Friday, January 6, 2017

Astrobiology Top 10: NASA rover findings point to a more Earth-like Martian past 

Mars geology, NASA image.

This research also adds important context to other clues about atmospheric oxygen in Mars’ past. The manganese oxides were found in mineral veins within a geological setting the Curiosity mission has placed in a timeline of ancient environmental conditions. From that context, the higher oxygen level can be linked to a time when groundwater was present in the rover’s Gale Crater study area.

“The only ways on Earth that we know how to make these manganese materials involve atmospheric oxygen or microbes,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Now we’re seeing manganese oxides on Mars, and we’re wondering how the heck these could have formed?”

Stunning new image reveals the view from lower Mount Sharp

Mars Curiosity, NASA image.

Another ingredient increasing in recent measurements by Curiosity is the element boron, which the rover's laser-shooting Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument has been detecting within mineral veins that are mainly calcium sulfate. 

'No prior mission has detected boron on Mars,' said Patrick Gasda of the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. 

'We're seeing a sharp increase in boron in vein targets inspected in the past several months.' 

Leaky plumbing impedes Greenland ice sheet flow

Surface meltwater that drains to the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet each summer causes changes in ice flow that cannot be fully explained by prevailing theories. Now a multinational, multidisciplinary team led by ice sheet modelers at Los Alamos National Laboratory is exploring how changes in extensive, sediment-choked subglacial “swamps” actually explain why the ice sheet’s movement slows down in late summer and winter.

Amid transitions, both NM nuke labs get good evaluations

Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, both in the midst of management transitions, got good marks from the federal government in performance evaluations for the 2016 fiscal year that ended in September. 

Los Alamos lab director Charles McMillan, in a memo to his employees obtained by the Journal, said, “As I have stated many times in the past, the people of the Laboratory are and will remain this institution’s greatest asset. The mission and operational successes of 2016 are a tribute to your spirit and character. I continue to anticipate a vibrant future filled with technical challenges worthy of this national laboratory.”

LANL improves in annual federal evaluation

An annual federal evaluation of Los Alamos National Laboratory, made public Wednesday, showed marked improvement in the lab’s overall management practices and its ability to handle nuclear weapons programs and maintain operations.

The new report for Los Alamos showed the lab exceeded expectations in resuming work at the plutonium facility and the weapons engineering tritium facility, which is used to research fusion energy. Strides also were made in cleaning up old facilities contaminated by radiation from weapons production, meeting goals in this area by 75 percent.