’s Artemis program, and with ideas for future crewed missions to Mars, the agency realized they needed to revisit these guidelines.

Now, after going over those rules, they have released two new NASA Interim Directives (NIDs) this week.

These directives take into account what they’ve learned from nearly 20 years of continuous human habitation of the International Space Station, as well as decades of robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars, and even from their plans for the new Lunar Gateway station.

The first NID changes how we treat the surface of the Moon. Before this, visiting anywhere on the lunar surface required special consideration, because we now know that the Moon has pockets of water ice. The new NID states that these restrictions now only count for specific areas of the surface where these pockets could exist; notably the so-called Permanently Shadows Regions at the bottom of craters near the lunar poles, and the Apollo landing sites which already contain biological materials left behind by the astronauts. The rest of the lunar surface would be free from planetary protection restrictions.

Moon-base-1This artist’s rendition shows a base on the Moon. Credit: ESA

“We are enabling our important goal of sustainable exploration of the Moon while simultaneously safeguarding future science in the permanently shadowed regions,” Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a NASA press release. “These sites have immense scientific value in shaping our understanding of the history of our planet, the Moon and the solar system.”

The other NID updates the planetary protections in place for Mars. Before now, Mars had one of the most stringent sets of restrictions in place. Anything that would touch down on the surface needed to be almost completely sterilized before it would be allowed to launch. For landers and rovers with life-detection capabilities, such as the Viking landers or the new Perseverance rover, they would have to be even more thorough.

NASA-Perseverance-RoverThis artist’s rendition shows the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA

Basically, there’s no sense in sending a robot to detect life on another planet if it only ends up detecting life that hitched a ride from Earth. To ensure that the search for extraterrestrial life is as honest and thorough as possible, we cannot bring anything with us.

The problem becomes: we can’t use the same sterilization methods with human astronauts as we do robotic explorers. So, if we are going to plan crewed missions to Mars, these rules have to change.

There’s one limitation to changing the rules, however. Even after over 40 years of exploring the surface of Mars, we still don’t know enough about it to develop a responsible set of restrictions.

“The challenge with Mars is that we simply don’t yet have enough information to know where it is we can go and where we shouldn’t go, and where we can go but we need to be more careful than other places,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said when the new NIDs were announced.

NASA Mars astronauts base roverA simulated base on Mars. Credit: NASA

NASA’s new Perseverance Rover is designed to search for signs that life existed on Mars in its distant past. It may even be able to tell us if there is life on the planet now (although in all likelihood, it would be microbes deep beneath the ground). Perseverance is currently scheduled to launch later this month, with a landing in Mars’ Jezero crater in February of 2021. So, once Perseverance arrives and begins its investigations, the science it collects will go into forming these new rules for human missions to Mars.

Sources: NASA | NASA OSMA

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Utah monolith mystery: Wildlife officials' 12-ft desert discovery – Daily Mail

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Mystery of the 12-ft metal monolith discovered in middle of Utah desert – and it looks eerily similar to the machines in Space Odyssey

  • State workers in a helicopter noticed the shiny marker while flying overhead
  • About 10 to 12 feet tall, it’s planted in the ground and not dropped from above
  • There are no identifying markings and no one has claimed responsibility
  • Utah has a history of ‘land art’ placed in the desert far from population centers 

Government workers had a close encounter of the strange kind out in the Utah desert.

A crew with the state wildlife resources department was aboard a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter when they spotted a mysterious monolith sticking out of the dirt last week.

About 10 to 12 feet tall, the shiny metal object was firmly planted in the ground, suggesting it wasn’t just dropped from above.

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey – the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke’s story.

The unlabeled object is located inside a red rock cove but, fearful amateurs could endanger themselves trying to get a closer look, the workers have withheld details about its exact location.

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Worker with Utah’s wildlife resources department spotted a shiny metal monolith in the desert. The object is between 10 and 12 feet tall and is firmly planted in the ground

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object.

‘One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,’ pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV. ‘He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘what.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there – we’ve got to go look at it!’

After the copter circled back and landed, the crew went into the cove to investigate.

‘We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?’ Hutchings said.

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey - the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke's story (pictured)

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey – the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke’s story (pictured) 

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object

'We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?' said Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings

‘We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?’ said Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings

State workers climb the monolith to give a sense of its size. A biologist with the wildlife resources office spotted the object from the sky, prompting the crew to land and investigate

State workers climb the monolith to give a sense of its size. A biologist with the wildlife resources office spotted the object from the sky, prompting the crew to land and investigate

‘We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it.’

All jokes aside, Hutchings believes the structure is probably some kind of artwork.

‘I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big [2001: A Space Odyssey] fan,’ he said.

Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV the unmarked object 'is about the strangest thing that I've come across out there in all my years of flying,'

Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV the unmarked object ‘is about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,’

The monolith is located inside a red rock cove but workers have withheld details about its exact location to prevent others from endangering themselves trying to get a closer look

The monolith is located inside a red rock cove but workers have withheld details about its exact location to prevent others from endangering themselves trying to get a closer look

Utah has a history of ‘land art,’ unusual installations that cropped up far from population centers in the 1960s and ’70s.

The most famous, Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot-long coil by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 that’s composed entirely of mud, salt crystals and basalt.

Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point, the jetty appears and disappears depending on water levels.

Utah has a history of 'land art,' unusual installations far from population centers. Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, artist Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty is made of mud, salt and basalt rock

Utah has a history of ‘land art,’ unusual installations far from population centers. Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, artist Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is made of mud, salt and basalt rock

So far, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the monolith, though.

‘That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,’ Hutchings said.

The workers took video and photos of the object, but left in place.

So far, it hasn’t disturbed the bighorn sheep that live in the southern half of Utah.

Their population was once down to under a thousand in the 1970s, but conservation efforts have seen them make a big comeback in recent decades.

The crew was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep, which live in the southern half of Utah

The crew was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep, which live in the southern half of Utah

The sheep are less wary of people in early December, which is their mating season.

‘Because they’re focused on courtship and breeding, they’ll allow vehicles to get closer to them than they normally would,’ Brent Stettler of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told My National Parks Trip Media.

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A 2020 space oddity? Mysterious metal object found in Utah desert – cjoy.com

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A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.

That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.

Read more:
Famous alien-hunting telescope shut down to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’

State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Its true origin is unknown.

“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.

Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.

“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.

Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.

“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.

The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.

State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.

Read more:
‘Hell’ planet found with lava oceans, rocky rain and supersonic winds

“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.

He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.

The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.

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No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.

The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.

Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.

“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.

“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Scientists produce diamonds in minutes at room temperature – MINING.com

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“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometres deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius,”  Jodie Bradby, professor at The Australian National University and one of the authors of the study, said in a media statement.

“The twist in this story is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called ‘shear’ – which is like a twisting or sliding force. We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamond.” 

The RMIT team’s pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of these Lonsdaleite veins under this new method. (Image courtesy of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).

To observe and understand how this process works, the researchers used advanced electron microscopy techniques to capture solid and intact slices from the experimental samples to create snapshots of how the two types of diamonds formed.

The pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of Lonsdaleite veins under this new method.

“Seeing these little ‘rivers’ of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they might form,” Dougal McCulloch, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said. 

According to the scientists, Lonsdaleite has the potential to be used for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites. As such, they said that creating more of this rare diamond is the long-term aim of their work.

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