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Remains of glacier found near Mars equator

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(CNN) — The remains of a glacier have been found near the Martian equator, suggesting that some form of water could still exist in a region on the red planet where humans may one day land.

The ice mass is no longer there, but scientists spotted telltale remains among other mineral deposits near Mars’ equatorial region. The deposits there usually contain light-colored sulfate salts.

When scientists took a closer look, they recognized the features of a glacier, including ridges called moraines — debris deposited or pushed by a moving glacier. The research team also spotted crevasse fields, or deep wedge-shaped openings that form inside glaciers.

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The findings were shared Wednesday at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

“What we’ve found is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic features of a glacier,” lead study author Dr. Pascal Lee, a senior planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, said in a statement.

“What we think happened here is that salt formed on top of a glacier while preserving the shape of the ice below, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands.”

The researchers believe the glacier was 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) long and 2.5 miles (about 4 kilometers) wide, with an elevation between 0.8 to 1.1 miles (1.3 to 1.7 kilometers).

 

Volcanic activity creates protective layer

 

Scientists have an idea of how the imprint of the glacier came to be, based on evidence of volcanic material in the region. When mixtures of volcanic ash, lava and volcanic glass called pumice react with water, a hard, crusty salt layer can form.

“This region of Mars has a history of volcanic activity. And where some of the volcanic materials came in contact with glacier ice, chemical reactions would have taken place at the boundary between the two to form a hardened layer of sulfate salts,” said study coauthor Sourabh Shubham, a doctoral student of geology at the University of Maryland, College Park, in a statement.

“This is the most likely explanation for the hydrated and hydroxylated sulfates we observe in this light-toned deposit.”

 

Geologically young surface ice near equator

 

The volcanic material likely eroded over time, revealing the salty layer that captured an imprint of the glacier ice and its distinctive features, said study coauthor John Schutt, a geologist at the Mars Institute and an icefield guide in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Mars has a thin atmosphere, which allows space rocks to collide regularly with the planet’s surface. But the fine, detailed features of the glacier still remain largely undisturbed in the salt deposit, which leads researchers to believe it’s relatively “young.”

The study authors said they think the glacier existed during the Mars Amazonian geologic period, which began 2.9 billion years ago and remains ongoing.

“We’ve known about glacial activity on Mars at many locations, including near the equator in the more distant past. And we’ve known about recent glacial activity on Mars, but so far, only at higher latitudes,” Lee said. “A relatively young relict glacier in this location tells us that Mars experienced surface ice in recent times, even near the equator, which is new.”

The researchers don’t know if any ice remains beneath the deposit.

“Water ice is, at present, not stable at the very surface of Mars near the equator at these elevations,” Lee said. “So, it’s not surprising that we’re not detecting any water ice at the surface. It is possible that all the glacier’s water ice has sublimated away by now. But there’s also a chance that some of it might still be protected at shallow depth under the sulfate salts.”

 

Potential for shallow ice pockets

 

During the study, the team also looked at ancient ice islands called salars in Bolivia’s Altiplano salt flats in South America. Blankets of salts have protected old glacier ice from melting or evaporating, leading the researchers to think that a similar scenario might have occurred on Mars.

Next, the researchers want to determine if any ice remains from the glacier, and if so, how much is present at shallow depths beneath the salt deposits. If this particular salt deposit is protecting ice, it’s possible that other pockets of ice exist nearby.

Orbiters circling the planet have shown deposits of ice at the frigid Martian poles, but if water in any form exists at the warmer equatorial lower latitudes, it could have implications for our understanding of the red planet’s history and potential habitability — and future exploration by humans.

“The desire to land humans at a location where they might be able to extract water ice from the ground has been pushing mission planners to consider higher latitude sites,” Lee said. “But the latter environments are typically colder and more challenging for humans and robots. If there were equatorial locations where ice might be found at shallow depth, then we’d have the best of both environments: warmer conditions for human exploration and still access to ice.”

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Eta Aquariids meteor shower: Fireball streaks across BC sky

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A bright green fireball streaked across the Okanagan sky Wednesday night, and sightings were reported elsewhere in southern B.C.

The exciting celestial event occurred just before 10 p.m. Wednesday and residents across Kelowna, Kamloops and down to Osoyoos reported seeing the fireball.

One Castanet reader who lives near Kelowna International Airport said it appeared in the sky to the west.

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“It didn’t have a fast movement to it, it sort of came flowing down,” he said. “It was a very bright green, beautiful orb, just very strange, that fell out of the sky last night.”

Kamloops resident Justin Moss caught the event on his house’s surveillance camera, pointing south towards the TRU campus.

People living on Vancouver Island posted online about seeing the event as well, along with others in Washington State.

While it’s not clear what the fireball in the sky was, the Eta Aquariids meteor shower is currently ongoing. The meteor shower, associated with Halley’s Comet, generally runs from about April 19 to May 28 every year, peaking around May 5 or 6.

A meteor’s colour is indicative of the chemical makeup of a meteor. Those with a lot of nickel glow green when they burn up in the earth’s atmosphere.

 

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NASA Contractor Warns That Boeing Launch Must Be Stopped "Before Something Catastrophic Happens"

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“NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground.”

Shut It Down

A NASA contractor is urging the space agency to suspend the upcoming Boeing Starliner launch over major safety concerns with the aerospace company’s wares.

In a press release, the president of ValveTech, a NASA contractor that supplies the agency with parts, warned that the buzzing sound heard during the now-scrubbed Starliner launch could indicate something seriously wrong with the transport capsule.

“As a valued NASA partner and as valve experts, we strongly urge them not to attempt a second launch due to the risk of a disaster occurring on the launchpad,” ValveTech president Erin Faville cautioned. “According to media reports, a buzzing sound indicating the leaking valve was noticed by someone walking by the Starliner minutes before launch. This sound could indicate that the valve has passed its lifecycle.”

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After the incident, which occurred just before Starliner was supposed to attempt its first crewed launch earlier in May, NASA has said that it won’t try again until at least May 17. According to Faville, much needs to be be done between now and then to head off the worst possible outcomes.

“NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols,” he said, “to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground.”

Bad News Boeing

The CEO of United Launch Alliance, which is launching the craft into orbit, pushed back strongly on X-formerly-Twitter.

“Not sure what to say about this one,” he wrote. “Close to none of it is correct: Not urgent. Not leaking. Etc. Remarkable that the particular person quoted doesn’t seem to know how this type of valve works.”

ValveTech’s warnings come not just after the scrubbed Starliner launch, but also after months of terrible press for Boeing that have included parts falling off its planes, government investigations, and two dead whistleblowers.

As the company’s press release notes, the launch scrub also occurred after a November 2023 ruling in which a federal court found that Boeing had used a valve from another aerospace company, Aerojet Rocketdyne, that copied ValveTech’s designs. The part was not, according to a witness in that trial, equipped for the job it was meant to do, and as far as the company can tell, it hasn’t been replaced.

“ValveTech continues to question how NASA, Boeing and Aerojet could have qualified this valve for the mission without proper supporting data or previous history or legacy information, which in its experience, goes against aerospace-industry qualification protocols established by NASA,” the press release reads.

All told, these are some pretty serious claims, and Futurism has reached out to NASA to ask if the parts in question have been replaced.

 

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Strong solar storm could trigger northern lights in United States

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Multiple outbursts from the sun could trigger magnificent auroras in many parts of the United States this weekend.

A severe geomagnetic storm is expected to hit Earth on Friday, triggering colorful nighttime auroras, or the northern lights. People in the United States could see moderate to strong geomagnetic activity starting around 11 p.m. and lasting through Saturday.

 

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