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The answer to where the water on Mars went may lie in its atmosphere – Inverse

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For decades, scientists have tried solve the mystery of what happened to all the water which once flowed on Mars.

Mounting evidence suggests Mars was once a wet, warm, and possibly habitable planet. But over time, Mars lost its atmosphere and, as a result, its water.

With the help of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, scientists were able to gain a richer understanding of the Martian atmosphere which may have solved a part of the planetary mystery.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 12. See the full list here.

By observing Mars a little over 92 miles, or 150 kilometers, above the planet, a team of researchers from the University of Arizona were able to trace how Mars’ water may have disappeared from its surface.

The Red Planet experiences regular regional dust storms, but in 2018 the planet was overtaken by a global dust storm.

This animation shows the global dust storm which engulfed Mars in 2018.NASA/JPL

According to the new data, dust storms rising from the Martian surface appear to have been slowly sucking away the planet’s water over the course of millions of years, sweeping water molecules up on a wild journey into the atmosphere.

This happens on Earth, too — evaporated water molecules travel upwards until they condense from a gas back into a liquid, becoming rain-filled clouds. The region of our atmosphere where this process happens is known as the hygropause.

On Mars, this process is not happening as efficiently as it is on Earth, resulting in the water moving into Mars’ upper atmosphere and reacting with atmospheric molecules where it is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen may then escape the Martian atmosphere entirely and is lost to outer space forever, the study suggests.

Scientists continue to probe Mars’ atmosphere in hopes of finding out whether the planet may have hosted some form of life during its early history, thereby resolving our existential quest to find life outside of Earth.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 12. READ THE ORIGINAL STORY HERE.

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Only 31 Magnetars Have Ever Been Discovered. This one is Extra Strange. It’s Also a Pulsar – Universe Today

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Some of the most stunningly powerful objects in the sky aren’t necessarily the prettiest to look at.  But their secrets can allow humanity to glimpse some of the more intricate details of the universe that are exposed in their extreme environs.  Any time we find one of these unique objects it’s a cause for celebration, and recently astronomers have found an extremely unique object that is both a magnetar and a pulsar, making it one of only 5 ever found.

The object, called J1818.0-1607, was first detected in March by NASA’s Neil Gehreis Swift Telescope.  It was first classified simply as a magnetar – one of only 31 ever found.  Magnetars are a type of neutron star that has the strongest magnetic field ever detected – millions of billions of times stronger than that of Earth.  But J1818.0-1607 wasn’t the same as other magnetars found so far.

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It appeared to be the youngest, with an estimated age of 500 years.  Correspondingly, it also spins faster than any other observed magnetar.  Younger magnetars will spin more quickly than older ones, which have had a chance to slow down some.  J1818.0-1607 takes the cake with a blistering rotational speed of 1.4 seconds.  

Finding a unique magnetar such as this will always attract other astronomers, and some brought other kinds of telescopes to bear.  One of those telescopes was the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which a team led by researchers from the University of West Virginia and the University of Manitoba commanded to look at the newly found magnetar less than a month after its original discovery.

Multispectral image from Swift of J1818.0-1607, the youngest pulsar and magnetar ever observed.
Credit: ESA / XMM-Newton / P Esposito et al.

Chandra is able to see in the X-ray spectrum, so it was able to calculate the efficiency with which the object was translating its decreasing spin energy into X-rays.  That efficiency was in line with another type of object, known as a rotation-powered pulsar.

Pulsars are a type of neutron star that repeatedly pulses out radiation as it spins.  Observations from other telescopes, including the Very Large Array, provided supporting data for the magnetar to also be a pulsar.  That puts it on a very short list of only 5 objects ever discovered that combined the characteristics of both types of object.

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All of the mysteries of the newly discovered object are not yet solved, however.  One is where all the debris has gone.  All neutron stars are formed as a result of a supernova, and J1818.0-1607 is no exception. However, at such a young age, astronomers would expect to see the debris field from the explosion.  There was some that Chandra picked up, however, it is much farther away than expected, implying that J1818.0-1607 is either much older than previously thought, or that it exploded with such force that it blew the debris field out much faster than other known neutron stars.

