• State-of-the-Art Mineralogy for Mars
    Aiming to nail down whether Mars could have nurtured life in the past, the Mars Science Laboratory will live up to its name, with a state-of-the-art internal chemical and mineralogical laboratory. The rover will pick up rocks, chew, swallow, then analyze the minerals in detail
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  • Flying a Science Lab to Mars
    How do you follow a flat-out success like the Mars Exploration Rovers, still cruising Mars after all these months? By thinking "bigger and better." The Mars Science Laboratory, currently scheduled for launch in 2009, will land a rover three times as massive as Spirit or
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  • Water Signs
    If the Mars Exploration Rovers' twin panoramic cameras represent a pair of eyes, then the Mini-TES (Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer) is its third eye. Mini-TES analyzes a scene in infrared, rather than in visible light. Scientists can interpret its data to determine the mineral composition of
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  • NASA’s RATs Go Roving on Mars
    Instruments on the Athena Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will measure the composition of Martian rocks, searching for evidence of past water. But how will they "see" the real rock beneath all the dust? The Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) comes to the rescue, cutting
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  • Martian History: Written in Stone
    A key goal for the Mars Exploration Rovers is to find out what Mars rocks are made of. That's no simple matter, requiring several tools mounted on the Instrument Deployment Device. One, the Alpha-Particle-X-Ray Spectrometer, analyzes many of the chemical elements in a rock or
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  • What Iron Can Tell Us about Mars
    To the Mars Exploration Rover mission, water, past or present, is the grail. One way to look for past water is to analyze soil and rock surfaces for evidence of iron-containing minerals (or compounds), which differ depending on whether the environment in the past was
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  • Surveying the Scene – Martian Style
    After the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, land in January 2004, they'll take their first look around, literally, with their Pancam imaging system, a pair of cameras capable of panning 360-degrees around the rover's mast. Pancam will make the sharpest pictures yet of Mars'
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  • Mars Up Close
    The Mars Exploration Rovers provide geologists with their first chance to do field work on Mars, so the rovers took along the space version of a common geologist's tool, the pocket magnifying glass or hand lens.
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  • Cave Slime
    Caves - some pitch black, some with poisonous atmospheres - teem with microbes that rot rock and make unique crystals and chemicals. Cave-microbe researchers hope to gain insight from these unusual microscopic creatures about what life signs to search for in extraterrestrial environments.
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  • Photosynthesis in the Abyss
    In 1977, scientists discovered thriving communities surrounding deep-sea hydrothermal vents, an environment seemingly without light. The 1989 discovery of an eyeless vent-dwelling shrimp with a novel light detector hinted at some kind of light coming from the vents.
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  • Small World
    A discovery from the early 1990s continues to be controversial today. Are the tiny, mineralized particles called nanobacteria the world's smallest organisms or mere crystal growth? Skeptics remain unconvinced that nanobacteria are alive, but nanobacteria researchers say evidence in their favor is mounting.
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  • Minimalist Life
    Microbiologist Karl Stetter travels the world hunting game, small game. In May, he revealed the discovery of a new archaean, at 400 nanometers so small it rides the surface of another merely normally small archaean.
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  • Surviving the Final Frontier
    Could life on Earth have spread to other planets? Or the other way around? An idea nearly 140 years old is resurfacing in a new form: microbes surviving space travel inside meteorites. Shielded from the intense radiation of the sun, dried out microbes could survive
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  • Stuck in the Muck
    Deep beneath the ocean floor, microorganisms by the billions survive - but just barely. Measurements of the rate at which they carry out life's chemical reactions show that perhaps as few as one in a million is active.
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  • The Tree of Life: Cold Start?
    For decades, scientists have used a comprehensive tree of life showing heat-loving bacteria as the Earth's earliest bacteria. Now, a more accurate reanalysis of the data place those bacteria up among the leaves.
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