BBC: After six months on Mars, NASA has deployed Curiosity’s 2.2-m-long robotic arm and drilled into the Martian crust. This is the first time internal rock samples have been taken from a planetary body other than Earth. After testing the basic functionality of the arm last week, the scientists drilled a 2-cm test hole. The drilling produced a fine-grained gray powder that was deemed suitable for collection. Then the scientists drilled a 6.4-cm hole, which was deep enough for rock and dirt samples to be collected in the acquisition chamber. While some of the sample will be studied by the analysis tools onboard Curiosity, the rest will be used to scrub the insides of the machinery to remove any residual contaminants from Earth. The Chemin and SAM labs onboard Curiosity will determine the chemical makeup and mineralogy of the sample as part of the rover’s mission to evaluate whether Mars could have ever supported life.
New Scientist: When viewed from space, Earth reflects a lot of light in the near-IR wavelength because of the presence of chlorophyll in plants. As our ability to detect exoplanets increases, our telescopes may soon be able to detect similar reflections due to lifeforms on those planets. However, it is likely that most such planets will not be covered by leafy green plants. Siddharth Hegde and Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany examined the light reflected by more extreme areas of Earth, such as rocky deserts and acidic waters. They found that the color of the light reflected by those areas varied depending on whether lichen, algae, or bacteria were the dominant life form. Although similar reflections from exoplanets could be a potential sign of life, they can’t by themselves prove that life is present. Atmospheric interference and other factors could alter the wavelengths of light being reflected.
New York Times: Despite advances in electric-car technology, all-electric vehicles continue to pose challenges for drivers used to the convenience of gas-powered cars. The more limited driving range afforded by the battery, which seems to be the biggest problem for most drivers, has led to a condition called “range anxiety.” Not surprisingly, the country where electric cars seem to have made the biggest inroads is also one of the smallest, the Netherlands. Long known for its environmental activism, the country has been heavily promoting the use of electric vehicles by rapidly expanding the network of charging stations, granting hefty tax breaks, and offering free street parking and recharging in Amsterdam, its largest city. Yet, despite an eightfold increase in the number of plug-in electric vehicles sold in the Netherlands last year, sales continue to be lower than anticipated.
The Telegraph: Well below Earth’s crust, two structures, or ”piles,” in the mantle are shifting and crashing into each other. The result is a well of partially molten rock the size of Florida that could lead to a massive supervolcano eruption sometime in the next 100 million to 200 million years. The two piles were first discovered in the 1990s by scientists examining data from 51 major earthquakes and determining how the seismic waves varied as they passed through the mantle. The piles themselves appear to be solid rock areas bounded by semi-molten rock and sitting on top of Earth’s core, much the way the continents sit on the mantle. Michael Thorne of the University of Utah and his team used x rays to generate images of that area of the mantle. They determined that the two piles are actually colliding, pushed around by the mantle’s internal convection and subduction. Thorne and colleagues say the collision is likely to result in one of two types of eruption. The first is a hotspot plume similar to the Yellowstone eruptions that covered much of North America in ash over the past 2 million years. The second is a flood basalt eruption that could bury a large area in lava.