Either hypothesis is viable, and of course more data will need to be collected in order to truly solve that mystery.  But the discovery of J1818.0-1607 and its subsequent observation are an excellent example of the kind of science that is possible when multiple instruments operating in multiple spectra are brought to bear on a single object of interest.  With luck that coordination will lead to more discoveries of these ultra rare combinations of magnetically powerful lighthouses.

Learn More:
NASA: Chandra Studies Extraordinary Magnetar
NASA: A Cosmic Baby is Discovered and Its Brilliant
Sci-News: Astronomers Discover Youngest Magnetar Ever
UT: A brand new magnetar found, it’s only 240 years old

Lead Image: Composite image of J1818.0-1607 in Xray and infrared.
Credit: NASA / CXC / U West Virginia / H. Blumer / JPL-CalTech / Spitzer

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Giant worms terrorized the ancient seafloor from hidden death traps – Livescience.com

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Gigantic predatory marine worms that lived about 20 million years ago ambushed their prey by leaping at them from underground tunnels in the sea bottom, new fossils from Taiwan reveal. 

These monster worms may have been ancestors of trap-jawed modern Bobbit worms (Eunice aphroditois), which also hide in burrows under the ocean floor and can grow to be 10 feet (3 meters) long. Based on fossil evidence from Taiwan, the ancient worms’ burrows were L-shaped and measured about 7 feet (2 m) long and 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2 to 3 centimeters) in diameter, researchers recently reported in a new study.

The soft bodies of such ancient worms are rarely preserved in the fossil record. But scientists found fossilized imprints, also known as trace fossils, left behind by the worms; some of these marks were likely made as they dragged prey to their doom. The researchers collected hundreds of these impressions to reconstruct the worm’s tunnel, the earliest known trace fossil of an ambush predator, according to the study.

Related: These bizarre sea monsters once ruled the ocean 

Bobbit worms are polychaetes, or bristle worms, which have been around since the early Cambrian period (about 543 million to 490 million years ago), and their hunting habits were swift and “spectacular,” the scientists wrote. Modern Bobbit worms build long tunnels to accommodate their bodies; they hide inside and then lunge out to snap prey between their jaws, hauling the struggling creature into the subterranean lair for eating. This “terror from below” grasps and pierces its prey with sharp pincers — sometimes slicing them in half — then injects toxins to make prey easier to digest, according to Smithsonian Ocean

Researchers examined 319 fossilized tunnel traces in northeastern Taiwan; from these traces, they reconstructed long, narrow burrows that resembled those made by long-bodied modern Bobbit worms. And preserved details in the rock further hinted at how ancient predatory worms might have used these lairs, according to the study.

“We hypothesize that about 20 million years ago, at the southeastern border of the Eurasian continent, ancient Bobbit worms colonized the seafloor waiting in ambush for a passing meal,” the study authors reported. Worms “exploded” from their burrows when prey came close, “grabbing and dragging the prey down into the sediment. Beneath the seafloor, the desperate prey floundered to escape, leading to further disturbance of the sediment around the burrow opening,” the scientists wrote.

Schematic three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.  (Image credit: Pan, YY., Nara, M., Löwemark, L. et al./Sci Rep 11, 1174 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79311-0)

As the ancient worms retreated deeper into their tunnel with the thrashing prey, the struggle agitated the sediment, forming “distinct feather-like collapse structures” that were preserved in the trace fossils. The researchers also detected iron-rich pockets in disturbed areas near the tops of the tunnels; these likely appeared after worms reinforced the damaged walls with layers of sticky mucus.

Though no fossilized remains of the worms were found, the scientists identified a new genus and species, Pennichnus formosae, to describe the ancient animals, based on their burrows’ distinctive forms.

The likely behavior that created the tunnels “records a life and death struggle between predator and prey, and indirectly preserves evidence of [a] more diverse and robust paleo-ecosystem than can be interpreted from the fossil and trace fossil record alone,” the study authors reported.

The findings were published online Jan. 21 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Originally published on Live Science.

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COVID-19 outbreak declared over at Coastal Gas Link work sites – CKPGToday.ca

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