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Cradle for Life? Ancient Mars Likely Had Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

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This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits.

Ancient Mars may have harbored deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the same type of environment where many scientists think life on Earth got its start, a recent study suggests. 

Observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) show evidence of ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits within the Eridania basin — a region in the southern hemisphere where some of the Red Planet’s most ancient crust is exposed. 

The deposits are believed to have formed due to volcanic activity in the planet’s crust at the bottom of the basin. Study team members therefore think that hot, mineral-laden water pumped directly into the ancient Martian sea, which probably held 10 times more water than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined, NASA officials said. [The Search for Life on Mars (A Photo Timeline)]

“Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth,” co-author Paul Niles, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. “Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time — when early life was evolving here.”

The Eridania basin of southern Mars is believed to have held a sea about 3.7 billion years ago, with seafloor deposits likely resulting from underwater hydrothermal activity.

Credit: NASA

Researchers estimate that the hydrothermal deposits found within the Eridania basin are approximately 3.7 billion years old. Life got its start on Earth at about that time, and deep-sea hydrothermal environments may have been the cradle. (Although many different life-forms continue to thrive in these environments on Earth today, we are unable to find direct geological evidence preserved from the time when life began because of our planet’s active crust, study team members said.)

Similar deep-sea hydrothermal environments found on other worlds — possibly beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus — could facilitate the evolution of extraterrestrial life, according to the statement.

Using data from MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, the researchers were able to identify the mix of minerals contained in the deposits, as well as the shape and texture of the thick bedrock layers. Also, the observations show that lava flows buried some of the deposits after the ancient Eridania sea disappeared, which further supports the idea that this region was volcanically active. 

As scientists continue to search for signs of past life on Mars, the recent study highlights yet another type of wet environment that may have once existed on Mars. 

This diagram illustrates an interpretation for the origin of some deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago.

This diagram illustrates an interpretation for the origin of some deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago.

Credit: NASA

“Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars,” researchers said in the statement. “Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth.”

Their findings were published online July 10 in the journal Nature Communications.

Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Review — 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

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Mild spoilers ahead.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Written by Rian Johnson
Directed by Rian Johnson
Featuring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendolyn Christie, and Peter Mayhew

Early in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson’s unenviable attempt to out-middle-trilogy The Empire Strikes Back, the film picks up immediately following the last frame of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, with Rey silently offering Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber to him, the one he lost along with a hand in the final moments of – you guessed it – Empire.

What happens next sets the tone for a film filled with moments that will both surprise and delight fans emotionally attached to the franchise, and brings balance to the … fun – serving the old and new cast in almost perfect harmony.

If judging by the trailers you think Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke (Mark Hamill) in a very dark place, you’d be right – ‘old Skywalker’ is as shattered and fragile as he appears to be. But the choices Johnson and Hamill make from there lead to a signature tour de force performance, easily Hamill’s best of the entire series. Johnson pays homage to the franchise by not by giving Hamill an overly affectionate, nostalgic cameo role. Skywalker’s place in the film is a fully-realized, complicated one and in a lot of ways Johnson bravely hands the film over to Hamill, and fans reap the rewards.

Similarly, the late Carrie Fisher is given more to do here than in The Force Awakens. Somewhat ironically, her role here is to hand the baton of Resistance leadership over to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose place in the trilogy is coming into view. Fisher’s larger role is still more sentimental than essential, but Johnson manages to pull a trick out of his bag moviegoers won’t see coming that, along with the final moments of Rogue One, fittingly establish Leia/Fisher as the heart of the entire franchise.

Luckily, Luke and Leia are given what’s ultimately a final moment together, giving fans that bit of fitting closure.

The film isn’t without its imperfections, however. Like Abrams’ Awakens it’s frustratingly limited to four settings, with a too-clever-by-a-half plot device more Battlestar Galactica than was probably a good idea. Finn (John Boyega), BB-8 and newcomer Rose Tico (the very appealing and welcome newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) side adventure to retrieve a plot McGuffin on a casino planet feels a little out of place and is somewhat reminiscent of the first sequel trilogy. And no, that isn’t a good thing.

But what is a good thing is the now fully-emerged dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Both roles and both actors are noticeably more mature this time around. Rey is still searching but has a purpose. Kylo is still prone to temper tantrums but has a plan. And Ridley and Driver fully earn their place as the franchise’s now centerpieces.

To reveal any more about their actions and interactions would spoil a great deal the fun of the film. So, let’s just say May 2019 and Episode IX can’t come soon enough.

And oh yeah, the surprising final scene just may provide a clue to Johnson’s brand-new future trilogy.

The Last Jedi both hits every mark a Star Wars fan could ask, and surprises them in ways they wouldn’t know to ask. Move over The Empire Strikes Back, a new middle-trilogy standard may have been set. 

What is a Jedi? On the surface, Jedi are warriors who use lightsabers to fight for the forces of good (usually). But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Rey, star trek: the last jedi

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What is a Jedi? On the surface, Jedi are warriors who use lightsabers to fight for the forces of good (usually). But there’s a lot more to it than that.

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SpaceX Rocket Launch for NASA Delayed to Friday for Extra Inspections

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A file photo of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket ahead of a launch to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX will launch its next Dragon mission for NASA on Dec. 15, 2017.

SpaceX has again pushed back the launch of a used Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule filled with NASA cargo — this time to no earlier than Friday (Dec. 13) — for extra inspections and cleaning after engineers detected particles in the booster’s second-stage fuel system..

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and Dragon spacecraft — both making their second flight — were scheduled to launch a delivery mission for NASA from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Wednesday (Dec. 13). But the need for more ground-system checks forced SpaceX to push the launch to Friday at 10:35 a.m. EST (1535 GMT).

