Frozen water, safe soil, images of treadmarks in red, granular soil: almost every day brings new test results or stunning photographs from the Phoenix exploratory craft that landed on Mars a few weeks ago.
Washington State University astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch is following the news along with the rest of us. Although he is not directly involved with the Phoenix mission, he has written extensively about the prospects for life on other planets. His 2004 book, “Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints,” addressed some of the major assumptions about the conditions necessary for life.
Schulze-Makuch said the Phoenix results so far largely confirm what was already known from other lines of evidence. The finding that the Martian soil is slightly alkaline is “a little bit surprising,” he said, but the presence of water ice and the lack of toxic materials in the soil are not.
“We knew there was water ice there, but it’s nice to get the confirmation,” he said. “The more exciting thing is that the instruments work and they got soil samples.”
Schulze-Makuch cautioned against expecting the mission to send back images of Martian microbes. He said Phoenix might find chemical traces of life, but is not likely to find living things themselves. Even if a sample contained organisms, the likelihood that any of them would appear within the field of view of Phoenix’s microscope is very small, he said.
“Even on Earth, if you take a microscope and look at soil samples, you have to search and search to find something.”
Nevertheless, the successful deployment of the lander’s sampling arms and cameras, and the completion of the initial chemical tests, bode well for the rest of the mission.
“The encouraging thing is that it all works,” he said. He added that he is looking forward to learning the results of further tests over the next several weeks.
Schulze-Makuch is available to talk about the Phoenix results and the search for life on other planets. He can be reached at 509/335-1180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about his book, see http://researchnews.wsu.edu/physical/80.html. The second edition of the book is scheduled for release in September.
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The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
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Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
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Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
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