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New Mars Mosaic Holds Potential to Facilitate Human Settlement on an Alien Planet

ByEditor

Sep 9, 2023

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

When the Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021, it wasn’t alone. In addition to the Ingenuity helicopter, the rover carried a suite of science instruments designed to search for ancient signs of life. And tucked in its chassis, Percy also had MOXIE — the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. The instrument successfully generated oxygen for more than two years from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. The first-of-its-kind experiment has concluded, having exceeded NASA’s expectations. The instrument’s capabilities demonstrated that oxygen for life support systems and rocket fuel could be created on Mars rather than transported from Earth. The device is another tool enabling the eventual exploration of Mars by humans. But astronauts are going to need quite a bit more logistical support before calling the red planet home.

It’s a good idea to check the map and weather forecast of your destination before any long trip — especially if it’s another planet. That’s what researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi are aiming to do with the Mars Atlas. The project combined thousands of images taken by the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe to create a detailed color mosaic of the entire planet. The spacecraft has been orbiting the red planet since 2021. The Mars Atlas could be used to identify weather patterns, resources and safe landing sites for future explorers. “It might sound silly, but maybe in the future it will be very common for people to go to Mars and even live there,” said Dimitra Atri, head of the Mars Research Group at the university.

The fossil of an unusually leggy birdlike dinosaur has been unearthed in southeast China. The creature, named Fujianvenator prodigiosus, which means “bizarre hunter from Fujian” in Latin, lived between 148 million and 150 million years ago. About the size of a pheasant, Fujianvenator had lower legs that were twice as long as its thighs — a distinguishing feature considering the reverse was true in most dinosaurs.

When archaeologist Ralph Solecki discovered the 65,000-year-old burial site of a Neanderthal in northern Iraq in 1960, the remains were surrounded by pollen clumps. He and fellow archaeologist Arlette Leroi-Gourhan proposed the idea that flowers were intentionally placed on the grave in Kurdistan’s Shanidar Cave. This flower burial led to a new school of thought that ancient human relatives were intelligent and caring, rather than dumb and brutish. But new research suggests the varied traces of pollen, present throughout the site, were carried by another cave dweller: bees. However, the nature of the graves in the cave still suggests “tenderness” was part of the Neanderthal burial process, said Chris Hunt, a professor emeritus at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, who led the latest study. Separately, a team of scientists has pinpointed when ancient humanity’s population dwindled and was almost wiped out about 900,000 years ago.

After nearly two weeks of studying the moon, India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander will take a well-deserved nap. Mission controllers put the lander and its six-wheeled rover in sleep mode for the 14-day lunar night while the landing site is in Earth’s shadow. The team will attempt to reawaken the spacecraft on September 22. Since its historic landing on August 23, Chandrayaan-3 has analyzed lunar soil, and the rover measured seismic activity and detected the presence of sulfur. The lander also made a small hop using its thrusters and settled a short distance from its landing site. Meanwhile, Japan successfully launched its “Moon Sniper” lunar lander this week, along with a new X-ray satellite. The lander should arrive at the moon in three to four months.

Caring penguin parents, a blackbird silhouetted by the moon and a glistening-green tanager perched on a heart-shaped leaf are some of the awe-inspiring images submitted to this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year competition. Wildlife photography is a study in patience, and some of the submitted images were years in the making. The winning photo shows a female peregrine falcon striking a pelican more than twice its size that flew too close to the falcon’s nest, and photographer Jack Zhi waited four years to capture it. “The action was fast, and over in the blink of an eye,” Zhi said. “But I’ll remember that moment forever.”

Take a closer look at these captivating stories:
– Archaeologists discovered four 1,900-year-old Roman swords and other remarkably well-preserved artifacts in a cave near the shore of the Dead Sea in Israel.
– Scientists have grown kidneys composed mostly of human cells inside pig embryos for the first time, taking “pioneering steps” toward growing organs that could be used for transplants.
– The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will soon deliver a long-awaited asteroid sample to Earth. Take a peek at NASA’s preparations before the capsule is expected to arrive on September 24.
– Newly discovered Comet Nishimura has been making an appearance in the sky before dawn as it approaches Earth and the sun, but it may pose a challenge for sky-gazers. Here’s how to spot the tricky celestial object.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writers Ashley Strickland and Katie Hunt. They find wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

By Editor

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