Total Eclipse 2024 Report

Over the weekend, I headed to the eclipse totality path via Texas. The wind is crazy but the sky is clear. I stopped at Cadillac Ranch, Ozymandias of the Plains, and the Leaning Tower of Texas. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

We diverted northward due to clouds and eventually found a reasonably clear spot at a rest stop in Arkansas. At first, the sun looked whole, but we all knew that the moon was up there lurking somewhere.

Then, things got noticeably dimmer! And then I discovered that the person we parked behind was also from Los Alamos.

Finally, we saw the awesome sight of totality. It was suddenly dark and cold, and Venus and Jupiter appeared. It looked like sunset in all directions. We saw bright red solar prominences on the disc margins. A remarkable reminder that we live on a planet.

What Manganese on Mars Might Mean

Martian manganese continues to fascinate. Its mere existence on Mars brings up a host of questions about environmental conditions in the past and present, and also what it might signify in ancient rocks on Earth. It would be great to get this stuff into one of our Perseverance tubes!

So what’s so great about manganese? Manganese minerals have long been used as an indicator of redox conditions—that is, they tell us about a type of powerful chemical reaction that often involves oxygen. When we see manganese minerals on Earth, they tell us that not only was there liquid water, but also there must have been strong oxidants present—or microbes doing related chemistry. When we see manganese minerals on Mars, we may then ask whether they formed by some unusual oxidizing chemistry unique to the martian environment, or whether like on Earth, they may be pointing to the past presence of oxygen or life. 

Read more about manganese in Eos, AGU‘s science magazine: “Does This Mineral Indicate Oxygen on Mars?” by Elise Cutts

The first sample tube on Mars

Engineers test dropping a tube from a Perseverance replica. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

With this first sample tube deposited on the martian surface, we are one step closer to doing the very first sample return mission from Mars. These samples will be returned to Earth in 2033 for analysis (and reanalysis) in our terrestrial laboratories, which will answer many fundamental questions…and likely bring up a host of new questions as well!

Dust devils recorded on Mars (and a quote in The Atlantic)

Dust devils form on Mars for much the same reasons that they form on Earth: Turbulence in the atmosphere. Today, the surface of Mars is dominated by these wind-related processes. We can see in real time how wind moves materials across the planet and how these materials can gently scour rocks and accumulate, thereby changing the landscape.

I got to speak about Martian wind processes with Marina Koren at The Atlantic: “The Luckiest Rover” — Perseverance Captures Mars Dust Devil Sound, December 2022

From the summer: GRAPE 2022 Field Work in the Canadian Arctic

 ICYMI: Our Los Alamos National Laboratory health physics field coordinator James Harper tells the story of our Explorers Club Discovery Expedition #GRAPE2022 field work in the Canadian Arctic at Haughton Crater this summer.

Keeping Mars scientists safe in the Arctic Arctic by James Harper — What a radiological control technician supervisor was doing 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle with a team of Mars scientists

In his own words, James Harper, a health physics field coordinator at Los Alamos National Laboratory, gives a fascinating account of why he accompanied a team of the Laboratory’s Mars scientists this summer to a 31-million-year-old crater, 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Around the Lab, Harper provides radiation protection field support to workers carrying out national security missions. This unexpected assignment definitely broadened his horizons. 

James Harper: “Wow! The day I never expected has finally arrived. As I cross the threshold of the Boeing 737, I reflect. Several months have slowly passed until this point and now in a few short days I’ll be exploring the secluded Arctic, in total isolation, thousands of miles from civilization — in the name of…”

Read more.

From LANL: “Ann Ollila and Nina Lanza traversing the river’s shoreline in search of a hydrothermal vug — a void in a rock formation created when mineral crystals in the rock are dissolved or eroded. Most hydrothermal vugs are filled with flowing, mineral-saturated water.”

Standing on Mars

I got to stand on Mars, see a full size model of Perseverance and Ingenuity, and talk visitors’ ears off about SuperCam last month at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for the Perseverance Mars Rover’s Roving With Perseverance tour!

Nina on the simulated Mars surface at NMMNHS.
This is a life-sized view of the Amalik area. Can you see the abrasion patch?

Roving With Perseverance Tour Dates

Check the the Roving With Perseverance website for tour dates. Upcoming and current locations include (in addition to NMMNHS) the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Edelman Planetarium in Glassboro, N.J., the Museum of Science in Boston.

Also, I couldn’t resist…

Nina doing a headstand on the simulated Mars surface at NMMNHS

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Why Premature Claims of Life on Mars Hurt Science

So far, we’ve seen a human face on Mars, a monster crab, and a cannonball.

At least that’s what the internet tells us.

It’s easy for people to look at images from the red planet and see all sorts of things that seem to indicate alien life—even though the truth is much less exciting. The human face is a mesa, the crab is just a rock, and the cannonball is a pebble.

Most scientists aren’t surprised when some people come up with a sci-fi explanation for an image from another planet. After all, humans evolved to find recognizable patterns amid chaos. There’s even a word for it: pareidolia. But what we don’t expect is for fellow scientists—those who have been trained in the scientific method—to make those claims. When they do, it hurts science as a whole.

Read More Here: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-premature-claims-of-life-on-mars-hurt-science/

Did Life Sign the Guest Book on Mars?

If life exists on Mars, it still hasn’t showed itself—but recent evidence from the Red Planet increasingly supports the possibility. Life could have developed there. Most of the conditions are right, and nothing found so far rules out the possibility, either in the distant past or today. 

If something is or was alive on the Red Planet, it’s probably tiny. Because microbes make up the vast majority of life on Earth and live in its most inhospitable environments, they are the most likely thing to find somewhere else. It’s not so easy figuring out what “alive” means on another planet—let alone discovering a living microbe. Scientists are still puzzled by life on Earth struggling to understand how life started, what it requires to survive, what it looked like 4 four billion years ago, and how to recognize traces of ancient life today. 

Read More Here: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/did-life-sign-the-guest-book-on-mars/

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