Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Phoenix Digs Deep for 90th Day on Mars

Deep trench dug by Phoenix.  Credit:NASA/JPL/Caltech/U of AZ

The next sample of Martian soil being grabbed for analysis is coming from a trench about three times deeper than any other trench NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has dug. On Tuesday, August 26, the scoop on the lander's robotic arm will pick up a sample of soil from the bottom of a trench called "Stone Soup" which is about 18 centimeters, or 7 inches deep. Tuesday will be the 90th Martian day or sol that the lander has been on the Red Planet, which was the original amount of time set for Phoenix's primary mission. NASA has extended the mission through September, but the clock is ticking for the plucky little lander and the oncoming winter at Mars' north polar region.

The soil sample from the deep trench will be delivered into the third cell of the wet chemistry laboratory. This deck-mounted laboratory, part of Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA), has previously used two of its four soil-testing cells.

"In the first two cells we analyzed samples from the surface and the ice interface, and the results look similar. Our objective for Cell 3 is to use it as an exploratory cell to look at something that might be different," said JPL's Michael Hecht, lead scientist for MECA. "The appeal of Stone Soup is that this deep area may collect and concentrate different kinds of materials."

Stone Soup lies on the borderline, or natural trough, between two of the low, polygon-shaped hummocks that characterize the arctic plain where Phoenix landed. The trench is toward the left, or west, end of the robotic arm's work area on the north side of the lander.

Deep Dig 3-D.  Credit:  NASA/JPL/Caltech/A of AZ
When digging near a polygon center, Phoenix has hit a layer of icy soil, as hard as concrete, about 5 centimeters, or 2 inches, beneath the ground surface. In the Stone Soup trench at a polygon margin, the digging has not yet hit an icy layer like that.

"The trough between polygons is sort of a trap where things can accumulate," Hecht said. "Over a long timescale, there may even be circulation of material sinking at the margins and rising at the center."

The science team had considered two finalist sites as sources for the next sample to be delivered to the wet chemistry lab. This past weekend, Stone Soup won out. "We had a shootout between Stone Soup and white stuff in a trench called 'Upper Cupboard,'" Hecht said. "If we had been able to confirm that the white material was a salt-rich deposit, we would have analyzed that, but we were unable to confirm that with various methods."

Both candidates for the sampling location offered a chance to gain more information about salt distribution in the Phoenix work area, which could be an indicator of whether or not liquid water has been present. Salt would concentrate in places that may have been wet.

While proceeding toward delivery of a sample from Stone Soup into the wet chemistry laboratory, Phoenix is also using its Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer to examine a soil sample collected last week from another trench, at a depth intermediate between the surface and the hard, icy layer.

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New Giant Fish Species Announced

One fish—the goliath grouper—has suddenly become two.

The Atlantic goliath grouper, found in warm waters of the Americas and western Africa, is a separate species from the goliath grouper that roams tropical reefs of the eastern Pacific Ocean, a new genetic study shows.

The newly identified Pacific goliath grouper can grow more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms).

Since the oceangoing giants are identical in body shape and markings, scientists hadn't thought to analyze their genes.

"For more than a century, ichthyologists have thought that Pacific and Atlantic goliath groupers were the same species, and the argument was settled before the widespread use of genetic techniques," Matthew Craig of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology said in a statement.

Craig led the study, which appeared recently in the journal Endangered Species Research.

The goliath groupers split off into two species about three and a half million years ago, when the Atlantic and the Pacific became separated by modern-day Panama.

But the new species may be short-lived, experts warn: The Pacific grouper will likely join the Atlantic grouper as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Solar Sunroof Recharges Car Battery and Provides Temperature Control

solar roof
Sunroofs are no longer just an easy route to windblown hair and a sunburn with Sunrise Solar’s introduction of the solar sunroof. The technology replaces the traditional glass sunroof with solar technology that generates electricity to recharge a car’s batteries while either cooling or warming the parked car depending on the weather.

Of course, a solar-powered sun roof does not provide nearly enough energy to power an entire car. It might be enough to keep some ventilation fans blowing, but it couldn’t fully recharge a car’s battery during a single day.

Unfortunately, Sunrise Solar’s website provides scant detail about the inner workings of the solar sunroof. The site does, however, give a brief introduction to the company’s other products, which include a solar-powered cell phone charger and a solar light brick.

Asola is also working on a solar sunroof for Fisker Automotive’s Karma, a plug-in hybrid due to be released late next year.

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