“SpaceX is taking additional time for the team to conduct full inspections and cleanings due to detection of particles in 2nd stage fuel system,” NASA officials wrote in a status update. “Next launch opportunity would be no earlier than late December.”

It is the second launch delay in two days — and third overall — for the SpaceX mission, which is called CRS-13. (CRS is short for commercial resupply service.) The mission was originally scheduled to launch Dec. 8 . Last week, SpaceX delayed the flight to Tuesday (Dec. 12), then pushed it back another 24 hours to Wednesday late Monday night.

This mission will be the 13th delivery flight to the International Space Station for NASA by SpaceX under its resupply contract with the agency. The Dragon spacecraft will deliver nearly 4,800 lbs. (2,177 kilograms) of food, supplies and science gear — and maybe even some Christmas presents — for the station’s astronaut crew.

In a first for SpaceX (and NASA), the mission will launch using a previously flown Falcon 9 first-stage booster, as well as a used Dragon space capsule. SpaceX has flown a used Dragon cargo ship for NASA once before (during a June delivery mission) and has launched three used Falcon 9 boosters to date (all within this year).

But SpaceX has never flown a used Dragon and Falcon 9 booster together. The company has landed 19 Falcon 9 boosters as part of its ongoing reusable rocket program to reduce the cost of spaceflight.

The upcoming mission will also mark SpaceX’s return to launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station following a September 2016 explosion at the launch site. SpaceX spent the last year conducting repairs and upgrades to the launch site. In the interim, the company flew Falcon 9 missions from the nearby Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — which SpaceX leases for commercial launches — as well as a West Coast launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Trump's Moon Directive Earns Praise from NASA, Others

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President Donald Trumped signed a new space policy directive Monday (Dec. 11) ordering NASA to work toward sending humans to the moon and, eventually, Mars.

As he signed the new directive at the White House, surrounded by several astronauts and other dignitaries, the president said that the order would “restore American leadership in space.”

Experts across the space industry showed overwhelming support for the new directive, formally known as Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1). Here’s how they reacted. [From Ike to Trump: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration]

President Donald Trump speaks before signing the Presidential Space Directive – 1, directing NASA to return to the moon, in the Roosevelt room of the White House on Dec. 11, 2017.

Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot

“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “This work represents a national effort on many fronts, with America leading the way. We will engage the best and brightest across government and private industry and our partners across the world to reach new milestones in human achievement. Our workforce is committed to this effort, and even now, we are developing a flexible deep-space infrastructure to support a steady cadence of increasingly complex missions that strengthens American leadership in the boundless frontier of space. The next generation will dream even bigger and reach higher as we launch challenging new missions, and make new discoveries and technological breakthroughs on this dynamic path.”

Lockheed Martin

“We support the president and vice president’s vision and commitment to return America to the moon,” Lockheed Martin officials said in a statement. The aerospace engineering company is a contractor for NASA and is currently working on the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle that will carry astronauts beyond Earth orbit. “A lunar mission with today’s technology would further our understanding of the moon’s history and resources. And it will build a strong foundation that will not only accelerate the U.S. to Mars and beyond. It will foster a thriving new space economy that will create jobs and drive innovation here on Earth. With the Orion deep-space vehicle and our prototype orbital lunar habitat making outstanding progress, we are ready to help the nation achieve this bold new vision.” [In Photos: President Donald Trump and NASA]

Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) “applauds President Trump for signing Space Policy Directive 1, which directs NASA to partner with the U.S. commercial space industry to return Americans to the moon,” Eric Stallmer, president of CSF, said in a statement. “The U.S. commercial space industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital to develop innovative capabilities for lunar transport, operations and resource utilization. CSF recommends that the administration challenge NASA to leverage these commercial capabilities to generate greater efficiency, and to partner with industry through flexible, innovative contracting approaches to achieve the goals set out in Space Policy Directive 1 as quickly as possible.”

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

“The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) welcomes Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1) signed today by President Trump, formalizing the commitment made by the administration during the first meeting of the National Space Council to reinvigorate America’s deep-space exploration program,” officials with the coalition said in a statement.

“After 45 years, it is time to return humans to the region of the moon even as we look toward Mars,” CEO Mary Lynne Dittmar said in the statement. “The Coalition is proud to support NASA and to help bring about this exciting future. We congratulate the Trump administration on its bold vision and commitment to American leadership in space. … NASA’s flagship programs for human space exploration — the Orion crew vehicle and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket — supported by ongoing research on human health and performance conducted on the International Space Station — will take a major step to fulfilling this vision beginning with Exploration Mission 1 targeted for late 2019.”

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman

“By signing this directive, President Trump has again shown that, under his administration, America will be a leader in space exploration,” U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said in a statement. “Going back to the moon as the precursor to further exploration will enable NASA to test new systems and equipment critical for future missions, like the human exploration of Mars. Going back to the moon achieves more than just the practical benefits; it will teach our children and grandchildren to dream big and strive to achieve what others think impossible. The innovations, inventions and ideas that they come up with, inspired by exploring the moon and Mars, will fuel future aspirations to explore worlds beyond Mars. This administration’s dedication to space is a refreshing change from the past eight years.”

Brian Babin, (R-Texas)
House Space Subcommittee Chairman

“By signing this space policy directive and refocusing America’s space program on human spaceflight exploration, the president has ensured America’s leadership in space and prioritized our return to the moon and future manned missions to Mars,” House Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin said in a statement. “Under the president’s leadership, we are now on the verge of a new generation of American greatness and leadership in space — leading us to once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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