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NASA working to hunt down pesky ISS air leak – CNET

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The International Space Station in orbit.


NASA

Three people zipping around over the Earth on the International Space Station have a bit of a mystery on their hands thanks to a small but persistent air leak. NASA is going into sleuthing mode to find the source.

While an air leak in space sounds worrisome, NASA isn’t fretting it. “The leak is still within segment specifications and presents no immediate danger to the crew or the space station,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

A little bit of air leakage is normal, and this particular leak has been on the radar for a while. “In September 2019, NASA and its international partners first saw indications of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate,” the agency said. A further increase in that rate has triggered new measures to hunt down the source so it can potentially be repaired. 

From left are, NASA astronaut and Commander Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.


NASA

The current crew consists of NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos. All three will spend Friday through Monday morning hanging out together in the Zvezda service module, a Russian segment of the ISS. 

Bunking in Zvezda gives the crew a chance to close down the station hatches so NASA can monitor the air pressure in each section. “The test presents no safety concern for the crew,” NASA said, and it should help mission controllers figure out where the small leak is coming from. 

Initial results are expected next week.

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On Mars, 4 supersalty lakes may be hiding under the south pole ice cap – Space.com

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Remnants of water once found on the surface of Mars may be hidden in a handful of small lakes below the Red Planet’s south pole, and more could exist, according to new research.

For decades, researchers have suspected that water lurks below the polar icecaps of Mars, just as it does here on Earth. In 2018, scientists detected evidence for such a reservoir on the Red Planet — signs of a lake about 12 miles (19 kilometers) across and hidden below about a mile (1.5 km) of ice at the south pole of Mars.

At the time, the researchers said that studying this underground pool of water could yield insights on the past and present chances for life on Mars. However, scientists had many more questions than answers about the origin, composition and longevity of this lake and its water.

Related: The search for life on Mars (a photo timeline)

In the new study, to learn more about this hidden water, researchers used the MARSIS radar sounder instrument on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft to scan a 155-by-185 mile (250-by-300 km) area surrounding the suspected underground lake. The scientists analyzed this radar data with techniques previously used to detect lakes under glaciers in Antarctica.

The scientists confirmed the liquid nature of the previously observed lake, narrowing down its dimensions to about 12 by 18 miles (20 by 30 km) in size. They cannot say how deep this lake extends, as the radio waves from MARSIS cannot penetrate salty water, study co-author Elena Pettinelli, a geophysicist at Roma Tre University in Rome, told Space.com.

Moreover, Pettinelli and her colleagues identified three other lakes on the order of 6 by 6 miles (10 by 10 km) in size. Strips of dry rock separate these smaller patches of water from the main lake, the scientists said.

The researchers suggested these lakes are extraordinarily salty. High brine content would keep their water liquid despite the extremely cold conditions at the base of the glaciers at Mars’ south pole, the scientists noted.

Potential underground lakes below the south pole of Mars are shown in blue.  (Image credit: Elena Pettinelli et al, Nature.)

Although Martian polar ice may be melting a little due to warm noontime temperatures, the scientists do not think it likely that such ongoing processes formed these lakes. Instead, the scientists think this saltwater may be the remnants of a larger body of water now lost from the surface, and may be millions or even billions of years old, Pettinelli said.

Scientists have considered the possibility that geothermal activity might have melted polar ice to form the underground lakes, but that explanation was plausible when there was only one such body of water. Forming several lakes this way might require a huge geothermal anomaly. “I don’t think it is physically possible, given what we know,” Pettinelli said.

Instead, these lakes may have formed due to a warmer global climate in the Martian past, Pettinelli said. “This is a complex system of water, not just a single pond,” she said. “It suggests that the conditions that created these lakes might have been more spread across the region, that there might be other systems like this around.”

All in all, if these lakes “are remnants of water that was once on the surface, it certainly may have been a good habitat to harbor life, extinct or living,” Pettinelli said. But the ideal mission to study such potential life would need to drill 0.9 miles (1.5 km) into the ice, which isn’t possible with available technology, she said. “Still, maybe one day a mission to the Martian poles may sample the surface there to see if we can find interesting information,” Pettinelli said.

In the future, the scientists would like to look for similar networks of lakes elsewhere at the south pole, and maybe at the north pole as well, Pettinelli said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (Sept. 28) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi. Follow us on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

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Water on Mars: discovery of three buried lakes intrigues scientists – Nature.com

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An image of Mars

Scientists have long thought that there could be water trapped beneath the surface of Mars.Credit: Steve Lee, Univ. Colorado/Jim Bell, Cornell Univ./Mike Wolff, SSI/NASA

Two years ago, planetary scientists reported the discovery of a large saltwater lake under the ice at Mars’s south pole, a finding that was met with excitement and some scepticism. Now, researchers say they’ve confirmed the presence of that lake — and found three more.

