Remember When Life was Found in a Martian Meteorite? Turns out, it was Just Geology

The Alan Hills meteorite is a part of history to Mars aficionados. It came from Mars and meteorite hunters discovered in Antarctica in 1984. Scientists think it’s one of the oldest chunks of rock to come from Mars and make it to Earth.

The meteorite made headlines in 1996 when a team of researchers said they found evidence of life in it.

Did they?

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China’s Tianwen-1 Spacecraft Took a Selfie Using a Tiny, Secondary Spacecraft

Remember how China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft released a remote camera to take a picture of itself during its flight to Mars, back in late 2020? Now in Mars orbit, Tianwen-1 has done it again, releasing another mini remote camera. Except this time, the planet Mars is part of the view.

The images are stunning.

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The Bottom of Valles Marineris Seems to Have Water Mixed in With the Regolith

For generations, humans have dreamed of the day when we might set foot on Mars. For many others, the dream has been one of settling on Mars and creating an outpost of human civilization there. Today, it looks as though both of these dreams are getting closer to becoming a reality, as space agencies and the commercial space industry are deep into planning regular crewed missions to the Red Planet. And when planning for long-duration missions to destinations in deep space, a vital aspect is assessing the local environment.

For example, missions to Mars will need to be as self-sufficient as possible, which means using local resources to meet the needs of the mission and astronauts – a process known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). According to new data from the ESA-Roscomos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the massive equatorial canyon known as Valles Marineris (Valley of Mars) contains vast deposits of ice that have remained hidden to scientists until now.

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Would Mars be More Habitable if it Orbited a Red Dwarf?

Thanks to the explosion in discoveries made in the last decade, the study of extrasolar planets have entered a new phase. With 4,884 confirmed discoveries in 3,659 systems (and another 7,958 candidates awaiting confirmation), scientists are shifting their focus from discovery to characterization. This means examining known exoplanets more closely to determine if they possess the necessary conditions for life, as well as “biomarkers” that could indicate the presence of life.

A key consideration is how the type of star may impact a planet’s chances of developing the right conditions for habitability. Consider red dwarf stars, the most common stellar class in the Universe and a great place to find “Earth-like,” rocky planets. According to a new study by an international team of scientists, a lifeless planet in our own backyard (Mars) might have evolved differently had it orbited a red dwarf instead of the Sun.

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With 17 Flights Completed, Ingenuity has Spent 30 Minutes Aloft on Mars

December 17 is an historic day for flying machines, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we hear the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter makes an attempt at its 18th flight sometime today. In case you need a little reminder, on this day in 1903, the Wright Brothers had their first successful flight, flying their plane for exactly 120 feet over 12 seconds.

Ingenuity’s most recent flight came on December 5, 2021, its 17th.  The fact that Ingenuity has this many flights under its wings, er… rotors…. is nothing short of amazing. The tiny helicopter was only designed for five flights on the Red Planet but now, with 17 successful liftoffs and landings, it has accumulated over 30 minutes of flying time on Mars.

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One Feature Mars has That we Don’t: Polar Megadunes

For fans of astrophotography, Kevin M. Gill needs no introduction. Even if you’re not up on the latest astronomical news and developments, chances are you’ve still seen some of his images over the years. From beautiful artist renditions to breathtaking photographs of far-off planets, Gill has covered it all. Among the latest images available on his official Flickr page are pictures of a unique feature on Mars: the Chasma Boreale Megadunes!

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InSight Peers Deep Below the Surface on Mars

The InSight lander has been on Mars, gathering data for a thousand days now, working to give us a better understanding of the planet’s interior. It’s at Elysium Planitia, the second largest volcanic region on Mars. A newly-published paper based on seismic data from the lander shows something unexpected underground: a layer of sediment sandwiched between layers of lava flows.

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Is That a Fossil on Mars? Non-Biological Deposits can Mimic Organic Structures

There’s nothing easy about searching for evidence of life on Mars. Not only do we somehow have to land a rover there, which is extraordinarily difficult. But the rover needs the right instruments, and it has to search in the right location. Right now, the Perseverance lander has checked those boxes as it pursues its mission in Jezero Crater.

But there’s another problem: there are structures that look like fossils but aren’t. Many natural chemical processes produce structures that mimic biological ones. How can we tell them apart? How can we prepare for these false positives?

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You can Watch Ingenuity’s Flight on Mars, Captured by Perseverance

New video beamed back to Earth from the Perseverance Rover shows an incredibly detailed view of the Ingenuity helicopter’s flight back in September. The video – taken from about 300 meters (328 yards) away — shows Ingenuity’s takeoff and landing with such detail, that even a little plume of dust is visible during the helicopter’s ascent.

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Orbital Launch in January? Elon Musk Updates His Vision for SpaceX’s Starship

Starlink launch from Mars

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has laid out a scenario for space travel that calls for his company’s Starship launch system to take on its first orbital test flight as soon as January.

Starship could go through “a dozen launches next year, maybe more,” and be ready to send valuable payloads to the moon, Mars and even the solar system’s outer planets by 2023, Musk said during a Nov. 17 online meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy.

But he advised against sending anything too valuable on the first flight to Mars. “I would recommend putting the lower-cost scientific mission stuff on the first mission,” he said, half-jokingly.

The National Academies presentation followed up on big-picture talks that Musk delivered in 2016 (when Starship was known as the Interplanetary Transport System), 2017 (when it was known as the BFR or “Big Frickin’ Rocket”) and 2018 (when Musk settled on “Starship”).

Musk’s basic concept is the same: Starship and its giant Super Heavy booster would be a one-size-fits-all system that could be used for point-to-point suborbital travel, orbital space missions and all manner of trips beyond Earth orbit, including moon landings. It’d be capable of lofting more than 100 tons to low Earth orbit (three times as much as the space shuttle), and sending 100 people at a time to Mars.

This week’s presentation provided some new details.

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