The discovery, reported on 28 September in Nature Astronomy1, was made using radar data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) orbiting Mars Express spacecraft. It follows the detection of a single subsurface lake in the same region in 2018 — which, if confirmed, would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a possible habitat for life. But that finding was based on just 29 observations made from 2012 to 2015, and many researchers said they needed more evidence to support the claim. The latest study used a broader data set comprising 134 observations from between 2012 and 2019.

“We identified the same body of water, but we also found three other bodies of water around the main one,” says planetary scientist Elena Pettinelli at the University of Rome, who is one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a complex system.”

The team used a radar instrument on Mars Express called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) to probe the planet’s southern polar region. MARSIS sends out radio waves that bounce off layers of material in the planet’s surface and subsurface. The way the signal is reflected back indicates the kind of material that is present at a particular location — rock, ice or water, for example. A similar method is used to identify subsurface glacial lakes on Earth. The team detected some areas of high reflectivity that they say indicate bodies of liquid water trapped under more than one kilometre of Martian ice.

The lakes are spread over about 75,000 square kilometres — an area roughly one-fifth the size of Germany. The largest, central lake measures 30 kilometres across, and is surrounded by three smaller lakes, each a few kilometres wide.

Salty lakes

On the surface of Mars, the low pressure that results from the planet’s lack of a substantial atmosphere makes liquid water impossible. But scientists have long thought that there could be water trapped under Mars’s surface, perhaps a remnant of when the planet once had seas and lakes billions of years ago. If such reservoirs exist, they could be potential habitats for Martian life. On Earth, life is able to survive in subglacial lakes in places such as Antarctica.

But the amount of salt present could pose problems. It’s thought that any underground lakes on Mars must have a reasonably high salt content for the water to remain liquid. Although this far beneath the surface there may be a small amount of heat from the interior of Mars, this alone would not be enough to melt the ice into water. “From a thermal point of view it has to be salty,” says Pettinelli.

Lakes with a salt content about five times that of seawater can support life, but as you approach 20 times that of seawater life is no longer present, says John Priscu, an environmental scientist at Montana State University.

“There’s not much active life in these briny pools in Antarctica,” says Priscu, whose group studies microbiology in icy environments. “They’re just pickled. And that might be the case [on Mars].”

Heated debate

The presence of the Martian lakes themselves is also still debated. After the 2018 discovery, researchers raised concerns such as the lack of an adequate heat source to turn the ice into water. And although the latest finding supports the 2018 observation and involves much more data, not everyone is yet convinced that the regions identified are liquid water.

“If the bright material really is liquid water, I think it’s more likely to represent some sort of slush or sludge,” says Mike Sori, a planetary geophysicist at from Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Jack Holt, a planetarty scientist at the University of Arizonasays that while he thinks the latest data are fine, he isn’t sure about the interpretation. “I do not think there are lakes,” says Holt, who is on the science team for the Mars Shallow Radar sounder (SHARAD) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). “There is not enough heat flow to support a brine here, even under the ice cap.”

A Chinese mission that is on its way to Mars might offer one way to check the claims. The Tianwen-1 mission will enter orbit in February 2021, and as well as deploying a rover onto the surface, the orbiter will carry a suite of scientific instruments. These include radar equipment that could be used to make similar observations. “Its capabilities are similar to MARSIS and SHARAD,” says David Flannery from the Queensland University of Technology.

For the time being, the prospect that these lakes are remnants of Mars’s wet past remains an exciting possibility. “There may have been a lot of water on Mars,” says Pettinelli. “And if there was water, there was the possibility of life.”

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Watch for the rare blue moon appearing this Halloween – iNFOnews

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A Blue Moon, the second full moon in the month, will take place on Halloween this year.
Image Credit: Courtney McLaughlin

September 28, 2020 – 8:00 AM

Halloween promises to be a little more special this year, and the reason has nothing to do with the global pandemic.

The next blue moon will come on Oct. 31 this year, just in time for Halloween.

According to EarthSKy.org, it’s called a Blue Moon because it’s the second of two full moons to occur on a single calendar month, not because it’s coloured blue.

The first of the two full moons for next month occurs on Oct. 1.

The last blue moon occurred on March 31, 2018.

A blue moon can also be the third of four full moons in a single season, the next seasonal full moon coming on Aug. 22, 2021.

The Farmers’ Almanac says the appearance of a full moon on Halloween is a rare event.

The last time a Halloween full moon appeared was in 1944, and the next time we’ll see it will be 2039, so enjoy this year’s special moonlit night of trick or treating.


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